A Walk is a Tool and a Platform
I write to you from the other side of the Config event — the Figma user conference that took place last week. There is a compression of time leading up to an on-stage event, a palpable increase in the density of time itself (how could ANYTHING exist on the other side of this?!), until the very stepping on of stage, at which point time bursts into particulate nothingness, any on-stage memory is erased in the moment, and as you step off stage, time rushes back, dilates wide open once again into forward normalcy.
My talk from the event, ”Two Books and a Long Walk”, is up on YouTube. The entire Figma keynote is also up; if you’re interested in design tools, and obviously if you’re interested in Figma, you should check out the full deal.
My talk covered the production of two books:
- The Flipboard for iPhone book which was borne of an exhaustion of outputs
- Pachinko Road Walk With Me, aka “the SMS book,” a book borne of an exhaustion of inputs
Pachinko Road was made during my big Nakasendō walk last year and in the Config talk I discuss some of my thinking around the intersection of walking and bookmaking.
Germane to this newsletter, the salient walk-related points are:
- Walks themselves are tools, and can be used as “platforms” upon which to build (things)
- A platform, like an operating system, can be programmed; walks are programmed using rules
My rules for the walk were:
- No general media (newspapers, articles, podcasts)
- No social media (Twitter, Instagram)
- Consolidate data every day (walk notes, photos, GPS data, audio)
- Push an SMS message out every night (for the first 25 days)
- Record and publish ~15 mins of audio each day
- Shoot a portrait before 10am
These rules created “walking software” (i.e., my day-to-day) that facilitated:
- My connecting with more people (face-to-face) than I had ever connected with on any other walk up until that point
- A strict application of the “rigor of process”
- A regimentation and rhythm to “creative” processes; these rules forced me to stay on top of photo imports, edits, culling of images, trimming of audio, et cetera
- Completing a book in the moment
The portraits-before-10am was a superb forcing function. Not that anyone was looking over my shoulder, but 9:45 would roll around, and if I hadn’t shot someone that day I’d pop into the nearest shop (tatami, pachinko, drugstore, farm, cafe), say hello, explain my walk, ask to take a photo. Everyone was delighted, shocked. And in the end, I often had to gingerly extract myself from the excited grips of whatever countryside shop owner I had intruded upon.
On media-free strictness: A smartphone excels, above all, at teleportation. It takes you from where you are, and places you elsewhere. If not physically, certainly mentally. This is great when you’re where you don’t want to be — on a packed commute for example. You can listen to a podcast, read an article, and be far, far “away” from a squished train. The issue is when this teleportation superpower intrudes on moments when you want to be present. The teleportation is so seductive, and the phones so optimized for it, I find I need to mark explicit rules, using software like Freedom, in order to keep me from flitting off a few dozen times a day. Exercising that willpower on my own is Sisyphean. So I let third party software do the heavy lifting.
I wrote about all of this extensively in my WIRED piece last summer: “The Glorious, Almost-Disconnected Boredom of My Walk in Japan.” That’s the title the editors gave it. I would have named it: “The Phone is a Tool You Dummy.”
It was great to meet a bunch of Explorers Club members at Config, and also during the members-only Office Hours I ran on Friday. A huge THANK YOU to everyone that has joined the Explorers Club in the last week. We are about 20 people shy of the new 100 member goal. Help me get over the hump?
These past five days, time has dilated into many smooth, continuous conversations with friends old and new. I am seven hours into a twelve hour train ride from Oakland to Los Angeles. To my left (sitting backwards) is the Pacific ocean. The sun is setting. The sea is mercury. The evening fog is rolling in. My body is weighed down by a deep exhaustion. But there’s a lightness to just sitting here, to being swept up in the inevitability of a train. For now, I’m going to close this laptop and enjoy the view.
Until next week,
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“I walked way before I realised I was walking. I walked the breathtaking seaside paths of Brittany before I knew they were, breathtaking. Now I walk, there and elsewhere.”
“When I take that first step I am reborn. I love being a stranger and I love being lost. Nothing beats that moment when I realize that I don’t know what I’m looking at and I don’t know where this is and I don’t even know who I am. And it keeps getting easier and easier.”
(“Fellow Walkers” are short bios of the other folks subscribed to this newsletter. In Ridgeline 001 I asked: “What shell were you torn from?” and got hundreds of responses. We’re working our way through them over the year. You’re an amazing, diverse crew. Grateful to be walking with you all. Feel free to send one in if you haven’t already.)