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Gemma Copeland

Writing

Over the last few weeks I’ve been trying to apply the principles of Hyperfocus to my work. Productivity books aren’t the kind of thing I’d usually read, but this one has actually been quite useful.

A lot of it just seems like common sense, like recognising that you have a finite amount of attention you can spend in every moment. It’s basically about applying meditation techniques to daily life to make the most of your attention. It starts with being more aware of the kinds of work you’re doing, which parts are purposeful and which parts are unnecessary busy-work.

It’s a lot about intention-setting: intentions for the hyperfocus session (an hour or less), for the day and for the week as well.

He summarises the core idea of hyperfocus as:

Keep one important, complex object of attention in your awareness as you work.

You decide what this object of attention should be, set a timer for how long you want to focus on it, eliminate any distractions and give it your full attention.

As with meditation, if you catch your mind wandering, you gently draw it back to the task at hand.

The counterpoint to hyperfocus is scatterfocus, where you just let your mind wander and observe where it goes. This is where the more creative thinking comes in, associations between otherwise unrelated ideas.

There are a number of other techniques in it that I’ve found really useful, like writing down “open loops” that are distracting or worrying you, and scheduling specific blocks of time to check email each day.

I liked the book because it’s ultimately about working less and making sure you allow yourself to recharge. I am definitely someone who tends to work too much, and tends towards anxiety as well. It was so useful for me to read this because it reminded me that overworking and multitasking doesn’t lead to better results.

I really want to make writing more of a habit.

Alex linked us to Matt Webb’s 15 rules for blogging the other day. Matt suggests that the way to publish often is to not be precious about what you’re writing, and to focus on one thing at a time:

One idea per post. If I find myself launching into another section, cut and paste the extra into a separate draft post, and tie off the original one with the word “Anyway.” Then publish.

A steep, mossy slope leading down to a clear, still lake

A very misty Llyn Cau, halfway up Cadair Idris in Wales.

We hiked most of this trail through low clouds. We noticed it getting warmer as we got closer to the peak, and then suddenly we were above the clouds and in brilliant sunshine.

 — Teaching digital

Last semester I started teaching Digital as part of BA Graphic Communication Design at Central Saint Martins.

My class was part of the Core Languages course, which included other classes like Typography, Print and Production, and Photography. The idea behind this was to introduce second year students to foundational concepts and skills that could then feed into their wider graphic design practice and the longer term, research-based projects from their other classes.

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Feel a bit guilty for not having done this earlier, but I’ve finally cancelled my Spotify subscription. This was prompted in part by this recent interview with Spotify’s CEO, which paints a pretty bleak picture about how they see the future of the music industry. It feels important to find ways to directly support artists, given that they’re some of those hardest hit by lockdown (and that music is one of the things that keeps me sane).

I wasn’t using Spotify that much anymore, so I doubt I’ll miss it. I usually just listen to NTS, which recently launched a Supporters network.

Some of my favourite NTS shows are:

Aside from that, I’m going to keep building my Bandcamp library, and maybe also try Resonate, a music streaming service and platform co-op that values fairness and control.


Hyperlinks

  • Listen to This, an Arena channel of my favourite songs and mixes
  • Mat Dryhurst often discusses alternatives to major labels and streaming platforms, on Twitter as well as on Interdependence, the podcast he co-hosts with Holly Herndon.

 — Strike!

At the start of the year, University of the Arts London (UAL) joined the ongoing University and College Union (UCU) strikes, which were centred on the “four fights”:

  • falling pay
  • the gender and ethnic pay gap
  • precarious employment practices
  • unsafe workloads
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 — All lichen, all coral

I’m currently in northern Wales, doing a lot of walking and also reading Arts of Living on a Damaged Planet.

It’s a collection of essays about geology and biology, shared histories and unstable futures, nature and the Anthropocene, featuring many of my favourite writers: Anna Tsing, Donna Harraway, Ursula K Le Guin. It’s split in two halves – Ghosts and Monsters:

Ghosts and monsters are two points of departure for characters, agencies and stories that challenge the double conceit of modern Man. Against the fable of Progress, ghosts guide us through haunted lives and landscapes. Against the conceit of the Individual, monsters highlight symbiosis, the enfolding of bodies within bodies in evolution and in every ecological niche. In dialectical fashion, ghosts and monsters unsettle anthropos from its presumed centre stage in the Anthoropocene by highlighting the webs and histories from which all life emerges.

A rock covered with lichen and moss, found on the mountain Cadair Idris in Wales

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 — This stands as a sketch for the future

We’ve just launched a website for Claim The Future, a project led by John McDonnell. The full text of his speech at the launch on Wednesday gives a good overview of the project:

We must claim the future. We have to ask and answer the questions about what lives we want to live, what communities we want to live in and what future there should be for our planet. If we don’t others will. And it will be the establishment politicians and their corporate controllers that will answer these questions for us.

A smiling sun saying "The Future? Yes Please."

Both the identity and website were a joy to work on, so I thought I should document a little bit of the process before I forget about it.

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 — From pages to performances

This is one of the posts I wrote for the Core Languages blog last semester, as part of a course at Central Saint Martens that introduced graphic design students to the digital design mindset.

What is unique about digital design as a medium? How can we approach design for screens in a way that is natively digital, rather than an appropriation of print design?

In this essay, Cory Arcangel suggests that the term “web performance” is more appropriate for describing the digital medium than “web page”:

The term that really drives me up the wall, though, is web page. Page connotes something stable, unchanging, and definite. A book page exists. A book page is. A web page, on the other hand, is a vastly more complicated structure. It is a set of instructions blasted from a server farm across the globe through fiber-optic cables, then interpreted by a computer’s hypertext transfer protocol browser and displayed by a light-emitting-diode screen. All this, by the way, is happening in real time—reconstituted at each millisecond through a unique and contingent tangle of systems—and is supported by the constant churn of the power grid, itself (incredibly) still commonly powered by burning coal. So instead of web page, I’d prefer the term web performance, which would remind us that this information is both immediate and ephemeral. In a sense, it is thousands of coal-powered virtual Rube Goldberg machines — lined up from end to end — that power our Facebook Paper apps on our iPhones.

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 — Time during quarantine

I’ve just finished reading Mrs Dalloway, which has me thinking a lot about time. (It was originally called The Hours, after all.) It’s such a wonderful book: Woolf effortlessly changes tempo, switches between the inner dialogue of different characters, moves from describing a fleeting present moment in great detail to remembering events long since passed.

It was particularly interesting to read this in our current context of lockdown. There seems to be a general consensus that time is very weird right now. March was endless while April and May have passed by incredibly quickly. There are ongoing jokes on Twitter about people struggling to remember what day it is, and questioning why we have days of the week at all.

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 — On worker cooperatives

One of my favourite quotes from Bianca Elzenbaumer of Brave New Alps comes from her 2014 thesis, Designing Economic Cultures:

Aiming to produce critically-engaged content whilst practicing in conventional ways underestimates the substantial potential designers have to contribute to social change not only through the content of their work, but also through their ways of doing and being.

The origin of the word radical is from the root: fundamental, structural. The way that we practice, support ourselves and collaborate with each other hugely impacts the work that we make. If we want to enable radical change, we need to begin by questioning the entire structure of our work.

I think that forming a worker cooperative is one way of prefiguring an alternative vision of the future of work. It recognises that we exist within capitalism, that we need to sustain ourselves within this system, but it also offers an alternative model of working: one based on solidarity, interdependence, self-determination and sustainability, rather than profit, growth and individual success.

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 — Dissenting Ephemera

Some of my notes from the Dissenting Ephemera workshop at MayDay Rooms a few weeks ago:

leftove.rs is an online archive of radical political ephemera, built in collaboration between MayDay Rooms and 0x2620 Berlin.

They’ve spent the last year digitising the MayDay Rooms archive and scraping other archives and now have a substantial body of material to work with. They’ve been experimenting with different ways of structuring, distributing and expanding upon this archive. For this workshop, they invited a range of people working in similar areas to share their experiences and contribute to the development of the platform.

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 — Resurgence

I don’t have anything much to add to the post-election cacophony. I know how important reflection is after a result like this, but in the week that has passed since I’ve found that I can’t bear to spend too much time thinking about what has happened, and what it’s going to mean for the next five years, for a country already tearing itself apart, for those who are already suffering and for the vague glimmer of hope I was holding out for decisive climate action.

I do want to record what I’ve found to be useful in dealing with the despair, mainly so I can refer back to it when I inevitably feel like this again in the future. Perhaps it will be of some use to others as well.

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 — Design & agency

I recently did a remote lecture for the Transformation Design course at HBK Braunschweig.

The students are currently doing a subject on operating systems, looking at the frameworks and structures that surround design: established and experimental ways of working, cooperation, organisation and solidarity.

It made me so happy that this course exists! I spoke about my own practice as a digital designer, the different studios I’ve worked for, collectives I’m part of and the different tools, structures and processes that I’ve learnt about and found useful in my work.

I also went on for quite a while about how great I think worker cooperatives are — planning to write this bit up in more detail soon.

View the presentation

 — What kind of Internet do you want to live in?

Last weekend was MozFest, which is easily my favourite tech event. This is the second year I’ve attended, and although it was different from last year’s experience it was just as exciting. At the end of the festival I always feel so energised and inspired.

As with last year, the most exciting part was the people I met and the conversations I had. As Lai Yi mentions, it is so incredible to go to a conference about the Internet and speak to so many women. The direction that the Internet is heading these days can feel pretty bleak, so it is wonderful to spend a weekend with so many people who are trying their hardest to change its trajectory.

I’ve written up some more thoughts as Common Knowledge on our blog.

 — A conversation with La Foresta

I recently spent a few weeks in Rovereto, northern Italy, to do a residency at La Foresta.

While I was there I printed a mini-newsletter, as part of an ongoing project that Evening Class is doing for the Journal of Aesthetics and Protest. The newsletter is a short conversation between Brave New Alps, one of the initiators of the La Foresta project, and two of us from Evening Class.

Evening Class and La Foresta newsletter

I’ve added the text of the full interview below.

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I’ve recently been working on a Membership Agreement for Evening Class. It’s an attempt to escape the tyranny of structurelessness, as well as to provide a guide for new members.

It’s been a rewarding exercise as it’s prompted us to think about and formalise some of the key principles that underpin everything we do, as well as making clear what forms of support we expect from each other. In some ways, these kinds of protocols can feel unnecessarily formal, but I feel like by having it all written down allows us to address how we treat each other more directly, forming the basis for a greater level of trust within the group.

This got me thinking about protocols more broadly, and what they mean for establishing and maintaining self-organised groups.

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