Adonis Diaries

Posts Tagged ‘Silicon Valley

Are you able and ready to care less about total work life?

Note: Re-edit of “Life of total work? How to care less about this trend?August 20, 2017

“If I’m not just a worker, then who am I?”

Who am I when leisure, festivity, and play come to resemble work?

When co-circular habits of work out implicitly tend for being fit for sustained working habit?

When our days off is used in terms of getting things done?

When obsessions with work renders us miserable? Obsession of “being useful” through work done

Olivia Goldhill, June 11, 2016

We live in an age of “total work.”

It’s a term coined by the German philosopher Josef Pieper just after World War II—describing the process by which human beings are transformed into workers, and the entirety of life is then transformed into work.

Work becomes total when all of human life is centered around it;.

When everything else is not just subordinate to, but in the service of work.

Leisure, festivity, and play come to resemble work—and then straight-up become it.

Even our co-circular habits play into total work.

People work out, rest and relax, eat well, and remain in good health for the sake of being more productive.

(In my case, just to stay healthy and have enough hope for a better tomorrow, or a better luck in life)

We believe in working on ourselves as well as on our relationships.

We think of our days off in terms of getting things done.

And we take a good day to be a day in which we were productive. (Does that include being passionate about a hobby?)

But caring as much as we do about work is causing us needless suffering.

In my role as a practical philosopher, I speak daily with individuals from Silicon Valley to Scandinavia about their obsessions with work—obsessions that, by their own accounts, are making them miserable.

(Many young people are losing their head hair from the stress of finishing a project on schedule)

Nevertheless, they assume that work is worth caring a lot about because of the fulfillments and rewards it supplies, so much so that it should be the center of life.

I think this is an unsound foundation to base our lives upon. The solution to our overworked state isn’t to do less work; it’s to care less about it.

There are many ways to train yourself to care less about work.

You could become completely indifferent to life and not care about anything, or develop a distaste for working that reveals itself in extreme procrastination.

However, both approaches leave us stuck in a cycle of aversion and feeling deep dissatisfaction.

The better option is to care less about work because we care more about other things.

(How to figure out caring about something else that is Not considered Work is the bottleneck in our life).

Most of us have had meaningful experiences—finding love unexpectedly, feeling awe when asked an intriguing question—that we quickly dismiss as being no more than passing moments, or which turn into nostalgic episodes to be recalled wistfully now and again.

But these experiences are clues that reveal a different lens through which we can see life: The more important things take us out of the endless pursuit of “being useful” while enabling us to lose ourselves in the flow of time.

By caring less about work, we open ourselves up to caring more about other dimensions to life—about what matters more.

But that’s easier said—or written on a to-do list—than done.

How to care less about work

To get started, we need to become less attached to our notions of work.

The Buddha helpfully suggests that there are “3 poisons” at the root of our attachments: attraction, aversion, and indifference.

In this case, to become less attracted to, and therefore less hung up on, notions of career success, you should pay close attention to how those occupying positions of power are often over-extended, run ragged by infinite demands and herculean ambitions.

They are rarely leading well-rounded or well-ordered lives.

The cost of their single-minded striving for success is unvoiced suffering, loneliness, and the loss of other things worth caring about. If career success too often brings misery, then should it be esteemed as highly as it usually is?

Once you’ve detached the notion of success from that of happiness, you need to work out how else to find that satisfaction—but without actually achieving anything.

This exercise opens us up to Oscar Wilde’s famous dictum, “All art is quite useless.

We can refute total work’s claim that only useful things are valuable by taking Wilde at his word, and considering how we can perform fascinating but totally useless artistic experiments in our own lives.

For example, we could partake in the “art of roaming” without an aim or plan. This is an idea advanced by French theorist Guy Debord, who proposed that we let ourselves “be drawn by the attractions of the terrain” and the encounters we discover.

Alternatively, we could write a haiku, walk through the woods in the spirit of “forest bathing” (shinrin-yoku), or lie perfectly still in a moving rowboat, as 18th-century philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau reports having done in Reveries of the Solitary Walker.

We could take part with others in breaking out of an escape room, immerse ourselves in sensory deprivation tanks, or practice calligraphy, an art that master calligrapher Kazuaki Tanahashi calls “brush mind.

By these means, we can plunge into life, engaging our senses while suspending our buzzing, noisy workaday concerns.

Once we’ve gotten the knack for embracing the idea that certain things in life are wondrous because they’re not focused on getting through, onto, or ahead of something, we can turn our attention to ourselves, inquiring into our own lives.

Socrates’ great insight involved showing his conversation partners that they thought they knew themselves, but it turns out that they didn’t.

Following Socrates’ lead, we can ask ourselves, “If I’m not just a worker, then who am I?”

Let this question sit in the back of your mind for a few weeks before you try to answer it.

Who am I?” you might ask while getting bogged down at work.

“Who am I?” you might think while you notice your thoughts inclining once again toward completing tasks, planning, strategy setting, and making insurmountable to-do lists.

“Is this who I am? Is this all I am?”

This philosophical question, posed over and over again, is intended to arouse great doubt in you, inviting you to prod your deepest ambitions, why you’re here, and what it’s all about.

If your destiny is Not to be a total worker, then what could it be?

Exasperated, a character in Voltaire’s Candide says, “Let’s stop all this philosophizing and get down to work.” What a waste of time, he seems to be saying—and maybe you’re thinking the same thing.

We could, of course, follow his advice and just keep our heads down. Or we could insist upon working less without caring less about work.

Or we could try to find a time-management guru who would allow us to continue a regime of total work by playing time-saving techniques.

But aren’t these approaches just more of the same: total work in action?

If the solution to your anxiety is keeping your head down, easing up a bit, or working more efficiently, you’ll someday regret the awakened life that will have ultimately, tragically passed you by.

Exercises like these shepherd us beyond the world of total work, helping us to remember why we’re here. They allow us to shed our worries, anxieties, irritations, and busy-ness

By caring about work a little less, we can afford ourselves experiences of what is truly meaningful, and let us rest for a while in the unfolding present.

You can follow Andrew on Twitter. Learn how to write for Quartz Ideas. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Note: How to behave once you retire?

If you couldn’t discover a hobby, I say: Être a la retraite veut dire: j’ ai le matin jusqu’à 1 pm pour méditer, lire et écrire, et toute la nuit pour tout autre chose. Sleep my fill and sleep when I feel like to or when just bored. C’ est comme ca qu’on change une vie de labeur pour survivre.

 

Why it’s so hard to succeed in Silicon Valley when you grew up poor

I’ve been collaborating with my college classmate David Tran on our start-up since 2010.
In some ways, our story is typical for a startup: We went through the mentorship at Y Combinator and StartX, raised seed funding, and then launched.
We introduced Crowdbooster to help thousands of organizations around the world use data to improve their Facebook and Twitter performance. Our newest product is PRX.co, where we’re building software that delivers PR services on demand.

But our story is unique in one crucial way: David and I both grew up in poverty.

We can call ourselves “battle-tested” when it comes to both life and startups. So when the talk in the Valley turned to income inequality recently, our ears perked up. For a moment, our two worlds were colliding.

Building and sustaining a company that is “designed to grow fast” is especially hard if you grew up desperately poor

Here’s a quote from Y Combinator co-founder Paul Graham that got our attention.

“Closely related to poverty is lack of social mobility,” he wrote. “I’ve seen this myself: you don’t have to grow up rich or even upper middle class to get rich as a startup founder, but few successful founders grew up desperately poor.”

Graham was right, and it’s a truth David and I are intimately aware of as startup founders.

Not only are the cards stacked against us to even have the opportunity to found a startup, but building and sustaining a company that is “designed to grow fast” is especially hard if you grew up desperately poor.

We have been fighting this very idea since starting our company in 2010, and we’ve gotten pretty good at it. The main problem is what David and I call mindset inequality.

To really understand it, I need to put you in my shoes. Let me take you on a personal journey.

How I got here

When I was 11, I moved to the United States with my dad, to Granada Hills in Los Angeles. We were broke in Taiwan. I picked up the English language; my dad did not. He also didn’t work, so I started working when I was 14 by doing all kinds of odd jobs.

On top of that, I did all the things immigrant kids are familiar with, like translating or simply handling all the business with landlords, bills, government services, insurance, etc.

I was smart, but I wasn’t very good at school, and not knowing the language definitely didn’t help.

My standardized test scores were bad enough that when I decided to take school more seriously in high school, my counselor actively discouraged me from taking even just one honors-level course.

I had to bring my dad to the office the next day and told him to pretend to say some words in Mandarin while I just demanded that I get put in an honors-level English class. I got a B in that class, and that was enough to start taking some AP courses the next year.

High school was no joke for me. I was so underprepared and didn’t know how to learn that I basically committed to sleeping only three hours a night and reread the same chapters in the textbook three times to force myself to memorize the material.

I came to school every day with bloodshot eyes. One time I got a stress-induced bald spot that was pretty embarrassing, so I learned to develop a sense of humor.

I found out about the SATs in 10th grade. I took a mock test and scored around a 900 (out of 1600), and panicked because I knew college was my way out.

I took the money I made at my odd jobs, and instead of helping to pay the bills I paid for a few SAT classes at Elite Education Prep in my neighborhood.

When it came time to renew, I told them I couldn’t pay anymore, but the amazing folks at Elite decided to just let me take classes for free and supplied me with all the study materials. I ultimately scored high enough that they put my picture up on the window to market to more students.

You can imagine how lucky I felt when I got into Stanford on basically a full ride (Go Card!). I spent my first year perpetually awestruck. All these amazing individuals to talk to. All these great resources to access.

Stanford successfully created this physical and financial bubble around me that meant that for the first time in my life, I didn’t have to think too much about money.

That was extremely empowering. I felt like I was just like my peers and that I could do anything. I can’t emphasize this enough, so I’m just going to say it again. During my first year at Stanford, I felt so empowered I believed I could do anything.

Of course, that was an illusion.

Reality quickly set in. I took an “elective” course about contemporary African politics my first quarter and I received a C+ despite grade inflation.

I didn’t know how to talk in a small, discussion-based class of 12 students. I was scared. I was quiet. I didn’t know how to read or skim the volume of reading we were given, so I was stupidly trying to read week 1 materials word for word during week 4. I didn’t know how to think critically about what I was reading.

At one point, Professor Weinstein sat me down during office hours to ask me what was wrong and how he could help. I didn’t even know what to tell him.

In the dorm, where I was constantly inspired by my peers, I noticed that everyone I talked to played an instrument, which made me feel out of place. Instead of moving on, I surveyed the rest of my dorm to see who else played an instrument, only to learn that I was the odd one out. Just a poor kid out of place. Not good enough.

Being poor makes you suck at using money as a resource. My time was always cheaper growing up, so I’d rather spend time than spend money.

Sophomore year was when it all fell apart. Like many of my peers, I didn’t know what I wanted to do, so like them, I decided to do everything. I joined a bunch of clubs while the classes got harder. Soon enough, I fell into a slump.

When you’re in a slump, you start to look around and find even more ways to show yourself that you’re not good enough.

I’d go to the same classes with friends and dormmates, but then I’d notice how fast they were learning the concepts while I was struggling. I asked one of them to tutor me, and even then I wasn’t keeping up. On top of that, the extracurricular commitments I picked up totally overwhelmed me, so I shirked many of my club duties.

I also noticed that in order to keep up socially, I had to spend money to participate in a lot of activities, like going out to movies or on dorm ski trips  —  and that was on top of having to buy my own books. I remember having to borrow a few hundred bucks from one of my best friends while I applied for another loan to cover the expenses.

I remember running to the student loan office crying because I felt so bad. I told the loan officer I needed the money as soon as possible because I didn’t want the lack of money to ruin friendships the way it had ruined so many other things before.

I spent the next 48 hours basically stressed as fuck until the loan money showed up in my account and I paid him back. He’s still one of my best friends to this day.

The money problem was hanging over me the entire time in school.

I’d get calls from home about money, but there wasn’t much I could do other than picking up a side tutoring gig. I remember lashing out at my dad on the phone because I didn’t want to carry him around as baggage while I was trying to get through Stanford like a “normal” student.

I didn’t want to have a lesser, second-rate experience. I so desperately wanted to maintain the illusion that I was on equal footing. I wanted to believe that there wasn’t anything holding me back from achieving, that I’d get through this.

I did.

I went on a trip led by Kimber Lockhart and Andi Kleissner to visit social enterprises in the Bay Area. I learned about entrepreneurship through companies like Kiva and World of Good. The two of them suggested that I join BASES, the Stanford student group for entrepreneurial minds. Then I fell in love.

I attended Y Combinator’s Startup School the same year Jeff Bezos announced Amazon Web Services.

I ended up finding my niche at Stanford as the co-president for both BASES and AKPsi, a coed pre-business fraternity. I worked as a young VC at Alsop Louie Partners, where Stewart Alsop gave me my first Apple product (his old MacBook), and then I interned at Eventbrite, where Kevin Hartz saw something in me that I wasn’t even aware of myself.

I became “that guy” on campus who was the most gung-ho about entrepreneurship. I learned how to execute, and then I learned how to lead. My side project with David became a startup that got funded by Y Combinator. We raised money, built Crowdbooster to profitability, and now are building PRX, which is an even bigger idea to offer PR services on demand. It’s well on its way.

What is mindset inequality?

With that story in mind, now let me explain mindset inequality and why “very few successful founders grew up desperately poor.”

I was lucky that I found something I loved in entrepreneurship, which helped me focus my energies away from academic classes. I was lucky I found out that I was good with people and loved organizing and leading teams to achieve great things. I was lucky there were no other traumatic events that knocked me further into the deep end.

I could’ve easily given in to the realities, dropped out, or just given up the illusion that I was the same as my peers and adjusted my goals  —  except I chose to start a company. Starting a company for me was the ultimate declaration that I wanted to hold on to the illusion and continued to believe that I could do anything.

But because I fought hard to maintain this illusion for myself all through Stanford and while building the startup, I’m extremely aware of the disconnect to reality.

The world is clearly not a level playing field. Just with myself and my experience, I can see a lot of buggy code in my mind’s operating system that isn’t conducive to building a successful startup. Here are some of the issues with my default mindset that I’ve had to fix over time.

One example of a poor mindset is to minimize conflict, because fucking up is costly and opportunities are hard to come by, so I have trouble putting my ideas out there and defending them.

I often hear about people having intelligent conversations at home with their parents. I never ate at the dinner table, because we didn’t have one in the one-bedroom apartment I shared with my dad. You can imagine how this translates to pitching your startup. The idea of putting my grand idea out there and vigorously defending it to investors trying to tear it apart was new and counterintuitive.

Related to that, a poor founder tends to be less confident.

My mom, who didn’t go to college, used to say this to me, and it bothered me a lot: “We’re not meant to be successful, so what you’ve achieved is good enough!” Compare that level of confidence to a kid with successful parents who’d say something along the lines of, “If you can believe it, you can achieve it!”

Now imagine walking into a VC office having to compete with that kid. He’s so convinced that he’s going to change the world, and that’s going to show in his pitch. You can’t just muster up that confidence on the spot.

I don’t have “friends and family” money to get going. In fact, I’m sending money to my dad every month from the measly income I take out from my startup.

Then there’s knowing how to manage resources. Being poor makes you suck at using money as a resource.

My time was always cheaper growing up, so I’d rather spend time than spend money. I had to fix this when we raised our first seed round, but it took quite some time.

A simple decision to hire, for example, took a very long time because we weren’t comfortable spending money on hiring talented people to help us move faster.

Then there are also human resources, networks of people who can help you. Again, growing up poor meant that there weren’t successful aunts and uncles who could show me the ways of the world or even give me a little nudge in the right direction.

I’ve had to learn to work the room, to talk to and talk like a successful person, and to know how to ask for help.

I’ve also noticed the huge difference having some built-in resources can make. I don’t have “friends and family” money to get going. In fact, I’m sending money to my dad every month from the measly income I take out from my startup. Knowing that you have “friends and family” money to get going or even some family money to help you when you fail makes it that much easier to be more risk-seeking and build the appetite for hyper-growth startups.

Most of the time, potential founders who share my background tend to work at lucrative jobs in finance or tech until they can take care of everyone in their families before they even dream about taking more risks  —  if they ever get there.

Finally, there’s the constant guilt. If you have a Stanford degree and share my background, you’re likely the only one they can count on at home. You most likely would have the opportunity to work in safer and more lucrative careers that would be of more immediate help to your family.

It’s very irresponsible to pursue the startup path, and even if you do succeed in upgrading your mind software to get rid of all the bugs I mentioned above, you start to sound and act differently from the people you grew up with.

You might even get accused of losing your identity. This is why successful rappers are told they’re turning their backs on their communities all the time.

All of this contributes to the mindset inequality that founders like David and I have to overcome. We think this is the reason why poor founders tend not to be successful. Fortunately for us, we consider this the biggest chip on our shoulders, a known bug in our mind software. We’ve overcome so many of these issues, and we’ll keep chipping away at it until we win.

But for others, I think it’s important to note this: Tangible inequalities  —  that which can be seen and measured, like money or access  —  get the majority of the attention, and deservedly so.

But inequalities that live in your mind can keep the deck stacked against you long after you’ve made it out of the one-room apartment you shared with your dad. This is insidious, difficult to discuss, and takes a long essay to explain.

David and I are living proof that if we can upgrade and improve the way we think, and overcome our mindset inequality, then maybe we can help others do the same. For me, that starts with sharing my story so far. Stay tuned.

Ricky Yean is co-founder and CEO of PRX.co, a Y Combinator–backed startup offering PR on demand. Previously, he started Crowdbooster, a social media optimization service. Yean graduated from Stanford in 2010 with a BA in science, technology, and society and serves on the board of BASES, a student entrepreneurship organization. He is a former entrepreneur-in-residence at the Stanford-StartX startup accelerator.

Note: This is the story of my life. It is good to have lived in a country with plenty of opportunities and a mobile life-style.

Can technology solve our big problems? Very doubtful

So, we used to solve big problems.

On July 21st, 1969, Buzz Aldrin climbed out of Apollo 11’s lunar module and descended onto the Sea of Tranquility.  Aldrin, following the death of Armstrong last year, is now the most senior of the 12 who went to the moon.

Armstrong and Aldrin were alone, but their presence on the moon’s grey surface was the culmination of a convulsive, collective effort.

The Apollo program was the greatest peacetime mobilization in the history of the United States. To get to the moon, NASA spent around 180 billion dollars in today’s money, or 4% of the federal budget.

Apollo employed around 400,000 people and demanded the collaboration of 20,000 companies, universities and government agencies.

People died, including the crew of Apollo 1. But before the Apollo program ended, 24 men flew to the moon.

Why did they go?

They didn’t bring much back: 841 pounds of old rocks, and something all 24 later emphasized — a new sense of the smallness and the fragility of our common home.

Why did they go? The cynical answer is they went because President Kennedy wanted to show the Soviets that his nation had the better rockets. But Kennedy’s own words at Rice University in 1962 provide a better clue.

(Video) John F. Kennedy:

But why, some say, the moon? Why choose this as our goal? And they may well ask, why climb the highest mountain? Why, 35 years ago, fly the Atlantic? Why does Rice play Texas? We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon. (Applause) We choose to go to the moon in this decade, and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard.

Jason Pontin: To contemporaries, Apollo wasn’t only a victory of West over East in the Cold War. At the time, the strongest emotion was of wonder at the transcendent powers of technology.

They went because it was a big thing to do. Landing on the moon occurred in the context of a long series of technological triumphs.

The first half of the 20th century produced the assembly line and the airplane, penicillin and a vaccine for tuberculosis.

In the middle years of the century, polio was eradicated and smallpox eliminated (They are back with vigor).

Technology itself seemed to possess what Alvin Toffler in 1970 called “accelerative thrust.” For most of human history, we could go no faster than a horse or a boat with a sail, but in 1969, the crew of Apollo 10 flew at 25,000 miles an hour.

Since 1970, no human beings have been back to the moon.

No one has traveled faster than the crew of Apollo 10, and blithe optimism about technology’s powers has evaporated as big problems we had imagined technology would solve, such as going to Mars, creating clean energy, curing cancer, or feeding the world have come to seem intractably hard.

I remember watching the liftoff of Apollo 17. I was five years old, and my mother told me not to stare at the fiery exhaust of a Saturn V rocket.

I vaguely knew this was to be the last of the moon missions, but I was absolutely certain there would be Mars colonies in my lifetime.

 So “Something happened to our capacity to solve big problems with technology has become a commonplace. You hear it all the time.

We’ve heard it over the last two days here at TED.

It feels as if technologists have diverted us and enriched themselves with trivial toys, with things like iPhones and apps and social media, or algorithms that speed automated trading.

There’s nothing wrong with most of these things. They’ve expanded and enriched our lives. But they don’t solve humanity’s big problems.

What happened?

There is a parochial explanation in Silicon Valley, which admits that it has been funding less ambitious companies than it did in the years when it financed Intel, Microsoft, Apple and Genentech.

Silicon Valley says the markets are to blame, in particular the incentives that venture capitalists offer to entrepreneurs.

Silicon Valley says that venture investing shifted away from funding transformational ideas and towards funding incremental problems or even fake problems.

But I don’t think that explanation is good enough. It mostly explains what’s wrong with Silicon Valley.

Even when venture capitalists were at their most risk-happy, they preferred small investments, tiny investments that offered an exit within 10 years. V.C.s have always struggled to invest profitably in technologies such as energy whose capital requirements are huge and whose development is long and lengthy, and V.C.s have never, never funded the development of technologies meant to solve big problems that possess no immediate commercial value.

No, the reasons we can’t solve big problems are more complicated and more profound.

Sometimes we choose not to solve big problems.

We could go to Mars if we want.

NASA even has the outline of a plan. But going to Mars would follow a political decision with popular appeal, and that will never happen. We won’t go to Mars, because everyone thinks there are more important things to do here on Earth.

Sometimes, we can’t solve big problems because our political systems fail.

Today, less than 2% of the world’s energy consumption derives from advanced, renewable sources such as solar, wind and biofuels, less than two percent, and the reason is purely economic.

Coal and natural gas are cheaper than solar and wind, and petroleum is cheaper than biofuels. We want alternative energy sources that can compete on price. None exist.

Now, technologists, business leaders and economists all basically agree on what national policies and international treaties would spur the development of alternative energy: mostly, a significant increase in energy research and development, and some kind of price on carbon.

But there’s no hope in the present political climate that we will see U.S. energy policy or international treaties that reflect that consensus.

Sometimes, big problems that had seemed technological turn out not to be so.

Famines were long understood to be caused by failures in food supply. But 30 years of research have taught us that famines are political crises that catastrophically affect food distribution.

Technology can improve things like crop yields or systems for storing and transporting food, but there will be famines so long as there are bad governments.

Finally, big problems sometimes elude solution because we don’t really understand the problem.

President Nixon declared war on cancer in 1971, but we soon discovered there are many kinds of cancer, most of them fiendishly resistant to therapy, and it is only in the last 10 years that effective, viable therapies have come to seem real. Hard problems are hard.

It’s not true that we can’t solve big problems through technology. We can, we must, but these four elements must all be present:

1. Political leaders and the public must care to solve a problem;

2. institutions must support its solution;

3. It must really be a technological problem; and

4. we must understand it.

The Apollo mission, which has become a kind of metaphor for technology’s capacity to solve big problems, met these criteria. But it is an irreproducible model for the future. It is not 1961.

There is no galvanizing contest like the Cold War, no politician like John Kennedy who can heroize the difficult and the dangerous, and no popular science fictional mythology such as exploring the solar system.

Most of all, going to the moon turned out to be easy. It was just three days away. And arguably it wasn’t even solving much of a problem.

We are left alone with our day, and the solutions of the future will be harder won. God knows, we don’t lack for the challenges.

Paradigm shift in Architecture or expanded job definition? Steve Jobs, Rem Koolhaas…

An émigré architectural historian who teaches across disciplines in California, at a public university near Apple’s lair in the Bay Area (close to San Francisco), is posting an essay. Since architectural stories are surprising rare on the edge of the continent, he needed a shtick; no matter what’s his connoisseur-ish personal tastes and leftist political dispositions.

Simon  Sadler published an essay on March 13/2013 in The Design Observer Group: “Steve Jobs: Architect”

Top: Apple store, Fifth Avenue, New York. [Photo by Eric Wüstenhagen]

Bottom: Steve Jobs and Rem Koolhaas. [Photos by James Mitchell, left, and Rodrigo Fernández, right]

1. An Apple for the teacher
Yet another treatise on Steve Jobs? As an “architect”?
And with Apple seemingly waning,  aren’t we behind the curve on this?  Suffice it to say that my interest is not solely in Steven Paul Jobs himself, but rather in the challenge that the late computer impresario and legendary technologist poses to the methods and purpose of an architectural historian.
My job and my location place me close enough to Silicon Valley that students might fairly assume that I have something cogent to say about all this.  Apple is working with Norman Foster to build a donut-spaceship as its headquarters in Cupertino.
So what are my options?
1. Compare and contrast, that trusty standby of art history, in which I drill my students. I can compare Jobs with … with whom, exactly? Bill Gates, or maybe Thomas Edison? That route would take us away from design, away from architectural history, away from aesthetics.
I like to pay close attention to both Science and Technology Studies and Cultural Studies, which are the disciplines perhaps most comfortable with technology and the American experience.
But neither the Apple HQ, or the iPhone for that matter, readily lend themselves to STS and Cultural Studies’ emphases on flattened and distributed innovation and on user-generated meanings.
So any methods I might borrow from those anthropologically-inclined fields will need to be augmented by the emphases on authorship and aesthetics that architectural history traditionally draws from art history. Peel away his ruthless command of global consumer markets and Jobs can seem to the art historian more akin to Gropius than Gates.
2. Criticality.  Since Jobs’s ruthless command of markets is a fact that cannot be peeled away, we are obliged to deploy the criticality that has been central to architectural historical method that was started by Tomás Maldonado and Manfredo Tafuri.
I am duty-bound to tell students that design is not necessarily benign, especially when it seems to be.
Yet they can see me teaching from the MacBook I am writing on even now. Some of the students I have trained will graduate into Silicon Valley. I wonder what that suggests about my own complicity with the very things which I am attempting to critique?
How does my salary, my adopted state, my consumption, tie me to all this?
So I discreetly edge the conversation back to my own disciplinary competence by comparing the design for the new Apple headquarters with other corporate buildings. We take another iconic and somehow ominous HQ — OMA’s recently completed CCTV tower in Beijing — and we then compare Jobs with OMA’s head, Rem Koolhaas. As if they were both architects.
And then we treat Jobs as though he were an offshoot of a Bay Area design history that was substantially driven by architecture. My concern is to have something to say about design in the far western region where I teach; even though major monumental buildings are scarce on the ground here, and even though the politics of good design are adulterated by my state’s politics of good business.
This effort becomes a test of the limits of my discipline, devoted as it has long been to the maintenance of European critical traditions, and to monumentality and the public sphere, and to the continued preeminence of the academic institutions of Northern Europe and the U.S. Eastern Seaboard.
Such is the fate of many an émigré architectural historian in California, at once living and working within a global engine of economy, design, ideology and media, yet rather far from the concatenations of Greater New England architectural historical scholarship.
We wonder whether there is any more that can be said about the Mission Style, the Case Study Houses, the freeways; or whether anything whatsoever can be said about California’s inland agricultural empire of the Central Valley, which is where I live.
Norman Foster’s design for the Apple headquarters, center, surrounded by the California architectural historian’s canon.
Talk about Jobs as though he were an architect — already a dubious proposition — is to talk as well about advanced capitalism, about global systems, the counterculture, Zen Buddhism, and all manner of phenomena apparently inimical to the critical tradition, to monumentality and the public sphere.
This approach might threatens to liquefy my discipline through a Golden State looking-glass.
Maybe I should emulate the resolve of the philosophers Adorno and Horkheimer who were stranded in sunny Los Angeles during the war, refused to succumb to California languor.
To be frank I think that architectural-historical methodology can benefit from this modest test, and prevail.  This is one of those experiments in method encouraged — forced — by the study of California: here subject and method evolve symbiotically, as befits scholarship in a region enamored with holistic thought, even as my disciplinary training prevents me from ever going fully native.
2. Why it’s simpler to treat Jobs as a California Modern Architect To the subject at hand?
To me, treating Jobs as an architect has merit, if for no other reason than to bring sort of conclusion to the popular psychologizing of what made Job tick.
It is no secret that Jobs was a “complicated” man. Nothing more typifies the persona of the “great architect,” driven to get his ideas executed with minimum compromise, somehow distrustful of people yet seemingly concerned about their welfare, preferring to channel politics through design rather than to actually participate in political activity.
Eric Alterman writes in The Nation’s: Despite the myriad ways his companies improved our lives, Jobs was a hero only in the Ayn Randian sense…” de facto connecting Jobs, via Rand, to that archetype of the “complicated” architect, Howard Roark, a.k.a. Frank Lloyd Wright.  A sense of what you might call “psychopathic humanism” attends such personalities: they are determined to improve the human lot no matter how many individual humans they offend along the way.
Bucking our current postmodern era, Jobs and Koolhaas both seem to have been driven by the possibility that they can act inside, or around, a postmodern world resistant to purpose. Jobs and Koolhaas share, I suspect, an attraction toward design as a type of hermeneutics — a will to learn about the world through the attempt to change it. Koolhaas assigned his Harvard students and OMA assistants to track aesthetic multiplier effects through the study of shopping and of African urbanism; he is passionate, in a manner worthy of a surrealist or second-order cybernetician, about paradox and overdetermination.
Meanwhile both the personnel and the customers of the Apple Corporation functioned as an extension of Jobs, and not simply through the authoritarian exertion of will. In this sense Jobs hasn’t died in the same way that Mies van der Rohe hasn’t died: something of his very thinking, his gestalt, has been learned by other designers and consumers, and in this way Jobs’s legacy — like influential pedagogy — is “architectural.”
That Jobs’s work, his products, has constituted a daily part of people’s lives over several generations was testified to by the peculiar and public demonstrations of grief at his passing.
Steve Jobs memorial, Apple store, San Francisco. [Photo by raumish]
Koolhaas, for sure, is a redoubtable figure for historians and theorists of architecture in a way that Jobs never will be. Judged by his impact on architectural pedagogy and his reception by critics, he probably remains our most important living architect, popular with scholars to the degree that he is apparently unpopular with, even obscure to, the public at large.
Koolhaas invites interpretation. In contrast, scholars are left practically redundant by the sheer popularity of Jobs’s work: there is, apparently, no work of interpretation left for us to do.
We can try to deepen our analyses of Jobs by citing the pivotal influential of industrial designers like Dieter Rams; but accounting for Koolhaas’s interests in the surrealist paranoiac-critical method, Soviet Constructivism and Italian Autonomist Marxism would require graduate-seminar-level exegesis.
Put another way: if Koolhaas’s aesthetic is difficult, Jobs’s is dumb. The categorical difference is that one really is an architect, steeped in the arts, and the other is an ambitious industrial designer, steeped in the applied arts; which is why Koolhaas presents an explanatory challenge, Jobs a functional literalness.
I am not so sure about this distinction, though; whatever the philosophical and formal challenges which Koolhaas’s buildings pose, they function well. And Jobs’s intellectual formation was easily as esoteric as that of Koolhaas.
It’s no surprise that architect Norman Foster has referred to Jobs as though he were a professional peer, “in every way so much more than a client,” as Foster put it in his tribute. “We are better as individuals and certainly wiser as architects through the experience of … working for him. …  Job participation was so intense and creative that our memory will be that of working with one of the truly great designers and mentors.
(This is the sort of language we might expect Foster to have reserved for his earlier mentor Richard Buckminster Fuller — another figure whose functionalism, anathema to the richly formal work of Koolhaas, is adored in Bay Area.)
When Jobs’s name is used as a search term in the scholarly Avery Index to architectural history, it retrieves a 2005 article from Britain’s ID magazine that lists, in this order, the most influential design thinkers in the world: the Museum of Modern Art’s Design Department, Steve Jobs, Rem Koolhaas.
For ID, at least, we are in some way comparing like with like. And the listing of Jobs with MoMA and Koolhaas has the intriguing effect of drawing a westward axis of transnational design, as it transposes from The Netherlands, then to the United States via New York and Northern California, then onward to China, where Jobs and Koolhaas confirm their incendiary reputations in the factories of Shenzhen and the political machine of Beijing.
The modernist tradition becomes — to use Koolhaas’s celebrated term — increasingly delirious, as it gravitates from the Heroic Age Netherlands, to Jazz Age New York, to Aquarian Age California.
If Koolhaas has capitalized upon a distinctively Dutch taste and Northern European aesthetic, Jobs has championed a distinctively Californian energy.
In the early 1980s, the German industrial designer Hartmut Esslinger proposed that there should be a “born-in-America gene for Apple’s DNA,” one that would produce what Esslinger called a “California global” look. Esslinger, then newly arrived in the United States, initially suggested that Apple’s aesthetic be inspired by “Hollywood and music, a bit of rebellion, and natural sex appeal.”
But Hollywood, rock music, sex appeal and rebellion did not prevail in the iconic forms that embody the Apple brand identity created so obsessively by Jobs. In its stores, in its devices, even in the book cover he designed for Walter Isaacson’s biography (which he himself commissioned Isaacson to write), Jobs recovered a vision of the modern as clarified, normative, truthful, perhaps somewhat German though even more Zen.
Is there a relationship between California and these qualities of clarification, normative, truthfulness and Zen? I believe that Apple really does represent a genus of Californian design — that the slogan “Designed by Apple in California” conveys something like an ethos.


Top and Middle: Norman Foster, drawings for Apple headquarters, Cupertino, California, projected 2015. Bottom: Bernard Maybeck, Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco, 1915. [Photo by Wally Gobetz]
Apple’s image evolved markedly from the early 1980s to now, but it remained consistent with Bay Area taste, from the counter-cultural feel of the offerings to be found in (say) its early-’80s gift collections —with their totes, kites, belt buckles, wall hangings and rug kits — to the New Age aura of transcendent consciousness and spirituality of more recent Mac products, their concealed LEDs practicing controlled yogic breathing when left on standby.
Apple was a Bay Area company led by a lifelong Bay Area homeboy steeped in such Bay Area enthusiasms as the Whole Earth Catalog and The Grateful Dead.
In the dominant culture of the Bay Area — if I can indulge in a sweeping summary — you find a deep distaste for representing established culture: culture is to be invented, here and now, and to be lived rather than observed and learned. It is a culture that imagines itself as exploring truth and possibility.
This is a trait stretching back through several generations of Northern California designers — Bernard Maybeck is my personal favorite, with his eccentric combinations of materials, technique and historical association. Jobs, too, pursued an aesthetics of truth and possibility.
Compare the design of two corporate animation facilities, one for The Walt Disney Company, in Southern California, the other for Jobs’s Pixar, in Northern California. In his 1991 design for the Team Disney building, in Burbank, Michael Graves employs the Seven Dwarves as Atlantes not only to symbolize a passing world of animated arts but also to make an inside joke about the conclusion of classical civilization.
In contrast, in their Pixar Studios, in Emeryville, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson deploy the patterning of bricks of different hues to make decoration immanent to the materials themselves, in this way suggesting that the building itself is pixelated — a pattern waiting to be orchestrated. Facts before pictures.
The tectonic and material truths of this factory of the virtual feel hyper-real. Its hand-laid brick courses suggest an unnerving sincerity far removed from the postmodern irony of Graves or the postmodern tragedy of Koolhaas.
The Bohlin Cywinski Jackson practice, founded in 1965 in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, under the sway of Louis Kahn (that vital transitional figure between modernism and postmodernism who recovered architectural verity from dogmatic functionalism and returned it to custom, ritual and place) has proven adept at delivering to commercial and technological clients buildings of a local phenomenological intensity. In 1997 the firm completed the residential compound of another computer maven, one Bill Gates of Bellevue, WA, in an earnest regional “Pacific Lodge” style. A couple of years later, Bohlin Cywinski Jackson opened its San Francisco office to handle the Pixar campus for Jobs. What they delivered doesn’t look much like a fun factory.
The main pavilion is an elegant warehouse, its flat arches an acknowledgement of the local light-industry context, with plate glass recalling the notoriously generic corporate architecture of Silicon Valley.
The Pixar campus is a place for serious research, not decorative puns; a place where the arts of animation from the classic era of Disney are preserved within three-dimensional computer modeling originally developed for medical imaging; a place to discover the sorts of truths about the self and the world that were earlier discovered in the Marin County summer camps, Palo Alto garages, East Bay cafés, Silicon Valley laboratories and Silicon Alley warehouses recalled by the campus ensemble.


Top: Michael Graves, Team Disney Building, Burbank, California. [Photo by Loren Javier] Middle and Bottom: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Steve Jobs Building, Pixar Campus, Emeryville, California. [Photos by John Lambert Pearson, middle, and Michael Heilemann, bottom] The comic foil provided by the monumental Luxo lamp is an addition.
The lamp — an homage to Pixar’s celebrated 1986 demo reel, “Luxo Jr.” — was a gift from Australia, as though Pixar were a new nation — a corporate nation that reaffirms the Bay Area as a center of the creative world (with a nod, in the naming of its new building “Brooklyn,” to an East Coast counterpart). Jobs was the undisputed ruler of this nation; Pixar employees knew him to be the hidden hand in the building’s design,  [11] and Jobs was always adamant that all core creative production for his companies would happen in the Bay Area in real diurnal time, defying the industry trend for the globalized dissipation of the design process across facilities, specializations and time zones.
At a Cupertino City Council meeting in June 2011, a clearly ailing Jobs made what I assume was his last public appearance to present the plans for the new Apple HQ; he promoted the Foster + Partners design as a great entity in a traditionalist Bay Area landscape to be designed by Stanford University’s arborist.  The building thus becomes the capsule, the beehive, the phalanstery for 15,000 engineers circling the wagons against the outsourcing of Californian design.
Apple had thus become the new Californian “machine,” reproducing local tastes and predispositions even through its immigrant employees, like the British designer Jonathan Ive, or the German Esslinger and his practice frog design, all of whom were required to relocate to the region as part of their association with Jobs.
Even the design presence of Baron Foster, whose ideas were profoundly affected by his admiration of the Case Study houses, does nothing to deflect the broad, synthetic Californianism of Apple’s trajectory. Yet ultimately Jobs’s phenomenology can be founded on certainties of place and language no more than the modern-day Bay Area can be founded on certainties of place and language. It is a light phenomenology, slickly tuning consciousness through sensory experience.
This calibration of affect, surely at Job’s behest, explains how Bohlin Cywinski Jackson effortlessly switched from the vernacular brick and iron opacity at Pixar to the Zen-like transparency of the 2006 Manhattan Apple Store.
Opacity, transparency, Jungian forms, materials, place, tectonics: Jobs and his collaborators were trying to access phenomenological truths at the office and at the store.

Top: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple store, Fifth Avenue, New York, 2006. [Photo by Jorge Láscar] Bottom: Early graphical user interface, Xerox Star, 1981. [Via DigiBarn Computer Museum]
Along the way Jobs conscripted the very typology of the window from the Graphical User Interface — which he explored soon after it was invented at Xerox PARC in Palo Alto — to the service of his light phenomenology that sought to reveal the world. Floor-to-ceiling windows, beloved by Bay Region architects, became the central motif of Jobs’s inventions — from the computers to the phones to the stores, the windowed grids of the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue relaying attention to the windowed tablets relaying attention to windowed operating systems, propelling us steadily out of history.
Though routinely described as iconic, Apple products seem actually to be moving away from idiosyncratic forms like the trend-setting colored-jellybean style of the late ’90s iMac series. The aluminum, glass and radius edges of the recent products strain for ascetic neutrality.
Without much difficulty the Apple consumer could imagine information one day floating in the environment, dematerialized into the “cybernetic meadow” forecast in the celebrated (if ridiculed) 1967 poetry collection by San Franciscan Richard Brautigan when he was poet-in-residence at Caltech. [15] So at the end of his life, Jobs settled on a Zen-like approach as the appropriate phenomenological architecture for information technology, just as a Zen-like transcendence had attracted generations of Bay Region aesthetes.
Bay Region Style itself bore the clear imprint of Japanese Zen architecture. In a famous 1947 essay on “Bay Region Style,” Lewis Mumford described the style as “a product of the meeting of the Occidental and Oriental architectural traditions,” and 6 decades later Steve Jobs concurred: “I have always found … Japanese Zen Buddhism … to be aesthetically sublime.
Zen is to California as Greece is to Germany“: so an uncommonly insightful student quipped to me recently, bridging the Bay Region’s dogged pursuit of higher consciousness and the German phenomenological tradition. Jobs’s seemingly existential understanding of design does indeed remind one of the fascination exerted over architects by Martin Heidegger, for whom design functioned best in the background, the better to “bring forth” Being.
Bay Area and German existentialism are even linked by a proud sense of their higher provincialism, the disdain for metropolitan affectation. William Wurster, referring to the Bay Region Style, wrote in 1956  that “Architecture is not a goal. Architecture is for life and pleasure and work and for people. The picture frame, not the picture.”
Jobs enthused about the Bay Area’s mid-century stick-built houses developed by Joseph Eichler: Eichler’s “houses were smart and cheap and good,” Jobs told Walter Isaacson. “I love it when you can bring really great design and simple capability to something that doesn’t cost too much. … It was the original vision for Apple.
And so we have that paradox that the normative or the provincial comes to embody rarefied taste and so occupy a central place in design culture. (Something similar happened with critical regionalism.) [22] By the early 21st century, Apple products were the summary forms of international modern design, recalling the abstemiousness of Viennese architect and journalist Adolf Loos at the turn of the 20th century, of the German industrial design of the Dessau Bauhaus of the 1920s, and of the Braun products of Dieter Rams in the 1960s, admiration for the latter of which Jobs developed when attending the Aspen Institute’s conferences in the early 1980s.
Top: Eichler home, original advertisement. [Via Architizer]
Bottom: Dieter Rams, Braun radio and record player. [Photos by Nite Owl, left, and Toby Evans, right]
3. Thinking inside the box What did it mean for Jobs to attempt to recuperate “normative,” “classically” modernist values for a postmodern, late capitalist world order — for a world order whose anguish seems better captured by the old-world Koolhaas, and in which modernism’s promise of emancipation is trammeled in the off-shore factories of Apple’s manufacturers? Is this nothing but a travesty of modernism? For of course we know that aesthetic culture is at best a poor substitute indeed for truly political society, and a sickening lie in its absence.
The clamshell form of the late ’90s MacBook was redolent of the sort of cigarette case that Loos identified in 1908 as the touchstone of modern culture: stripped, portable, repetitive. Ornament became Crime, in Jobs’s mind as it had in Loos’s. The Mac and the cigarette case were trade objects emblematic of their respective epochs, their meanings indefinite, not predetermined: as a content-producing machine, the Mac strenuously obliges society with cultural “running-room.”
Yet the aluminum sheathed MacBook is not quite the quintessential Loosian object. It is almost too refined for its purposes, courting the status of a commodity fetish, mystifying and objectifying human relations through its market exchange. The MacBook confuses the urn with the chamber pot, to borrow Loos’s terms; it struggles to distinguish the ceremonial from the functional. It ennobles the rituals of everyday life, like writing email, but it is too slick to disrupt our lived continuum, which for Loos was the critical function of art, architecture and language — a way in which to make sense of our world. So it is to Rem Koolhaas and his firm, OMA, that we must turn for manifestation of the disjunctions of tradition and modernity, of place and space.
The contrast in taste, in aesthetics, between Jobs and Koolhaas is illustrated most obviously by comparing the two headquarters buildings. With its twisting and grotesque form, the China Central Television tower underscores the tragic deterioration of the public sphere, as the production of information is impressed into the service of the capitalist dictatorship of the People’s Republic.
It is practically a Salon work of art, simultaneously repulsive and fascinating, politically and aesthetically, in a way that reminds me of that classic of the Salon genre, Théodore Géricault’s The Raft of the Medusa (1818–1819).
Whereas the Apple HQ suggests a very different version of the Romantic legacy, of the recovery of a primordial reason beyond intellectualization — it strains to be “insanely great,” in Jobs’s famous phrase. The circle of steel and glass suggests no history, no past; its gesture is spontaneous, or Jungian, or Zen,  childlike in its simplicity and secrecy. It needs no interpretation because, as designer Sean Daly blogged in The Architects’ Newspaper:

The ensō, or “circle,” is perhaps the most enduring motif in the Zen tradition, one that first appears in Japanese monasteries in the mid-1600s. The Zen circle is not a linguistic character, but rather a symbol that conveys a host of things — the universe, the cyclical nature of existence, enlightenment, strength, and poised contemplation. It suggests the Heart Sutra, which explains that “form is void and void is form” … [27]

Like Pixar in Emeryville, Apple in Cupertino exemplifies a light phenomenology. It’s Zen kitsch. Jobs’s Zen postmodernism, of which Foster’s building is an embodiment, acts upon the world through process, intervening in a cybernetic cycle for which the record of historical struggle is but a dysfunctional footnote.

In sharp contrast, the tragic postmodernism of Koolhaas and the CCTV feels jagged, a beauty of terribilità.


Top: Norman Foster, Apple headquarters, Cupertino, California, projected 2015.

Middle and Bottom: Rem Koolhaas/OMA, China Central TV headquarters, Beijing, 2012. [Photos by Jim Gourley]

Koolhaas’s abstraction of modernity appeals more to critical tastes than Jobs’s interaction with modernity. It is almost as though Koolhaas courts his appeal to art-historical criticality, even contributing to its veritable organ, October. Koolhaas, who clearly rejected “interactive” and “gadgety” design — as a young architect at the Architectural Association in London in the ’70s he had little use for the Archigram influence — seems to think like an art historian, and his relative lack of name recognition in the broader culture perhaps confirms the discernment of the specialists.

Whereas the outpouring of grief over Jobs’s death was often in questionable taste. “It sounds crazy,” a student in my modern architecture class said the day after Jobs died, “but for people of my age, it’s like we lost our Bobby Kennedy.” Could my students be so lacking in discrimination? Perhaps … but perhaps not.

I would be fuming if that student had responded in the same way to, say, the untimely passing of Mark Zuckerberg. No disrespect, but Zuckerberg is, we might agree, no Kennedy. So maybe we might agree as well that my student was simply one of many seeking inspiration as an Obama administration elected upon the promise of hope struggled to the end of its third tumultuous year.

And apparently she found it: I noticed her in the crowd when Occupy arrived at my university campus not long after Jobs’s death. One of the few commentators to understand the strange politics of the mourning of Jobs was Frank Rich. Writing for New York Magazine, Rich compared Jobs to Edison as an inventor-entrepreneur whose American technological “architecture” (so to speak) was constructive to the same extent that the upstart American financial-services “architecture” — of the type built by the GE Capital division that had eclipsed the GE industrial division founded by Edison in the 1890s — was destructive.

“Some on the right were baffled that the ostensible Marxists demonstrating in lower Manhattan would observe a moment of silence and assemble makeshift shrines for a top 1% like Jobs, whose expensive products were engineered for near-instant obsolescence and produced by Chinese laborers in factories with substandard health-and-safety records,” said Rich. But, he continued:

If you love your Mac and iPod, you can still despise CDOs and credit-default swaps. Jobs’s genius — in the words of Regis McKenna, a Silicon Valley marketing executive who worked with him early on— was his ability “to strip away the excess layers of business, design, and innovation until only the simple, elegant reality remained.” The supposed genius of modern Wall Street is the exact reverse, piling on excess layers of business and innovation on ever thinner and more exotic creations until simple reality is distorted and obscured.

The paradox was also understood, more viscerally, by that bellwether of campus humor, The Onion:

Steve Jobs, the visionary co-founder of Apple Computers and the only American in the country who had any clue what the fuck he was doing, died Wednesday at the age of 56. “We haven’t just lost a great innovator, leader, and businessman, we’ve literally lost the only person in this country who actually had his shit together and knew what the hell was going on,” a statement from President Barack Obama read in part, adding that Jobs will be remembered both for the life-changing products he created and for the fact that he was able to sit down, think clearly, and execute his ideas — attributes he shared with no other U.S. citizen.

Sit down, think clearly, and execute ideas: this is what draws students to design in a postmodern age, yes? “Obama added” (according to The Onion) “that if anyone could fill the void left by Jobs it would probably be himself, but said that at this point he honestly doesn’t have the slightest notion what he’s doing anymore.”

Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple store, North Michigan Ave, Chicago, 2003. [Photo by Almond Dhukka]

We might decry the chirping of an Occupier’s iPhone as a mere simulacrum of political society.  We might better see the fate of political society in the metaphor of Koolhaas’s atolls of beauty and social space cast adrift in a neoliberal world. But by a remarkable historical turn, the Pollyanna-ish aesthetic of the Apple Mac has forced us back (somewhat) to actual political society, to actual consumer-political activity. What R. John Williams has called Californian Techne-Zen was articulated so forcefully by Apple that it has seemingly necessitated its own exposure as a false consciousness.

Millions of consumers seem to have understood instinctively an incongruity between Apple’s aesthetic triumph and its refusal to advance social justice: it failed our expectation that advanced bourgeois art will articulate or resolve contradiction. Instead the iPhone starkly verified the dichotomy of its slogan “Designed by Apple in California.

Assembled in China”: capitalist differentials in land and labor value exclude millions from the Bay-Area nation. In so nearly sublimating the contradiction, Jobs’s art drew attention to the contradiction. Jobs’s electronics were so beguiling that their users were forced into a classic, bourgeois, visceral encounter with guilt, contradiction, tragedy: it was this that finally confirmed Jobs as an architect-provocateur on a par with Koolhaas.

Both are indeed Salon designers, ageless enfant terribles and lightning rods, prompting and giving shape to otherwise formless feelings and debates. Still, nobody seems to be holding Koolhaas responsible for the work conditions of his building contractors or steel millers, though the unnatural and monumental gesture of CCTV did indeed draw attention to the furtive modes of production — the state censorship — of Chinese information.

When it was occupying its old building (whatever it was), I had never heard of CCTV, nor paused to consider its role in censorship. And when I was using a Dell laptop, the working conditions enforced in China by Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn were remote from my awareness, even though Foxconn supplied Dell and practically every other electronics manufacturer of which I am a customer. Was it preordained, one wonders in retrospect, that Jobs’s iPad — which he loved to point at the front page of The New York Times during his famous new product presentations — would deliver New York Times reports about the wage and health and safety scandals in the Shenzhen factories in which the apparatus was made?

I used my MacBook Air to sign a petition demanding that Apple redress Foxconn worker grievances. Every keystroke on the superlative machine reminded me of my desire for a better world, for a more complete and transparent political architecture, and of my complicity with forces I prefer to imagine as beyond my control. To borrow the terms popularized by anthropologist Bruno Latour, the works of both Jobs and Koolhaas function as “things” in and around which are assembled public “concerns” that might otherwise slip through the net of parliamentary discourses arrayed around both left and right.

Even the Wall Street Journal felt compelled to question the “secular prophecy” of technological salvation wrought by Jobs. Apple and OMA objects succeed as works of art, and also as catalysts of public attention, not just by being so astonishingly outré, but also by picturing the world unexpectedly — in extreme resolution, in extreme disjunction — and then by suggesting a means to interpret our existence in the world.

Top: Taiwanese protestors outside Foxconn (Hon Hai Precision Industry Co.) headquarters in New Taipei, 2010. [Photo by Lennon Ying-Dah Wong]

Bottom: Bohlin Cywinski Jackson, Apple store, Fifth Avenue, New York, 2006. [Photo by Mecki Mac]

4. The varieties of bourgeois experience I don’t want to muddy the waters of judgment as a caprice. My purpose is to draw attention to the way that art-historical judgment thinks in several registers, about design that works in several registers, in a world that operates in countless registers. To an art historian, the minimalism of the 2006 Manhattan Apple Store is evocative of European Rationalism and neo-Platonism, when to many other cultural critics it is simply an extravagant warehouse, a shop composed of nothing but shop windows.

But now watch how Jobs and Koolhaas complicate the relation between value and values (between exchange value and human value) in similar ways, by thinking like art historians. “Great products,” Jobs told The New York Times, are triumphs of “taste” derived from “study, observation and being steeped in the culture of the past and present.” OMA designs one of its best buildings for Prada, and Apple amasses $70 billion in cash. Both insist that we pay attention to the art of shopping but then shun the pursuit of business for its own sake.

Koolhaas’s studio at Harvard studied shopping, with delicious paradox, and Jobs saw himself as the nemesis of Michael Dell’s fixation with the bottom line. No part of Apple’s organization would ever be “junkspace.”
Their work invites a moral response, and Jobs and Koolhaas pass onto us, their consumers and interpreters, the responsibility to square their contradictions.

Jobs and Koolhaas alike chose the role of eyewitness to the student uprisings in Berkeley and Paris in 1968, and for each the activism of the Sixties would be formative; years later each would be content to observe the political responses to their work in the ’90s and ’00s with similar remove. These two modes of architectural ambition, interactive and abstract, Californian and European, are not categorically different modes — the one in a naïve or affirmative association with capitalism, say, the other in a critical relationship — but are two sides of the same coin.

Jobs and Koolhaas each project variants of postmodern modernism: one optimistic but quietly doomed, the other doomed but quietly optimistic.
The reason of course is that design (like art) is pretty much inevitably a dialectic between God and Wall Street. The Occupier’s iPhone. The Eichler House. The double bind, built simultaneously, of OMA’s two West Coast projects: the Seattle Public Library and the Prada Epicenter in Los Angeles (both 2004). Enlightenment and shopping.

Oscillating between Soviet constructivism, Manhattanite cosmopolitanism, and commercial midcentury modernism, Koolhaas reminds us that at the very moment that modern design triumphed, its utopian political project was doomed. Meaning that questions about Steve and Rem are ultimately questions about us. What more literal object lessons could we ask for, as art historians standing in front of our students, than OMA’s CCTV and Apple’s Campus 2?

One abstracts the agony of the European public sphere, its workers eking out a living in a Chinese capitalist dictatorship, while the other promises an interactive Californianism after the near-eclipse of the New Deal. The university design studios of the Great Recession, rather than transcending the dialectic, are rather merging abstraction and interactivity, producing student projects that routinely integrate buildings with transgressive spaces, sites, economies, nutrition, mapping.

Given the questionable origins of our own paychecks, it’s a devil’s bargain that few art historians can evade for long. Something of the Shenzhen “disgrace” of Jobs might reciprocally be carried over to art history, which is adept at using the abstractions of critical theory to describe the complicity of buildings and architects with economic regimes, but most often shies away from any explicit description of the deep connections that bind architecture to labor and poverty.

Left: Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Seattle Central Library, 2004. [Photo by Sean Munson]

Right: Rem Koolhaas/OMA, Prada Epicenter, Los Angeles, 2004. [Photo by Corbin Keech]

Architecture is a lifeworld within which none of us can parse absolute judgments, yet it still offers ethical and actionable bearings. This I hope I am illustrating precisely by comparing two of its most notorious architects: the fascination of design is exactly its hermeneutic potential for thinking and working from the inside, across several registers. We can study the varieties of advanced bourgeois thinking that constitute and shape architecture as it re-combines — and reconciles [?] — base economic determination with the factors of geography, language, desire, technology, materials. Much as we return to other moments in the history of capital accumulation — Florence in the 15th century, Holland in the 17th century, Manhattan in the 19th century — and detect something mortal about their arcades, portraiture and still lives, so we can imagine art historians of the future scrutinizing the ambitions of OMA and Apple.

One day the Bay Region will make for a particularly intriguing study in New Deal, systems-driven and neoliberal art history, the Golden Gate Bridge an analog of Brunelleschi’s Dome, a place awash with new money, fusing science, technology, engineering and learning, humans and gods, an outpost of godly and economic universalism at the center of a trade network. We can already see the next chapters getting written; Elon Musk is the latest guru.

It is pointless to try and demote Musk’s wild gamble on the Tesla electric car, his fantastic ambition to save the world one drive-train at a time, his thinking across scales (the roadside rest and recharge stations, his concomitant interest in internet commerce and space exploration), the “insanely great” quality of his early products, his commitment to the Bay Area (to the point of locating his factories there) as an instance of business as usual. His products imply a cultural program beyond the marketplace. Musk compels public discussion. He’s a sort of architect.

Looking at California in this way points back to older, iconological approaches, art historical analyses applied across objects and institutions, ecologies and economies of dissimilar scale, type, intention, moving beyond connoisseurship and critical readings to capture something of the intellectual ecology behind things — the epistemology, or ontology; more than just the study of ideology, the study of ideas and intellectual frameworks particular to design, to its active attempts to mold the immediate future, and to its presuppositions about the world and the way it works.

That things don’t just happen, that political economy and subjectivity aren’t givens; that the meeting of matter and consciousness can be altered is not a general understanding but one particular to a class educated in design.
At which point I might be able to take my students out of the lecture hall (where we study OMA’s staggering and faraway monuments) and attempt an architectural exegesis of the systems of the Central Valley, scouring it for meaning, agency, interruption, rather than celebrating it as a vernacular, or damning it as pure instrumentalism. Perhaps we can stand above Cupertino and regard it like the heroine in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 (1965), who observes a new town a little further south in California:

Like many named places in California it was less an identifiable city than a grouping of concepts — census tracts, special purpose bond-issue distracts, shopping nuclei, all overlaid with access roads to its own freeway … a plinth course of capital on which everything afterward had been built, however rickety or grotesque, toward the sky. … she thought of the first time she’d opened a transistor radio to replace a battery and seen her first printed circuit. The ordered swirl of houses and streets … sprang at her now with the same unexpected, astonishing clarity as the circuit card had. … there were to both outward patterns a hieroglyphic sense of concealed meaning, of an intent to communicate. … [A] revelation … trembled just beyond the threshold of her understanding … she and the Chevy seemed parked at the center of an odd, religious instant.

What is Paris-Saclay reseach conglomerate? The French version of Cambridge?

The French government has budgeted over $25 billion to concentrate scores of universities, higher education schools and research centers in an area of (7,700 hectares) located between the airport of Orly and Versailles, and overlapping 49 territorial communitiesDominique Vernay is to preside this “Foundation of scientific cooperation” of Paris-Saclay Campus.

So far, many governmental public institutions and sydicates have to cooperate, such as the syndicate of transport, territorial collectivities, minister of education, the Defense minister, the ministry of Industry, Paris Chamber of Commerce, and the public establishment of Paris-Saclay…

What are these higher educational centers?

You have the Polytecnique (attached to the military and run by a General of the army) since it was established by Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, Mines, Agro (agriculture), HEC (high commerce study), Normal sup Cachan, Ecole centrale, Supelec, CEA, Inra, Renault, Thales (communication), Inria, CNRS (nuclear research), Inserm, Dassault (aerospace),…

The project was initiated because France had a problem of recognition as a center of high research destination among the foreign students:  France had no such global names as Oxford, Cambridge, Stanford, MIT, Caltec…For example, Mines, Agro, Hec…have regrouped under the mark “ParisTech” to resemble the names Caltech (California University of Technology) and MIT.

Top 8 World Innovation Clusters

Carte MIT

The ex-president of this higher educational institution (Paris-Saclay), Pierre Veltz, published a book “Do we have to save “Les Grandes Ecoles”?  The conservative higher education system in France are presided by at least half a dozen of chairmen, and not by an all-encompassing President to coordinate decisions and executing projects.

The project is to be host of 11 schools of research and 3 universities

Currently, half a dozen of campuses (Ecole centrale, Supelec, Normal sup Cacan…are “federating” around the university Paris-South Orsay on the plateau Moulon: Polytecnique campus is at 4 km from the faculty of Orsay, which is at 5 km from HEC, which is at 10 km from the university of Versailles…

There are no fast trains linking all these centers with the nearest airport or any fast transport means among the various educational campuses.  More than 20,000 employees and researchers in these campuses are isolated from close urban centers, and lacking adequate transport facilities.

The dream project, spanning 10 years, is to assemble the largest campus in Europe, the technology Latin Square of the 21st century, reaping the benefits of “the cafeteria effect” of Silicon Valley…

Part two: Two main factors discriminating stable developed Capitalist economies; (Jan. 10, 2010)

Election law systems and the political decision of the winning coalition in election that generates State’s initiatives programs constitute the two main factors that differentiate among the capitalist economies in developed nations. The first part discussed the election voting system which determines the type of capitalist economy.  This part analyses the second main factors for economic capitalist development: State’s economic initiatives and financing.

The story goes that at the start of WWII, the US government had already decided to join the war in order to join in the spoil of the after war political conditions.  The US was preparing to enter the war at the proper time:   The Pacific Front (directed toward Japan) was the scene of heavy Federal investment in shipyard construction and fighter planes.

Frederick Terman of Stanford University capitalized on this influx of money to position the civil engineering and research infrastructure of the university.  The university set up programs to connect with businesses and encouraged professors and students to establishing joint private enterprises. Consequently, Hewlett Packard started with $70,000 in venture capital and 9 employees in 1939.  By 1943, Hewlett Packard had 100 employees and enjoyed sales of one million, mostly from the Federal government purchases.

In the 50’s, the electronic enterprise of Variant Associates was selling over 90% of its products to the US military.  By the end of the decade, Hewlett Packard, Variant Associates, Lockheed, and Fairchild Semi-conductor were selling almost exclusively to the Defense Department guided missiles, airplane fighters, and space vehicles.  Many important cadres quit establishing their own enterprises; Intel was one of them in Silicon Valley.

Timothy Bresnahan estimates that, even today, over 70% of research grants are provided by the various departments in US government. Over 50% OF STUDENT GRANTS AND TUITION WAVERS ARE DEPENDENT ON GOVERNMENT FUNDING. Over 50% of professional published articles acknowledge the financial support of the Federal government.

Congress frequently enact laws to serve industries that are cared for by the Federal government.  The current Telecommunication Act of 1996 was meant to encourage intellectual rights and properties.

There were four waves to Information and communication technologies.  The first wave started before WWII, the second at the onset of the cold war with the advent of integrated circuits and semi-conductors for guided missiles and performing radars. The third wave was related to micro-computer in the 70’s.  The fourth wave was the development of Internet network.  In all these periods, the US Federal government was the prime initiator, mover, and financier via many makeshift “venture capital” enterprises.

The Advanced Research Project Agency (ARPA) was created in 1960 and it financed the network ARPANET to link researchers in various universities receiving research grants from the Federal government for fast transfer of files and messages.

The technology centers in Seattle, Austin, Washington, Boston, and Ann Arbor are the creation of the US Federal government via grants to their corresponding universities. In every developed nation, it was the central government that initiated, financed, and motivated technological development and key economical branches.

This is the trend since before the “industrial revolution”.  Entrepreneurial motivating drive and private venture capital support are mostly myths to hide State interventions and fair global market trade agreements.

Germany economic power started a decade before WWI.  The US basically emulated the German economic Federally initiated and supported key industries:  The US economic system was over half a century late in adopting the German system.  Before WWI, Germany was the second industrial and economic power behind rich US.

France during President De Gaulle initiated and backed key industrial sectors.  The problem was that France missed the proper timing to privatize a few productive sectors, as the US did in the 70’s.


adonis49

adonis49

adonis49

November 2020
M T W T F S S
 1
2345678
9101112131415
16171819202122
23242526272829
30  

Blog Stats

  • 1,441,653 hits

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.adonisbouh@gmail.com

Join 784 other followers

%d bloggers like this: