Being your selves: identity R&D on the pseudonymous internet

By default, social media platforms flatten you into a single profile that makes your interests legible to advertisers. But users are beginning to challenge this norm. From alt Twitter accounts to finstas to private Snap stories, Very Online people are incubating new models of digital selfhood. What happens when the internet gets inside of us? How does our media technology re-shape our identities?

Metaphors we believe by

In the past, gods and demons allowed us to talk about phenomena that we didn’t fully understand. During the Enlightenment, we tried to kill them and explain everything in reductionist scientific terms. But it feels to me like we’ve come full circle. We’re back to using oversimplified metaphors to wrap our minds around the uncontrollable complex systems we’re embedded in. Who are the “gods” of 2019, and what can they teach us?

A mediocre Ribbonfarm starter guide

There’s no real beginning or ending to Ribbonfarm. It’s an infinite middle. This is my own personal starter guide.

You can handle the post-truth: a pocket guide to the surreal internet

I know I’m not alone when I say that I can feel the gap between my world and my parents’ world widening. They barely know what memes and influencers are — and yet, our culture is being completely re-shaped by them. How do reality bubbles get created and distorted, and how might we begin to bridge the divides between them?

The spreading of threading

We’re witnessing the rise of a new online medium — the threadweb. It started on Twitter, but its logic is quickly expanding to other parts of the internet. What are its origins, and how might it change the way we consume content in the future?

The Eye Roll Test

Why do words and phrases lose meaning over time? How can we keep our most treasured ideas from going stale?

Fools and their time metaphors

Digital calendars were supposed to make us feel at peace and in control. Instead, we feel scatter-brained, anxious, and over-booked. How have these tools shaped the way we think about time? And how might we free ourselves from the prison of the Gregorian grid?

Smartphones, superstition, and the postmodern condition

In the not-so-distant past, we diagnosed people who feared they were always being watched with paranoid schizophrenia. Now, that same fear is just a realistic understanding of how the world works. What are we to make of this shift?

The market for mindfulness

Until recently, I assumed that mindfulness was a relatively new development in American life—a product of the West’s recent obsession with yoga and Eastern mysticism. Now, I’m beginning to realize that this is not our first rodeo. What can we learn from previous revolutions in thought, and how might we make sense of the underlying patterns in our ideological evolution?

Why people work: a field guide

A rough map of 21st century worker tribes. Why they work, what work is for, and what makes their work worthwhile.

Creating excuses for community

Why do we read the news, how does it change the way we relate to one another, and how can we create more connectedness amongst strangers?

Breakdown of will

Why do we feel like we need willpower at all? How can we make sense of the fact that people’s preferences are super inconsistent over time, and why is it that people keep so often undermine their own long-term goals?

Designing a dynamic journal

My computer recently informed me that I’ve typed over half a million words in my journal since 2013. This mind-bending stat got me thinking about what a digitally-native journal could be like—and what it could teach us about ourselves.

Ungluing from reality

A brief reflection on invisible assumptions and the wisdom of crowds (or lack thereof).

Introducing Time Well $pent

A Chrome extension that helps you be more intentional with your money, so that you can spend your time on the things that actually matter to you.

Posers in power

Zuckerberg’s congressional hearing last week reminded me of some absurd things I learned about power when I was a ghostwriter for the Illinois State Treasurer.

How (and why) to present designs in Figma

I created a Figma deck template so you can design and present in one place. No more exporting, importing, and updating when things get out of date. Finally—your presentation stays in sync with your designs.

The design of goals

I know what you’re thinking—the internet does not need another self-indulgent post about goal setting. You’re right. And yet, here we are. In general, I’ve found that pop psychology articles about goals are unhelpful and uninspired. I’ve tried to draw on ideas from evolutionary biology, complex adaptive systems, behavioral finance, and engineering to offer a (hopefully) unique and helpful take on the design of goals. I pray the self-help gods of Medium will forgive me for this post.

Dispatches from bizarro corporate culture

Let’s imagine what an alien would think of our corporate cultural norms—the rituals and scripts that govern daily office life. Our alien friend is like an annoying little kid who can’t stop asking why. The explanations are left as an exercise for the reader.

Figma UX design kit

I’ve been using Figma to do UX workshops with engineers, marketers, salespeople, & designers at Uber. It’s a super fun way to collaborate in real-time—especially with remote teammates. I put together a kit to get you started.

Design as (un)ethical illusion

User interfaces are maps of complex territories, and all maps are incomplete truths. In light of Facebook’s controversies, it’s clear that UI designers need a code of ethics. How might we create interfaces that hide complexity without obscuring too much truth?

Confirmation bias is a feature, not a bug

The predictive processing model is a promising and powerful new way of understanding how the brain works. But it also suggests some inconvenient truths about the way we process information and news.

Sean Hannity vs. Tristan Harris: Debating the dangers of social media

Tristan Harris is the founder of the Center for Humane Technology—an organization that is trying to get technology platforms to stop hijacking our minds. His message is spreading like wildfire, but it hasn’t yet caught the attention of conservative media. What fault lines will emerge when this movement goes mainstream?

Empathy with blinders

A brief warning about the corporatization of human-centered design.

Growth mindset gone astray

This is a story about why “coming out” is such a terrible misnomer, and also a story about stories, game theory, changing minds, and how we humans might unravel the mess we’ve made.

Art on the BART: My Snapchat finger painting experiment

Last month, I challenged myself to create one drawing per day during my 15-minute commute. I turned to an unlikely medium: Snapchat. There’s something inspiring about its constraints. A drawing tool. A color picker. 4.7 inches of screen. A few emojis and stickers. It’s the anti-Photoshop. What could go wrong?

Keeping in touch

Eight thought experiments on the nature of digital communication.

What I learned as an intern at Uber

No class could have prepared me for what it’s like to be a designer at a multi-billion dollar startup. The Uber Design team taught me a lot about why the company is so successful and how to create great products for a global audience.

What’s really going on at Yale

By now, you’ve probably seen the video of a Yale student yelling at a professor, the Facebook post about a “white girls only” party, or the email about offensive Halloween costumes. Unfortunately, the short YouTube clips and articles I’ve seen don’t even come close to painting an accurate picture of what’s happening at Yale. I’m a senior here, and I’ve experienced the controversy firsthand over the past week (and years). I want to tell a more complete story and set a few facts straight.

Why ‘digital’ feels dated

They call my generation digital natives, but the word “digital” is starting to feel very dated to me in most contexts. I think I’ve finally figured out why.

Two questions on the future of design

Can a web design be as timeless as a book design or a piece of artwork? Wha twill mobile OS designers steal from wearable OS designers?

Q&A with Enrique Allen, co-founder of Designer Fund

Designer Fund invests in design entrepreneurs who are solving problems in markets that traditionally lack design innovation — from healthcare, to education, to energy. Allen and his team also run Bridge, a design education program that connects experienced designers with top tier companies. I sat down with him at Designer Fund in San Francisco’s SOMA neighborhood to learn more.

Strangers, but not that strange

A profile of Ankit Shah—the founder of an organization called Tea With Strangers. Though some might peg Tea With Strangers as an organization, Ankit prefers to call it a movement. The idea is simple: a website that allows people to sign up to get tea with five strangers, one of whom is a “host” that gently guides the conversation.

The future of media on Snapchat: A design concept

Now that users can spend money via Snapchat, the company has created a whole new set of opportunities for itself. I mocked up a concept for how big media companies could use Snapcash to create pay-per-view live streams on Snapchat.

No strong feelings

User interface designers work in a world of pixels, and perfectionism is part of their job description. They notice if an icon is slightly off-center, if the line-height of a text block is a little tight, if the border radius on a button is too large. Designers are opinionated, and they’re not easily satisfied.

On Snapchat

My parents refer to Snapchat as the “sexting app,” but no one I know uses it to share photos of their nether regions. The app, which allows people to send self-destructing picture and video messages to their friends, is for me a G-rated destination. Its bright yellow icon features a faceless ghost that greets me each time I unlock my iPhone.

A conversation with Mark Kawano, Storehouse CEO & former Apple designer

If Instagram is a word, then Storehouse is a sentence. The Storehouse app allows people to combine photos, videos, and text in a magazine-like layout and easily craft a narrative around the content they care about. I sat down with Mark to get his take on starting a company, the role of design, and the future of publishing.

The metaphor I left behind

A lot of people say their interests lie at the intersection of X, Y, and Z. Here’s why I left that metaphor behind.

The case for walking meetings

A brief exploration of why walking meetings allow us to tap into the full power of spatial memory.

Solved conversations

How lessons from game theory can help us have more intellectually satisfying conversations.

How a flashcard app changed the way I think about my education

Today marks almost one year since I first started using Anki—a flashcard app with a twist. Anki minimizes the number of cards I have to review on any given day while maximizing how much I remember over the long term. And to my surprise, what started as a simple experiment has changed the way I approach my education.

Design for no one

How teaching design in the classroom environment can create a harmful bias against implementation.

Yale’s basement brains

Yale University keeps its brains in the basement of the Medical School library. The Harvey Cushing Center is home to over 400 of them, all of which are stored in their own separate jars of urine-colored formaldehyde. Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by a large Brain Society poster and a message that says: Leave only your name. Take only memories.

Annotating human culture: an interview with the founders of Rap Genius

Yale grads Mahbod Moghadam, Tom Lehman, and Ilan Zechory think they’ve found it in Rap Genius—a website where thousands of users publicly annotate everything from Emerson to Eminem. Each line in a Rap Genius entry is a clickable link that reveals information about the many allusions and metaphors hidden beneath the surface of a text. With 1.4 million site visitors per day and $15 million in venture capital funds from Andreessen Horowitz, Rap Genius has expanded to include annotations of political speeches, poetry, legalese, and even art. “This is the thing you have to understand about the magnitude of the opportunity here. We can be the website people go to to understand all of human culture,” Tom told me. Last week, I sat down with him, Mahbod, and Dan Berger in a Brooklyn cafe to hear about Rap Genius’ wild ride.

Ending the educational charade

In 2012, zero out of forty-four students at New Haven’s High School in the Community completed their freshman year. Local papers and parents alike lashed out against the school for producing such seemingly abysmal results. But to my eyes, that zero marks progress. Though 100% of its ninth graders were held back, HSC is finally moving forward.

Randallized: The story of a vigilante New Haven photographer

It’s Valentine’s Day, 2013 and Chris Randall is sitting all alone in his apartment. Leftover snow from New England’s biggest winter storm in decades still covers the ground. Feeling isolated, Randall ventures out into the Connecticut cold in search of some company. He takes with him a stack of printer paper, a box of colored pencils, and his Canon camera.

Memories from the March on Washington: A conversation with my grandmother

Today marks the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous I Have a Dream speech. As a kid who’s half-black and half-white, the speech has always meant a lot to me. It’s at once an inspiration and a solemn reminder of the way things once were. Textbooks, however, sometimes have a way of making historical events seem less-than-real. After you’ve heard the stories enough times, they can begin to seem more legend than fact. My grandma was one of the many faces in the crowd at the March on Washington in 1963. And so, I decided to talk with her and get a more personal take on this iconic moment in history.

Advice from the past

I started my summer off with a heavy dose of nitrous oxide and four cavernous holes in my mouth. My wisdom teeth had overstayed their welcome, and the orthodontist finally did me the pleasure of yanking them out. For the next few days, I was couch-ridden and responsibility-free. With more time on my hands than I knew what to do with, I decided to write a manifesto of sorts and called it Thoughts from the End of Freshman Year. Near the bottom of the doc, I wrote some key takeaways and advice for my future self. I’ve posted this little list below with the hope that you’ll be able to take something from it as well.

Behind the equals sign

In all my years in science and math classes, there was always one question we weren’t allowed to ask. Any mention of it would almost guarantee you an eye roll from the teacher. Underlying it is a simple feeling of exasperation. Many kids don’t enjoy manipulating what seem like meaningless symbols all for the purpose of receiving another meaningless letter on their transcripts.

Incremental moonshots

Standing in front of a sprawling image of planet Earth at Google I/O, Larry Page seemed more benevolent world dictator than tech CEO. He made a surprise appearance at the end of a marathon keynote address and offered conference attendees a few Sermon on the Mount-style closing remarks about the state of the tech industry. But some of Page’s doctrine isn’t as innovation-friendly as he chalks it up to be.

Off the green and into the rough

My hometown is something of a movie star. From Risky Business to Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to Sixteen Candles, Glencoe, Illinois has been featured in a number of Hollywood flicks over the past few decades. Even the famous Mean Girls line “You go Glen-CoCo” is a subtle reference to the town. The Glencoe I saw on the big screen, however, always felt more exciting than the one I experienced in real life. I was born twenty miles south of Glencoe in the heart of Chicago, but my family didn’t stay there long. A murder next door to our townhouse and the city’s 52% graduation rate were enough to convince my family to escape to the suburbs.