Jeremy Hiebert

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Ten Years

David Then and Now is fascinating. It's an art installation rotating through bus shelters in Winnipeg right now. Each bus stop gets two side-by-side portraits of the same guy (all named David) taken 10 years apart. It's interesting to view them in in sequence, to see how much difference a decade makes on our outward appearance at different life stages. This isn't so very lifestylism-oriented, but there's something important about projecting our current selves out into the future...and this art helps you get into that mental space.

Friday, June 17, 2005

Experience Designer and Career Planning

Brian Alger had an excellent post that I've had saved for weeks and keep forgetting to link to. He recounts a discussion with his college-aged son about career direction and life planning, but as usual, he goes much deeper to apply the personal experience to bigger questions about education and purpose:
"The source of career design and work is ultimately our life path, not imposed social expectations. Living a life and building a career based on some shallow conceptions of success will clearly lead to unhappiness and a sense of loss, if not illness itself. In other words, a career and the work we do within that career is simply a by-product of something far greater and far more powerful - our inner passion for the mystery of life itself."

As is often the case with great blog posts like this, they get better with age. This one triggered some fantastic comments and a thoughtful follow-up post. The most interesting comment was from Brian's son Justin -- I love this type of shared personal account. The whole thing is illuminating, but I'll just quote a bit of Justin's contribution:
"This all stems back to the ridiculous age of 16 - the age that the government of Ontario has decided for us all that we must start thinking about our 'careers’. It starts with a short course worth half a credit that they appropriately named 'Career Studies'. The purpose of the course was to fill out aptitude tests and browse career cruising websites so we could find careers that were ‘right’ for us. Of course, the definition of ‘right’ used was just plain wrong. Filling out a standardized test and looking up careers based on it makes absolutely no sense."

Since I began working in the career development field, I've asked dozens of people about their experiences with career planning and guidance counselling. The responses have been overwhelmingly negative, with rolled eyes and shaking heads. Generally we don't seem to have gleaned much benefit from the efforts of schools to help us figure out how we want to spend our time and create sustainable lifestyles. Family and friends seem generally incapable of even asking the right questions, never mind helping with answers. Why is this stuff so difficult?

Brian finishes up the follow-up with some great insight:
"Of course, being on one's life path, or following one's bliss, does not in any way mean that life is without problems and challenges or pain and anguish. But the possibility of happiness and contentment is ever more present in the face of the inevitable difficulties life will present. And the energy we bring to trying circumstances is more resilient - more purposeful - when we are in tune with our inner selves."

Defining Success

Curt has a whole series of posts dealing with how he's measuring success, and how his approach to success has changed:

* Career passion (of course)
* Financial abundance - having "enough"
* Time abundance
* Love
* Health
* Being present
* Meaning

From the post on time: "So in my definition of success, time abundance plays a key role. I want to have time to live the full scope of my life in 360 degrees, not just work."

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Connecting the Dots

From a commencement speech by Steve Jobs:
"Of course it was impossible to connect the dots looking forward when I was in college, but it was very, very clear looking backward 10 years later. Again, you can't connect the dots looking forward. You can only connect them looking backward, so you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something—your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever—because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well-worn path, and that will make all the difference."
I don't necessarily agree with all of this, but it is definitely true that it's basically impossible to connect the dots looking into your future. How much can we learn from the connected dots of others?

Consumers First?

Meet the gold-collar consumers -- "they're 18 to 25 years old, working at a poorly paid service job, living at home and buying $325 Christian Dior sunglasses". Apparently they've got Tastes for Glitz on Blue-Collar Pay.

The article quotes the author of Trading Up, which I still have in my bookshelf after reading the first couple of chapters last year. The basic premise is that we all find ways to buy luxury goods in specific niches that are important to us, but may sacrifice quality in other areas of our purchasing. For example, I have a mountain bike that's worth more than our car. It's a business book, so it focuses on how companies use that knowledge to leverage luxury products in all kinds of categories.

Aside from the obvious issues with tying our identities to what we buy, I'm interested in how this might affect how people envision their futures. A friend and I have been talking about software that could help people create views of their future lifestyles, where each activity (purchase, event, job, experience) is represented by a sort of value card. So I might select "mountain biking" and set my personal costs in time (four hours a week) and money ($20 a week), but more importantly select why I value it -- perhaps I mostly ride for its high social and emotional values, because I have a group of friends to ride with. The next person might choose the same activity, but value it mostly for the exercise and physical health benefits.

We had talked about the main categories of values being things like mental, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc...and we thought it would help people really think about how and why they value things. But how do you even try to quantify values for people who sponge off their parents and work at jobs they hate so they can afford overpriced shoes that make them feel like rock stars? Do we have to create a value selection for "pride" and "greed" and a housing option for "mooch"?

But perhaps that's the strength of a tool that helps people visualize how their values interact to create their lifestyle. If I create the shallowest, most consumeristic, energy-wasting, unrealistic vision of my future, then I will likely learn some things about myself and my perspective along the way. The "product" of an imagined future isn't actually as important as what you learn about what it is you really want, how you might make it work, and maybe even how it affects your community and the environment (even if you don't particularly value those effects?).

The theoretical underpinning of this stuff in reference to lifestylism is something like this: Most of our aspirations are borrowed in some vague way from the American Dream and societal assumptions like "you have to go to college to get a good job to make enough money for the big house". The process of envisioning what kind of lifestyle you really want will help expose some of the personal values, contradictions and trade-offs in a way that will constitute real learning -- instead of telling teenagers what they should do, or hoping they'll just absorb the goals everyone else assumes are ok, why not let them explore possible futures themselves and let them play with consequences first?

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Global Lifestylism

Once in a while, I wonder about how China's One Child Policy has played out. What's it like to grow up with an entire generation that has no siblings? How about in the next generation with no aunts, uncles or cousins? Some of the trends and expectations for 20-something "singletons" in China sound familiar:
"Today, however, nearly all urban singletons stay in school. The result is nationwide diploma inflation; jobs that a young adult secured only ten years ago with a vocational degree, such as a bank teller, now require four years of college. This is confusing to young adults, says Fong, and it's not any easier on their parents."
Along those lines, it sounds like the lifestyle choices of young Europeans (having one or no kids) could be depopulating the continent in the next half-century.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Class Mobility and College Dropouts

Via George comes this interesting story about rising numbers of college dropouts. Even more fascinating in the context of this project were the links off to an interactive exploration of class mobility and the related poll results (pdf). Belief in class mobility is the underpinning of the American Dream, which I've been somewhat critical of because it is so vague. I think many of use the American Dream as a stand-in for our aspirations, but the nebulous belief gets oversimplified as "I need to make more money than I'm making now so I can afford the lifestyle I want", without reference to the values we really care about. This stuff is squarely in the middle of lifestylism.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Legacy Matters

My bloglines account is overflowing with good stuff I never seem to have time to reflect on here. I had a whole bunch piling up around the theme of recording our lives and sharing our current and past identities with those who care about us (and those that will care in the future, perhaps after we're gone).

I've been saving all kinds of gems from the Legacy Matters blog. I sometimes find it very grim to be confronted by constant issues of mortality, but the focus on deathstylism gives lifestylism a sharper edge. Jill talks about the scary implications of our imminent digital immortality, which could take all kinds of interesting (and mind-bending) forms. She also explores digital storytelling and the growth of scrapbooking, while drawing the parallel to Helen Barrett's work in e-portfolios, which overlaps with some of my own work interests.

I also like her advice about including digital assets in your will, which asks what should happen to all your online/digital writing, photos and e-mail once you've passed on. It made me realize how much of my life's artifacts are either out on the web, or saved on my work laptop...time to think about some better approach. Finally, this bit about the diaries of ordinary people talks about a movement in the UK from the 1940s where thousands of people kept notes about their day-to-day life. It's a treasure trove for their grandchildren and people who live in those places now, reminding me of a fascinating memoir project my mom is doing with a woman who grew up in England during that same era. Along similar lines, I've been enjoying the Blog of Henry David Thoreau, which provides glimpses into his daily life 150 years ago.

This marketing report on life caching is very business-oriented, but covers lots of the cool technology coming out for the purpose of recording and sharing our lives. It boggles the mind to think of how much personal digital content we're collecting -- just my blogs, photos and music are taking up gigabytes of space already.