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Field Notes

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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!

Just released: Issue 19

Posted on Apr 18 2018 in News

In time for the lovely spring weather here in Germany, issue 19 launches today and will start shipping early next week. 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 19 we’ve interviewed these inspiring folks:

  • Jocelyn K. Glei – An author, podcaster, and newsletter-publisher on a quest to find out what it really means to be productive (and creative) in the age of distraction.
  • Angus Hervey – The co-founder of Future Crunch advocates for an 'intelligent optimism' to fight the current doom and gloom of the news and the dystopian predictions of a tech-driven future.
  • Ashleigh Axios – As former creative director and digital strategist at the Obama White House, Ashleigh now speaks out about design's ability for social change and urges designers to step up to the plate.
  • Bryce Roberts – A venture capitalist like no other: with Indie.vc Bryce takes a fairer and more humble approach to investing in startups, many of which are founded by people of underrepresented groups.

View the details of issue 19 here.

This issue would not have been possible without the support of our generous sponsors: Adobe Typekit, Harvest, Hover, SiteGround, SuperHi, Twist, Ueno, and WooCommerce. And of course, a big 'thank you' to all Patrons of this issue.

A special shout-out to Amirah Jiwa and Kieran O'Hare who conducted some of the interviews and helped with editing the issue.

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!

Acknowledging Privilege

Posted on Apr 05 2018 in Essays

This essay by Bryce Roberts first appeared in Offscreen Issue 14 (now sold out).

Last Sunday night, my daughter was moaning and rocking back and forth in her chair, wrestling with a question staring back at her from the computer screen. ‘What is the greatest challenge you’ve faced in your life?’, the college application pointedly inquired. As her Dad, I had some ideas. But her? She was stumped.

Looking at that question, I was torn between being terrified that I’d sheltered her from character-defining trials and grateful that I’d been able to provide her with a fairly carefree childhood. We ultimately uncovered something real and meaningful for her to write about, but in a world of possible obstacles and adversity it was clear that she has been living a very privileged life. That acknowledgement has provoked some real reflection for me too.

For years I’ve told myself a story. It starts with ‘no one ever handing me anything’ and ends with me in the position I am today. I didn’t come from a notable family, I never asked my parents for anything after I got married at the age of twenty-two. The opportunities that I’ve experienced and taken advantage of to bring me to today were a result of hustle, or something like that. When I graduated from college I started a company. As a young married family with one kid, and another on the way, we scraped by on $1,000 a month while we tried to get this new business off the ground. Taking that risk and coming out better on the other side laid the groundwork for all the other professional risks I’ve taken since. And look at where I am now.

I’ve revisited that narrative a lot over recent years and months, and the more I do so the more I realise that there are holes in that story that deserve acknowledgement.

I was raised in an upper middle class family. I never wanted for food or much of anything. My family owned a boat. The only jobs I worked as a kid were given to me by family or friends of family. And they paid me much better than my friends working summer jobs in fast food or at the Motel 6. I worked full time through undergrad and was able – with my parents’ help with tuition – to graduate with a degree from a well-regarded university with no student debt. When I married, we got a couple of old hand-me-down cars from our parents. And when I left a cushy job to go start a new company right out of school, my income was reduced to just $1,000 a month, so my parents offered to cover my rent for that first year. I could not have taken those risks or reaped the subsequent rewards had it not been for my family’s financial support.

So, the story that I’ve been telling myself all these years has big gaping holes that need filling. It has safety nets that require recognition, and privilege that deserves acknowledgement.

For those of us who are firmly convinced that anyone can do anything by working hard and pulling themselves up by the bootstraps, we need to recognise that most of us had additional hands helping us do the pulling, while many others had to fight hands that actively pushed them back down. We had resources avail- able to us that may not be available to those upon whom we heap our pearls of wisdom. We may, in fact, just happen to have been born into more favourable circumstances than those who we hope can learn from the path we’ve trodden.

This imbalance deserves to be countered. But before we start with the grandstanding, it’s a worthwhile experience to embark on some soul-searching. In acknowledging the privilege many of us have had, we can fill the holes in our own stories and move forward with a more honest, insightful, and impactful understanding than the conventional wisdom that anyone anywhere can achieve anything by just 'following their dreams'.

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

Issue 18 Editor’s Note

Posted on Feb 08 2018 in Thoughts

After Mills’ encouraging email, I decided to publish the editor’s note of the latest issue here. I believe it’s one of the most important Offscreen issues yet. Make sure you purchase your copy before we sell out.

As the people who create technology, we love to think of ourselves as the architects of a better tomorrow, an exciting future full of positive possibilities. We often believe that the fix for major problems is a technological one: where humans fail, let the machines figure it out. Technology is, by definition, progress. Or so we thought.

In the wake of global upheaval against the status quo, the tech community is coming to terms with having over-promised and under-delivered. Almost weekly, headlines about security breaches remind us that we’re now in the post-privacy age, where private data is just another commodity. Meanwhile, a cultural shift is bringing deeply entrenched gender and racial inequalities into the open. And in Silicon Valley, unicorn defectors publicly apologise for having created addictive UI patterns and shady algorithms that exacerbate social division.

And just like that, the tech world finds itself on a soul-searching mission. The realisation that the ethical decisions made by its creators are baked into all technology has come as a surprise. It turns out that lifeless tools – such as a simple recommendation engine – are not as neutral or amoral as we thought. It’s become clear now that programmers, designers, and data scientists are faced with some of the most pressing ethical dilemmas of our time. This forces us to ask a vital question: are they sufficiently equipped to make decisions on behalf of millions of people?

I would dare to say that we are on the cusp of a new era in technology. For the first time, we’re seeing the broad ethical ramifications of the tools we build, sparking a discussion about what author Fabio Chiusi calls ‘the human ghost in the machines.’ From academics to journalists, and investors to politicians, we’re finally starting to engage in the difficult conversations that could lead us to exciting and much- needed alternatives to the orthodoxies of the last few decades.

In a more enlightened era of tech, we will move beyond a superficial understanding of ’well designed’, which today seems overly concerned with aesthetics. Instead, good design will focus on creating user experiences that are inclusive and empathetic, on writing code that is open and energy-efficient, and on running a business model that doesn’t rely on infinite growth to survive.

Perhaps out of necessity, ‘doing the right thing’ for people, planet, and profit will soon have a much broader, mainstream appeal. Let’s not forget that we – the industry at the forefront of change – carry a tremendous responsibility to lead the way. As the conversations and essays in this issue demonstrate, it is time that we all look inward and ask ourselves whether our work contributes to a tomorrow that will indeed be better than today.