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Uniquely Yours

Posted on Aug 19 2019 in Essays

This essay by Brian Bailey first appeared in Offscreen Issue 16 (now sold out).

There is a good chance you’re working on something new right now: an app, a game, an open-source library. You’re enjoying the challenge and the creative process. The final result, you tell yourself, will be useful to a lot of people. Then, over coffee, a well-meaning friend brings up a discovery she recently made online. “Isn’t this pretty similar to what you’re working on?” You put on a brave face, but your heart sinks.

Back at home, you critically examine your idea’s doppelgänger and confirm that someone is indeed doing something very like what you’re doing. In fact, they seem further along and have already solved a few problems that had you stumped. You take a deep breath as a wave of discouragement passes over you: ‘I’ve poured so much time and effort into this!’ A strong belief in the originality of your idea had fed your confidence, but now it’s just another version of something that already exists.

I recently spent a day with an inspiring book on modern architecture around the world. What struck me was the incredible variety. Just as writers strive to do with words, and artists with paint, architects work to push the boundaries of what’s possible, though they all begin with the same materials and are limited by the same physical laws. Cooking, photography, poetry – and, yes – apps and websites are all similar in that regard. Within artistic pursuits, original, significant expression can sprout from the same ingredients and constraints.

We humans tend to be shortsighted, though, and that tendency is nowhere so obvious as on the internet. Whenever a new project is revealed – whether it’s a prototyping tool, a podcast, or a to-do list app – a chorus of naysayers greets it with, “Do we really need another one of those?”

The answer is ‘yes’. Always yes. The web provides room for endless varieties of similar ideas to take root and co-exist, each with a unique twist. Niches thrive online. There are designers who wonder why there isn’t a prototyping tool that works the way they think. There are people waiting for the to-do list app that finally clicks for them. And there are many searching for a conference that speaks to who they are and what they stand for.

A few years ago, some friends and I started an online community called Uncommon in Common. A social network: how original! As we all know, there have been thousands of such things; some are home to over one billion people. It’s a solved problem, you might say. Well, there just wasn’t one that suited us. We wanted a welcoming, peaceful front porch filled with thoughtful conversation. We wanted a place that encourages a healthy relationship with our screens, a community free of ads and addictive feedback loops. Free of FOMO. We jokingly referred to it as ‘the next small thing on the internet’.

Uncommon isn’t an idea that appeals to a billion people. It may never be home to more than a few thousand. But for the people who stumble upon it, there’s the joy of finding the place they’ve been searching for – a place just for them.

Imagine a band recording its first album. Months of practice and sparsely attended shows have led to this moment. On their way to the recording studio, the car radio plays a new guitar-driven, uptempo song about relationships, eerily similar to theirs. Do you think they would turn their car around in defeat? ‘Well, we thought we were on to something, but it turns out someone else had the same idea.’

Here’s the thing: originality isn’t what sets your idea apart. You are.

Whatever you are working on, you have your own motivations, skills, beliefs, and priorities. You have past experiences that shape your work, and hopes and values that shape its future. Even though something else solves a similar problem or fills a similar gap, the end result will never be the same.

There is room in this world for you and your idea. There is room for another band, another book, another conference, app, game, or community – because only yours is uniquely yours. You don’t compete against someone else’s project. The competition is between you and unfinished. Believe in it, see it through, and share it with the rest of us.

Enjoyed this essay? Support indie publishing and buy available issues of Offscreen for more thought-provoking reads in beautiful print.

We’re back! Issue 21 starts shipping this week.

Posted on Jul 29 2019 in News

After the release of issue 20 in August 2018, I’ve taken some time off from Offscreen to focus on other things, like walking across Germany, launching Dense Discovery, and doing some contract work at a lovely agency here in Melbourne. Almost exactly a year later, I’m excited to announce that Offscreen is back with a new issue and some minor changes I’m outlining below.

Issue 21 will start shipping later this week. As always, to be part of the first big batch leaving our warehouse, make sure you order your copy today.

As a subscriber you will automatically receive the new issue, but it’s worth checking your account to make sure that your shipping details are up-to-date. Use the link in your confirmation email from us to access your account or request a new link here: my.offscreenmag.com.

In this issue we share our thought-provoking conversations with:

  • Kim Goodwin – The design leadership coach and author who passionately advocates for a human-centred design approach that permeates all levels of an organisation.
  • James Bridle – The artist, writer, and ‘tech-philosopher’ who warns of a future in which algorithms cloud our reality and impede the democratic process.
  • Renée DiResta – The researcher and writer who was one of the first to uncover the spread of harmful disinformation and conspiracy theories on social media.
  • Nathan Schneider – The professor of media studies who advocates for the economic model of cooperatives as an alternative to the robber-baron tech economy.

View the details of issue 21 here →

As always, we relied on the generous support by our sponsors to make this issue happen: DuckDuckGo, Harvest, SuperHi, Hover, SiteGround, and Ueno. And of course, a big 'thank you' to all Patrons of this issue.

Changes in issue 21

Starting with this issue we’re introducing a few changes to materials and format:

You’ll notice that we’re (back to) using an uncoated paper called EnviroTop. This is in part due to our previous, coated paper not being available in the grammage we needed. But to be honest, we also kinda missed the lovely texture of uncoated paper. Just like the previous stock, EnviroTop is made from 100% recycled paper.

We reduced our sponsors from eight to just six. Finding sponsors has been time-consuming and at times difficult given that businesses these days prefer to spend their ad dollars on hyper-targeted, click-based online campaigns. Removing a quarter of our funding meant that we also had to reduce our production cost, and one way to do this is to reduce the overall page count of the magazine...

To achieve this we removed three regular features: the Gear section, the company profile, and the Workspace photo series. This allowed us to reduce the content from 158 pages to 128.

We understand that some of you will miss these features, but making Offscreen a little leaner hopefully means that we can sustain the publication more easily.

Feel free to get in touch if you have any questions or feedback.

Thank you for your ongoing support! We hope you enjoy the new issue as much as we enjoyed making it.

– Kai

Offscreen is taking a break

Posted on Sep 15 2018 in News

Seven years ago, when I first thought about ‘a print magazine for pixel people’, I could have never imagined that today I’d still be answering emails from readers or preparing orders for fulfilment. What started as a somewhat nostalgic idea of a guy tired of pushing pixels on a screen ended up defining a large part of my life and, to be honest, my identity.

Those of you who have followed me from the beginning know that I had my fair share of ups and downs – the result of me coming to terms with the reality of shipping tangible products. Whenever I was close to calling it ‘the last issue’ I would receive a heart-warming email or an encouraging tweet or I would run into an enthusiastic reader at an event that changed my mind.

You kept me going over the years, making me proud and honoured to publish a magazine with an unbelievably supportive, loyal, and thoughtful readership. But not only by that measure has Offscreen exceeded my wildest expectations: the privilege to work with amazing contributors and sponsors, the opportunity to speak about Offscreen at many events around the globe, or simply being able to walk into a bookstore in a foreign country and seeing my own publication on display still makes me want to pinch myself.

Ok, this is starting to read like an obituary. It isn’t. At least not yet.

Having just released issue 20 I feel now is a good time to take a breather and give my mind some space to reassess. This means that there won’t be a new issue of Offscreen for at least six months, maybe more.

I’m hoping to spend a bit of time exploring other ideas (such as the recently launched Dense Discovery) and – if the right project presents itself – I wouldn’t be opposed to joining a small team to work on something unrelated to publishing. (I’m particularly interested in the ‘tech-for-good’/social impact field, so if you think I could be a valuable addition to your team, please get in touch!)

When there are news about Offscreen, you will hear from me via email and Twitter. It never hurts to also subscribe to Dense Discovery where I frequently share brief updates on my work.

Of course, the Offscreen website and shop remain open and orders are fulfilled as usual. In fact, your continuous support of Offscreen (by word of mouth, for instance) helps keep everything up and running.

Thank you all so much for your generous support! ✌️
– Kai

Letter to the editor

Posted on Sep 13 2018 in Letters

Hi Kai,

I live in Richmond, Virginia, USA which is about 1.5 hrs drive south of Washington D.C. There's a wide range of stereotypes about American's but I'm probably in line with many of the young professional male ones: thirty years old, upper-middle class white male, married to my college sweet heart, with a dog and a beautiful one-year-old little girl, in a house close enough to the city center to walk around but big enough for a yard and a couple of cars. I started my own consulting firm for digital business automation this year. In many respects, I live an unremarkable and privileged American lifestyle. However, I do my best to engage with my community and strive for positive change in the world in various ways. Medical trips serving the poor in Honduras, helping Afghan refugees settle locally, simply raising a child with love and care. Nothing game-changing but I try not to just sit on my privilege like Scrooge Mcduck. Recently, Offscreen has been an integral part of my life journey...

A community where I frequently have honest open conversations is my (Christian) church. That community consists of about one half young people – mostly liberal leaning – and one half old people – mostly conservative. It's this crazy microcosm of what's going on in America in a community of about a hundred people. We're brought together by our shared faith in God, but sometimes (like how much of the rest of the world views Christians and/or Americans) we look at 'the other side' and think "WTF is wrong with them?!?!". In spite of all this, our community has begun to acknowledge that the world is changing rapidly and society is becoming more divisive and one way for us to figure it all out is to talk respectfully and frequently with people we don't agree with. Often, people in this particular community bring secular topics to the table to discuss. In that spirit, I've been sharing Offscreen with folks and the ensuing conversations with people have been deeply moving.

Some highlights of conversations involving Offscreen:

The Jocelyn K. Glei interview might have changed dozens of people's lives in just my own community. Mind you, almost all of the folks in this group of Americans have zero familiarity with the whole world you live in as you daily reflect on technology's impact on society. So when you drop into the lap of the average technology-addicted and attention-enslaved American this incredibly insightful discussion on technology and how it impacts us, it's like this veil is lifted. I shared my copy with a usually exhausted mom who works at a bank and when she gave it back to me the next week she said she cried because it all cut to the core of so many problems she's been trying to sort out.

My pastor has an amazing gift to connect with our diverse perspectives each Sunday. While some people picture preaching as some judgement-day holier-than-though speech, his are pretty much like weekly TED talks with Christian themes woven throughout. You might find it interesting that he's indirectly drawn from Offscreen about a half dozen times this summer alone to highlight various points about slowing down. A few times, he mentions the "Day in the Life" stories highlighting how slowing down helps us open our eyes to the right way to care for ourselves and treat others with kindness.

Personally, I think the big take away has been that you are collecting content which people are thirsty for as they try to navigate such a rapidly changing world. I've yet to share my copy with someone and it not result in this crazy deep reflective conversation with them afterwards. Even folks who are much further right politically than your interviewees (or even the overall voice of the magazine) are able to have the core messages resonate.

I'm sharing this with you because I think it's important for you to know what your doing is advancing humanity. Even if it's just in this tiny stereotypical pocket of America, the work you are doing forces meaningful conversations and healthy reflections at a grassroots level. It is breaking outside of the bubble of your peer and professional network and is actually penetrating into the society that feeds the beast needing to be tamed.

Thank you,
Matthew

Issue 20 is here!

Posted on Aug 27 2018 in News

It's been seven years since I started working on the first issue of Offscreen. And today I'm happy to announce the release of issue 20! To celebrate, issue 20 is printed with a special metallic Pantone colour throughout. It looks surreal. You don't want to miss this one! We're also dedicating eight pages in the back of the issue to revisiting all of our previous interviewees to find out what they've been up to.

Issue 20 will start shipping in the next 48 hours. To be part of the first big batch leaving our warehouse, make sure you order your copy today.

As a subscriber you will automatically receive the new issue, but it’s worth checking your account occasionally anyway to make sure that your shipping details are up-to-date. The access link to your account can be found in the confirmation email you received after your initial order. Can’t find the email? Request a new link on my.offscreenmag.com.

In issue 20 we’ve had the privilege to interview:

  • Richard Pope – A designer and digital strategist who was part of the initial team behind GOV.UK and who more recently has put his expertise on building trust and accountability in the digital to good use for the private and non-profit sectors.
  • Amber Case – The author and researcher is the creator of the Calm Tech principles which attempt to protect our attention and recapture our sense of purpose and identity.
  • Aza Raskin – The artist, design thinker, and co-founder of The Center for Humane Technology offers thoughts on how we can take on our future, reframe our problems, and look for solutions beyond the limits of the possible.
  • Tricia Wang – The tech ethnographer and entrepreneur wants companies to look beyond their obsession with Big Data and invest in qualitative research (she calls it Thick Data) to truly understand the human aspects of their customers.

View the details of issue 20 here.

This issue would not have been possible without the support of our generous sponsors: Bakken & Bæck, Harvest, Help Scout, Hover, SiteGround, Made by Many, Simplecast, and Ueno. And of course, a big 'thank you' to all Patrons of this issue.

A special shout-out to Kieran O'Hare who conducted the interviews and helped with editing the issue. (Hire him if you need editing help!)

Don't forget to share your feedback and photos via Twitter and Instagram once you’ve received your copy in the mail. Any questions, just contact us. Enjoy your Offscreen time!