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New Machinery

Posted on Jun 27 2017 in Production

After five years of loyal service, I'm retiring my current Macbook Pro and replacing it with a new model. (For those interested in specs: it's the 15-inch 2.8GHz 2017 model with standard specs.) As I went through the process of buying and now setting up a new machine and talking to people about it on Twitter/Instagram, I made a few observations I wanted to share:

  • Five years is a long time for a computer. To be fair, I have had one battery and a couple of screen replacements (free through Apple Care) but given that this was my main and only machine for the better half of the last decade running for around eight hours per day on average, it's aged amazingly well. In fact, it's still going strong now. I've decided to get a new one because its battery needs replacing again and, more importantly, the CPU/GPU is struggling during heavy lifting in Indesign/Lightroom. The laptop's casing is certainly showing its age too – it's lost a couple of its rubber feet a while back. But after five years of daily operation and many thousands of kilometres of travel, I'm very impressed with the shape it's in. Apple devices aren't cheap, but their build quality is hard to beat.

  • There was a time when hardware specs got me really excited. I remember the thrill of ordering PC parts online and then putting together my very own dream machine. Twenty years later, I really don't care all that much about the inside. Hardware specs don't seem all that important anymore. It's a tool, and the less time I spend thinking about the inside, the more I can focus on getting work done. That's why I don't feel particularly strongly about the Touch Bar, the lack of ports, and the many other things that got people riled up about this release. Some of the updates will cause inconvenience for a while, but I'll adapt.

  • Some people on Twitter suggested I should look beyond Apple and check out Microsoft or even Linux alternatives. The stuff coming out of Microsoft lately looks really promising, but a move from one platform to another is way too disruptive for me. The time it takes to (re)learn Windows, find similar apps, and move things over is just not worth it for me. As I said above, computers are tools. I don't obsess about tools – I just want them to work reliably so that I can go on with my life/work. The Mac does this for me, so I don't see any major benefits in moving to another platform.

  • Those who follow me know that I don't believe in jumping on every trend or purchasing every shiny new gadget (despite publishing a weekly newsletter containing a lot of those). Our industry produces millions of tons of toxic e-waste every year. I think we shouldn't upgrade our devices just because Apple tells us to. I made it a principle to not buy new devices until they break or their age negatively impacts my productivity in a major way. The same goes for my phone.

  • I occasionally do consulting for fledgling magazine makers and one question that often comes up is what hardware setup I would suggest. The assumption is that in order to make a good print product, you need expensive, 'specced-out' Mac Pros and special screens. But the only other hardware I've been using to produce 17 issues of Offscreen is a pretty simple, non-retina 21-inch DELL screen (I think it was less than $500 when I bought it) that I attach to my laptop when I work from home. I also bought a colour-calibration device (Spyder Express from Datacolor) to ensure colours on screen aren't way off. And that's it. It's a pretty basic setup that has worked well enough for me. Now that I have the new Macbook Pro I will most likely update my screen as well to get a bit more screen real estate and make use of 4K and USB-C connectivity. I'm looking at the LG 27UD88 but haven't decided for sure yet, because... see above.

  • Environmental issues aside, upgrading the machinery I rely on every five or so years is a worthwhile investment. Sure, Apple products aren't cheap, but it's a tiny expenditure considering the value I'm able to produce with it. Spending $5000 every five years breaks down to around $83 per month or $2.75 per day. I spend more on coffee. How crazy is that?

Latte Art Therapy

Posted on Jun 21 2017 in Essays

This essay by Anne Sage first appeared in Offscreen Issue 12 (now sold out).

2013 was a rough year. I moved from San Francisco to Los Angeles. I walked away from the thriving business I’d helped to build. And I closed the door on my marriage. Today, professional contacts still invite me to Bay Area events and are surprised to learn that I haven’t lived there in almost three years. New colleagues express shock when I name myself as the co-founder of a well-known online media property. And casual acquaintances meet with disbelief the revelation not only that I’m divorced, but that I was ever married in the first place.

Before the rise of social media, I would not have expected anyone but my closest friends to know the intimate details of my life. However, as we increasingly broadcast our daily minutiae to an ever-growing network of loosely connected followers, it isn’t unreasonable to assume that our hairdresser can describe what we ate for breakfast before we even sit down in her chair. Take into further account the fact that since 2008 I’ve acquired a small degree of internet recognition through my blog, and it seems odd indeed that these pivotal points of my personal history remain shrouded.

Yet a look back at my Instagram feed from that tumultuous time reveals nothing of my divorce, my career upheaval, or the emotional havoc that came with both. The image gallery reads more like a modern homemaker’s almanac – roses, latte art, thrift store sprees – than the visual diary of a young woman mourning the passing of life as she knew it. There’s no mention of the midnight junk food binges or the crying jags on the bathroom floor, the bounced checks or the rejected credit applications. Given the shiny veneer I lacquered over my struggles, it’s no wonder that few beyond my intimate circle know I was a hot mess for the better part of two years.

It’s possible to scroll back to those photos and lump them with an issue that has garnered much attention lately: the concerns over FOMO (‘fear of missing out’) and its accompanying pressure to project a flawless online image that defies reality. And indeed, I’m the first to admit that plenty of those 'latte-grams' stemmed from the desire to hide my mess with a filtered facade. However, with hindsight I’ve determined that this desire arose less from a place of outward comparison than from a deep sense of self-preservation. More than I wanted likes and comments, I craved the healing peace of privacy.

Plainly put, I wasn’t ready to tell my story. Nor was it exclusively mine to tell. The recently altered relationships were too tenuous, the just-cut ties too raw. So I retreated behind the sheltering wall of social media. I drew pleasure from snapping sunny photos and giving them pithy captions uncoloured by my inner shadows. Meanwhile, I dwelt in my loveless, jobless present, reflecting on my role in the past hurt and drama, and on my vision for a kinder, calmer future. My online restraint represented an expression of the care and respect that I’d previously denied my marriage, my business partners, and myself; and my determination to maintain an upbeat social media presence inspired a continual quest for reasons to smile. I emerged from this contemplative time anchored as I hadn’t been before in my values, my responsibilities, and my intention to leave a positive legacy on the long memory of the internet.

In our current cultural obsession with buzzwords like ‘authenticity’ and ‘transparency', we forget that there’s a time and a place for airing our grief – and that the internet isn’t always it. While public vulnerability can indeed dilute the isolating effects of FOMO by grounding us in common experience, an equally solid foundation awaits us when we remove our hearts from our sleeves and hold them quietly, tenderly, to our chests. My Instagram feed from those difficult years stands not in defiance of reality but rather in support of a powerful truth: that even through a veil of pain and confusion, we can choose to seek and share a moment of beauty. And that when we’re wandering lost in the dark, even roses and latte art can be a radiant light at the end of the tunnel.

An Exist Strategy

Posted on Jun 16 2017 in Essays

This essay by Natasha Lampard first appeared in Offscreen Issue 15 (now sold out).

In a picturesque valley, nestled in the southern alps of Japan’s Yamanashi prefecture, lies a traditional Japanese hot spring hotel, an onsen. It’s not big. There are fewer than 40 rooms. Unlike other typical onsens, which operate during certain hours, the baths at this onsen are open 24 hours a day to serve its patrons. The water is of the highest quality – pure, alkaline, neither artificially heated nor treated. The meals served aim to 'balance taste, texture, appearance, and the season'. Fresh, seasonal ingredients are used, foraged and caught in the nearby mountains and rivers.

The staff are hardworking, courteous, and committed to exemplary service. They embody omotenashi: the spirit of selfless service and humble hospitality. With an understanding that each of those they serve has different needs, there is a desire to put their patrons first, personalise their experience, and exceed expectations. The staff are dedicated not to reaching the top of the corporate ladder, but instead to protecting the onsen, to help it thrive and preserve it for years to come.

They have done so for many, many years. Over 1,300 years in fact. Established in 705 A.D., Nishiyama Onsen Keiunkan is the oldest company in the world. It opened during the Middle Ages, before the Islamic Conquest of Spain, a full millennium before the Declaration of Independence of the United States of America. When the onsen opened, the country of my birth, New Zealand, had yet to be discovered by our Maori ancestors. And in all that time, this onsen has been operated by the same family – currently in its 52nd generation of continuous management. Some members of staff have held the same post for generations, passing it from parent to child, child to grandchild, grandchild to great-grandchild.

The onsen has stayed small. They know what they do, and they do what they know. Their focus on service is relentless. They are a team united in its mission to protect, to nurture, to tend to, to keep alive – a delicate balance of continuation, innovation, and dedication that has endured for hundreds and hundreds of years.

Over 1,300 years after the onsen first opened its doors, I sit in my home office and skim through the morning news: congratulatory interviews and enthused reviews with 'startup gurus' celebrating exits and acquisitions – the ultimate end goals reached. And I wonder...

Did Fujiwara Mahito, founder of the onsen, have an exit strategy? I wonder if his children, his grandchildren, his great-grandchildren or his great-great-great-great-great-grandchildren ever considered their exit strategies? I imagine they didn't. I imagine they focused not on an exit strategy, but on an exist strategy – a strategy based on the idea of sticking around.

Recently, I've been thinking a lot about how fulfilling it would be to have my children all working alongside me, to have them share in the love and passion of my business, to have them want to protect it, nurture it, nourish it, tend to it, craft it, feel grateful for it, and try to keep it going for a long time, for themselves and future generations.

I wonder what decisions we would make differently if we inherited the work we do? What if our 'exits' were bestowing upon someone we love the thing we have created and crafted over a lifetime? What if the focus wasn’t on selling up and moving on, but instead was on handing down and passing on? What if this 'longtrepreneurial' thinking had a bigger overflow effect, changing our sense of community, government, and the planet?

Digital strategist Shelley Bernstein once said that one of the greatest challenges currently facing us is how to interact meaningfully with the people we serve. Interact meaningfully with the people we serve. Not eyeballs. Not users. But people.

Success, surely, needn’t be measured only by the hockey stick or the exit sign. We can choose to remain small. We can choose to devote ourselves to something that serves and respects and delights people. We can choose to do our small things in small ways, which over a period of time can build upon themselves. In the spirit of omotenashi we can find meaning, pride, and fulfilment in what we do, continually and selflessly. Surely, that is success too.

Unsplash + Offscreen: Show us your favourite way to log off

Posted on May 23 2017 in News

Unsplash, the photo-sharing site that lets you download and use thousands of free photos without any restrictions, has become a bit of a phenomenon. What started as a side project attracted tens of millions of downloads in its first year alone. Today more than 250,000 photos are downloaded every single day.

I'm an Unsplash fan too. In fact, I use photos from Unsplash for this very blog. So when Mikael Cho reached out to ask whether I'm interested in running a little campaign together, it was an easy decision.

Under the theme Life Off Screen we've started a new collection all about our favourite ways to log off. My first shot: I love browsing book and magazine stores, so I've chosen a photo of a recent visit of our Berlin stockist, Do You Read Me.

I'm now calling on the Offscreen community – you – to submit your photos of your favourite things or activities that you turn to once you turned off your device. What's your favourite way of spending time away from your screens?

How it works

  • Use the link below to upload your photos. (You'll need to create an account if you don't have one already.)
  • Add 'Life Off Screen' to the photo story (its caption)
  • All photos must adhere to Unsplash's Submission Guidelines.
  • Your photos will be reviewed, generally within 24 hours.
  • Once approved your photos will be available to use for everyone for free without restrictions.

Submit your photos now

With a bit of luck your photo will also be selected as a top-ten pick and appear in Unsplash's newsletter (sent to around 400,000 recipients) and on Unsplash's homepage. As a top-ten pick you also get a load of free Unsplash swag.

I can't wait to see what you come up with. Happy snapping!

Results of our reader survey

Posted on May 10 2017 in News

A couple of weeks ago I asked you to fill out our reader survey so that I could get a better picture of my audience and collect some basic feedback along the way. 554 of you submitted answers. Thanks so much! You can view the results of the multiple choice questions here:

View survey results

Of those who answered the two open-ended feedback questions (one on Offscreen Magazine, the other on Offscreen Dispatch) the vast majority had nothing but praise. I'm always flattered by this (thanks again!) but of course it's the critical feedback that helps me improve and make changes. Though, the contradictory nature of the responses really surprised me. Here are some verbatim answers:

On the focus on tech

A few of the interviews lately have been less tech-industry focussed which is fine and understandable, but isn't my personal preference. Not a huge issue, though!
– vs –
Broaden the industries you cover in the magazine and also cover photography, art, illustration, typography, etc.

On the new binding method

Bring back the glued binding. This new one looks so very wrong.
– vs –
I like the redesign, especially the binding.

On the length of interviews

I love the longform articles. Such a treat to have some well curated, deep discussion. The tone of voice is ace too. More of these would be welcome.
– vs –
Interviews can be very long and it's not fun for readers with limited attention span. Perhaps more bite-sized articles and features would be good.

On featuring well-known people

Focus on industry leaders. Julie Zhou was a big name which attracted me to that last issue.
– vs –
Interview less known people, from non-english speaking countries. I was a bit disappointed to see Julie Zhuo on cover of the new mag. She's too 'mainstream'.

On diversity

Keep it up with the diverse voices please!
– vs –
More diversity! The magazine is still mostly white guys in the U.S. Let's get some gender/racial/ethnic/geographic diversity in there.

This is just a small selection. Reading through the hundreds of entries, it felt like almost every piece of feedback was immediately annulled by the next. To be honest, I'm not sure if I actually can take anything away from it. Perhaps that by landing in the middle I'm doing it right? I'm not sure.

Some other responses that caught my eye and that I wanted to briefly touch on here:

On Offscreen Dispatch

I actually preferred the old layout due to the use of imagery for each link. Helps provide context and captures attention.

Many of you mentioned that they preferred the old layout of my weekly newsletter (then called The Modern Desk) because it showed more images of the products. That's actually not true. I've always only showed images of the tangible products (and not the digital ones). It might be the layout overall that gives that impression.

Sometimes there are some really cool products but the 'reviews' don't seem like you actually used them.

That's correct. I don't review any of the products in the newsletter unless I clearly say so. There is no way I can find the time to buy and review 5–6 products every week. All of the items in the newsletter are purely suggestions – things I've stumbled upon and want to share because they caught my eye.

I canceled it because it makes me click to read. I like newsletters to contain all information without having to open my browser.

Hmm.

On sharing more of the behind the scene

Add more background knowledge about managing/producing/designing Offscreen.

Several of you said they wanted to know more about what's happening behind the scenes. This is something I actually really enjoy sharing. If you have been following me for a while you will know that I write and share a lot of what's happening behind the scenes right here on the blog. If you aren't aware of the depth of the blog yet, have a browse and then grab the RSS feed to always get the latest posts. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to blog as much as I'd like recently.

I'd prefer if you gave away the content for free and find another revenue model.

I also wish we could end capitalism but sadly we're not there, yet.

Dispatch
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