Stories of Place as Regenerative Design Practice

On Dudley High Street, we invite people to come together to reveal hidden stories and experiment with ideas for flourishing futures. Through many and varied projects, experiments and experiences, we open up ways for people to take cultural action rooted in long term thinking and care, collective imagination and regenerative design.

A URL is a radical act… I love these presentation notes on museums, the cultural sector and the web. Lots to mull over:

One of the reasons I think these considerations are so important to the cultural heritage sector is that the act of revisiting is the bedrock underlying the whole idea of cultural heritage itself. The act of re-reading a book, or re-listening to a piece of music or of going to see the same painting or sculpture again and again and of celebrating the evolution of an understanding about those works is what separates cultural heritage from entertainment. Entertainment, born of the moment, can and does become cultural heritage but it is precisely through the act of revisiting that one becomes the other.

The web simply makes those acts of revisiting possible for more people, in more ways, than ever before. When I say these things are possible I mean that the economics of participating in this global network of documents are within the reach of, if not everyone, then more people than ever before. These things become possible because technologies underlying the web are simple enough to meaningfully lower the barrier to paricipation and unburdened by licensing in a way which allows people to share their work and for others still to extend that work to meet their needs.

Beautiful and poetic:

Fieldnotes encompass more than drawing, and as we use fieldnotes ourselves, our understanding of what they are and how others might use this method, develops.

We start our series of Fieldnotes for Design with drawing & sketching. Further editions explore mapping, writing, data collecting, sound recording and the field itself. Fieldnotes for Design Volume 1: On drawing and sketching has been self-published in a small run.

Our approach is poetic; it relies on unexpectedness, happenstance, gesturing and evoking, rather than pointing and telling. We expect our readers to skip, dip, sigh, tut, smile, shuffle skim, muse and shift between our pages, producing a cacophony of responses.

Love this surprisingly insightful and useful theory of “step-by-step-ism” from Venkat:

In particular:

Good reminder and guiding principle if you’re writing a business book. What people want isn’t the same as what they enjoy:

At it’s core, I’d say 4HWW is a bunch of books in one:

  1. A tactical guide for working less an automating work

  2. A personal story of how he expanded his imagination for life

  3. A subtle philosophical attack on our work beliefs.

I think when people write books they think they need #1 but in reality the most powerful books are always ones with strong personal stories with or without tactics. Ferriss’ story and the examples of others throughout the book is what was powerful for people.

This drove my approach with the Pathless Path. I tried to ask myself a question: what if I didn’t give any playbook, framework, or tactical approaches?

Mmm. Gotta spend some time diving into this idea:

Paul Soulellis: We’re doing that all the time, whenever we circulate anything. “Publics and Counterpublics” by Michael Warner, do you know that piece?

LG: I’m vaguely familiar.

PS: That’s been huge for me. The ideas he sketches out there go beyond publishing, to addressivity and acts of speech. In the past I used to think about publishing, and I think many people still do, as the production of objects. Like: you make a zine, you make a digital file, you make a book. I guess one thing that changed for me with Michael Warner’s [piece] was the idea of setting something into motion and forming a public through its circulation, and through the discourse that’s created around that movement.

I started thinking about publishing in gestural and performative ways where that action, when you make objects move—sometimes literally physically moving from hand to hand or library to library et cetera, or on the network from server to sever—that is where the public, or a public, or multiple publics are being formed. That can happen with anything.

Some nice reflections on working at Github - I especially love this meditation on working on a big project that got cancelled:

My first takeaway here is to always look at product decisions through this lens of time. Why is this important now? What else is happening in the product or with competitors that could hinder this? Are we putting too much effort into this too soon?

My second takeaway is to rethink the concept of shipping all together. We sometimes put too much importance on shipping, when deciding not to do something is often the harder, and smarter, decision—and should be celebrated. With so much weight on shipping The Big Thing, we forget how important it is to work incrementally. If it felt like we threw a lot of work away, did we bite off more than we could chew?

And last, it has taught me the importance of storytelling, documentation, and leaving a record of your work. People come and go from companies, but good ideas remain. Leaving time capsules of your thinking and learnings will ensure that your ideas live on.

Interestingly - print on demand only unlocks the first layer of value creation (more people making books), but there’s still PLENTY of room for the second layer of value creation (services on top of POD that make books as a service)…

What a lovely meditation on spreadsheets:

Making a spreadsheet is very pale work next to making a product or a painting, and they remain secondary and supplementary to the needs of the actual product or business they describe. But since they are one of the artefacts we use to theorise and then direct the activity of fifteen people, I try to make them with diligence and even some craft.


The characteristic grid-like simplicity of the view, the absence of barriers… a landscape where nothing officially exists, absolutely anything becomes thinkable, and may consequently happen… — that’s Reyner Banham describing deserts, though I like to imagine he was looking at a spreadsheet.


The spreadsheet’s unreality is dangerously doubled because, while their ordered data and formulae always comfort you that you have authored a controllable certainty, most spreadsheets are mere conjectures, provisional plans, ideas or hopes.

Spreadsheets are dreams.

At the beach we all become architects. High tide, a critic, sweeps our castles aside.

Libraries and the future of social infrastructure…

Thinking about the role of libraries in the future of social media…

Found this paper from 2006! “In the new digital libraries, users are not only consumers but also producers of information”

New DLs are also required to offer a much richer set of services to their users than in the past. In particular, they must support the activities of their users by providing functionalities that may range from general utilities, like annotation, summarization or co-operative work support, to very audience-specific functions, like map processing, semantic analysis of images, or simulation. The availability of this new DL functionality can, in principle, change the way in which research is conducted. By exploiting such types of DL, for example, a scientist can annotate the article of a colleague with a programme that extracts useful information from a large amount of data collected by a specific scientific observatory. This programme, executed on demand when the annotation is accessed, can complement the content of the paper with continuously refreshed information.

In the new DLs users are not only consumers but also producers of information. By elaborating information gathered through the DL they can create new information objects that are published in the DL, thus enriching its content. The new DLs are thus required to offer services that support the authoring of these new objects and the workflows that lead to their publication. 

Why do learning and play seem locked in opposition sometimes? When it’s through play that we do our best learning…

Let me start with a contrarian point-of-view: I don’t like edutainment.

What do I mean by that? Am I a stodgy professor who wants to keep play and fun out of the learning process? Certainly not. In fact, my research at the MIT Media Lab focuses on ways to integrate play and learning. I have found that many of people’s best learning experiences come when they are engaged in activities that they enjoy and care about. Based on these ideas, I have helped develop new toys that provide children with opportunities to learn as they play (and play as they learn).

So why don’t I like edutainment? The problem is with the way that creators of today’s edutainment products tend to think about learning and education. Too often, they view education as a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable. They provide entertainment as a reward if you are willing to suffer through a little education. Or they boast that you will have so much fun using their products that you won’t even realize that you are learning—as if learning were the most unpleasant experience in the world.

Lonliness is a real threat.

The human brain, having evolved to seek safety in numbers, registers loneliness as a threat. The centers that monitor for danger, including the amygdala, go into overdrive, triggering a release of “fight or flight” stress hormones. Your heart rate rises, your blood pressure and blood sugar level increase to provide energy in case you need it. Your body produces extra inflammatory cells to repair tissue damage and prevent infection, and fewer antibodies to fight viruses. Subconsciously, you start to view other people more as potential threats — sources of rejection or apathy — and less as friends, remedies for your loneliness.

This kind of insight is validated by this long Harvard study. In particular, it’s not just that relationships matter - but the quality of relationships in midlife…

The study showed that the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now recognized as a good predictor of healthy aging. The research also debunked the idea that people’s personalities “set like plaster” by age 30 and cannot be changed.

One way out is to strengthen our trust in institutions and communal care. Not to give people support but to ask them for support:

“For years people thought the best thing you could do for a lonely person is to give them support,” she said. “Actually, we found that it’s about receiving and also giving back. So the best thing you can do for someone who is lonely is not to give them help but ask them for help. So you give them a sense of worth and a chance to be altruistic. Even if we’re getting the best care, we still feel lonely if we can’t give something back. The care is extremely valuable but it’s not enough.”

:heart emoji:

Love this collaborative reading experiment! Printed out essays! Spiral designs! Co-reading!

Mmm. This Sane app looks pretty interesting. Graph/table/grid view of a set of texts. Has hints of a syllabus? Hints of arena? Hints of Electric Tables? Something interesting emerging here

This White Space is part of an evolving research practice that forms the basis for Sane’s development. It sheds light on the thought processes behind our efforts to build meaningful tools for creating, collecting, and sharing knowledge online. It also functions as the first example and use case for what the product will look like. You can sign up for the waitlist at to be among the first to test it for yourself.

Lovely little meditation and exploration on custom workflows, software and tools to enable high level research:

Earlier this year I started a PhD in pure mathematics at KU Leuven in Belgium and in this blog post I discuss my research workflow. I talk about how I take daily notes, both handwritten ones and ones in LaTeX and how I handle references, featuring a way to instantly add clickable references to my notes.

Powerful stuff from Johanna Lewengard:

Education is never a neutral process. It either functions as an instrument to integrate new generations into the logic of a present system, or it can be the means by which students are allowed to critically deal with their reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their future—in other words, education as a practice of liberation. No matter what we believe, we all should at least be transparent about our approaches. Every student should have the right to know what kind of learning processes they are about to enter.And of course, one is more likely to support education as a model of integration if one benefits from or has never felt threatened by the status quo. In this case, this system is likely invisible to you. In liberatory educational practices, it is as important to recognize one’s role as an educator as it is to identify and name power. This should never be confused with freeing yourself, as a teacher, from your responsibilities. Even if I believe in co-created knowledge and use methods to make individual experiences and knowledge visible, it is my responsibility to organize studies in ways that increase each student’s chances to reach learning outcomes. If a student fails, this failure is also mine.

Shitposting and memes as essential digital infrastructure. Very interested in Jonathan’s new startup Antimatter that creates learning experiences through memes…

It’s impossible to tell good jokes about subjects you don’t fully understand, and very difficult to tell jokes that people with opposing opinions will enjoy and grapple with. To accomplish the latter you need to be informed enough about opposing opinion, generous enough to take it seriously, and above all confident enough to tell a joke that, taken at face value, inverts your actual opinion. This is shitposting.

The connection between walking and attention….

There are places in-between the spaces we live. We rarely “see” them, but they are there.

I’ve realized many of my favourite writers, video makers, and photographers are constantly exploring this space in-between. They travel and then observe the space between where they start and finish. Their destination doesn’t matter, it is someplace you’ve never heard of. It is about the journey through the in-between. You might enjoy their work too—they include Chris Arnade, Bald and Bankrupt, Craig Mod, GeoWizard (Tom Davies), Beau Miles, Shiey and more.

Where they go and what they see isn’t “normal.” It is not big cities or popular attractions. For Bald and Bankrupt, it is an obscure historical Soviet site. For GeoWizard, it is the endpoint on a straight line across a whole country. For Craig Mod, it is a small cafe along a Japanese walking route. They do a lot of walking. As the slowest form of transportation, this allows them to do something special: observe.

I talked about questions as scaffolding here, and I like this idea of a learning question:

What is a Learning Question?

A Learning Question is a like a thesis question. It’s your own unique course title. It frames your goals, challenges or curiosities as a site for active exploration and response. It’s an itch you have to scratch.

It’s important that a Learning Question be open. Open questions are ‘designed to encourage a full and meaningful answer using the subject’s own knowledge and/or feelings’. They are the opposite of closed questions which encourage single-word answers.

Similarly, a Learning Question is designed to encourage a full and meaningful enquiry. It’s more about provoking a process of learning than about finding an answer, but if you do seek an answer it must be one that incorporates your growing knowledge and personal perspective.

Very often a Learning Question spawns a series of new questions which continue to move you forward and help you grow. Unlike an academic thesis question a Learning Question does not seek resolution as an enormous written paper! It seeks a creative response appropriate to the question.

The question can be seen as an externalisation of an inner purpose that is of great importance to the learner. This importance could be practical and immediate (e.g. ‘how can I gain the skills I need to get promoted?’) — or more philosophical (e.g. ‘what is hope and can it be designed?’).

Ooh - live cursor comments?! Might have to install this on my blog……

“Make the web respire to natural rhythms”

Now I find myself more mindful of the sun as I continue to tinker with the site. It never occurred to me before as I used and created on the web. But I think that is what makes Smith’s idea of the feral web so intriguing. The web can feel isolated from the world around us, sometimes to a point of debilitation. However, whether your site is powered by solar panels or by a data center, there are many ways we can make the web respire at natural rhythms.

“A blog is always good enough” - lovely

I’ve recently wondered whether I could just dispense with the coffee stuff and share the whole collection in some useful way. And I’ve been wondering how to get it all together. I tried Scrivener, so it could be a book and Roam, so it could be networked and modern and Obsidian, so it could look like a spaceship. But none of them seemed to stick.

I even tried building webpages festooned with links and tags like I was building Xanadu, but I’ve read about that.

So I gave up.

And then, the other day I found myself saying to someone “Just do it as a blog, it’s never exactly what you want, but it’s always good enough.” And that reminded me of these lines from How to Change by Katy Milkman.

In psychology, there’s something called the “saying-is-believing effect.” Thanks to cognitive dissonance, after you say something to someone else, you’re more likely to believe it yourself.

So I’m going to saying-is-believing myself and just stick stuff on here, collect it all together and add thoughts it I have them. And then we’ll sort it all out later. A blog is always good enough.

What a lovely project:

Octavia’s Parables is a podcast where hosts Toshi Reagon and adrienne maree brown read the works of Octavia Butler one chapter at a time, bringing a modern analysis and scholarship to the work, and offering listeners guiding questions for applying the lessons in their own lives and community work.

But most especially because it’s about close reading - about using the internet to lean into a specific work / author / niche / community. Is there a word for this kind of close attention, because sometimes the internet is amazing at this (and other times, not so much)…..