April 2, 2020

Starting and Re-starting — Coping Through Creativity While in Isolation

As the current pandemic has suddenly forced us indoors for extended periods, we highlight the underlying value of being creative. Nobody has to see or watch, it’s for you, and you only.

Creativity as Outlet

Aside from the positive outcomes of people re-centering their focus on other important matters such as family, physical health and mental health, many people including creatives are dusting off personal projects or starting new ones to pass time. But even for those who didn’t always have an outlet they’re suddenly discovering out of necessity like cooking, creativity is something that can be nurtured from where you are with what you have:

  • Free: Since this is no time to go out and buy new gear or other supplies anyways, this is a great way to start a new creative endeavor. If you didn’t before, write or take pictures using just your phone, draw using whatever pens and paper you have handy, start singing in the shower — the ideas is that you create from a desire to express yourself and not let tools be the limiter.
  • Fundamentals: With fewer demands drawing you outside, the extra time gained and slower pace of life means this is a great period to start a creative talent on solid fundamentals and patience. Want to start recording and telling audio stories? Our MAEKAN Classroom Series gives you the tools you need to create everything
  • Explore: When you’re not practicing the fundamentals, similarly use this quieter alone time for unstructured exploration. Feel free to discover your craft, make mistakes and not judge what you produce, whether you’re just starting or restarting.
  • Share: People are already re-connecting with friends and loved ones or making new connections online. Make some work and put it out there. Or if you’re trying something new, why not share your work with a small trusted group that can give you feedback?
  • Collaborate: It goes without saying there’s a great number of others in the same situation as you and now’s never been a better occasion to come together (virtually!). Seeking out peers or other creatively-inclined individuals to work together on something means you’ll both be able to create something bigger than you could by yourself and get some much needed socialization. Be on the lookout.
  • Infrastructure: if try what you may and the jobs aren’t coming anyway, consider taking this time to work on the infrastructure of your creative business, whether that means working on your website or putting together your portfolio. This means you can consolidate all the work you’ve done so far and be in a better position to seek freelance work once the situation improves.

Caveat: Technology as Crutch

We joke about the increased alcohol and calorie intake social distancing will create, but we also have to be wary of how other mildly addicting vices like streaming, gaming and scrolling will increase screen time as a result of being stuck at home with not much to do (other than work).

With social media already being an inseparable part of our lives, usage has no doubt increased from both turning to it for information on what’s going on outside and as a consequence of getting sucked up in the cocktail of outrage, hope, anxiety and dank memes that’s now blended into the feed. Unless your experience proves inspirational over detrimental, perhaps now might be the time to consider imposing that one-Reddit-rabbit-hole daily limit.

The Takeaway

Despite the seriousness of this period, there’s a silver lining in that it’s shocked much of society into re-evaluating its priorities. These sudden acute changes have also meant an unavoidable break in the constant stream of deadlines and client demands for creatives, meaning we’ve been freed to look on our work through a new lens and to explore creating art for personal reasons instead. For those who haven’t created for a long time and the general public, it’s a rare chance to dig deep into what we’re feeling and how we can express that through the limited tools and materials available — nurturing our creativity at the source. Don’t get it twisted, don’t feel guilted into needing to maximize productivity given the circumstances.

The team’s been largely staying inside since the beginning of February and we’ve welcomed the freedom afforded by the “artificially” lowered pace of life as we start to regularly catch up with friends and family separated by time zones. For insights on how some members of our creative community are coping, check out our Save Point on working from home.


April 2, 2020

Making It Up 119: Financial independence and the UN Open Brief

On Making It Up 119, Charis and Eugene talk about the millennial movement FIRE(Financial Independence Retire Early). They also discuss the Open Brief released by the UN calling creatives to help with providing engaging accurate messaging on COVID-19.


00:02:28 FIRE
00:27:47 UN Open Brief


March 30, 2020

Save Points — Sustainability and Fast Fashion

Amid the climate crisis, the fast fashion has industry has inevitably found itself in the crosshairs for its lightning-fast seasonal turnaround and disproportionate impact on the environment. During our first Open Office on fashion and its future, a few members of the MAEKAN community and the team shared their thoughts.

The Community’s Take

⚖️Jeremy L. weighs the importance of consistency in brand messaging when it comes to fashion in general and overtly sustainable fashion:

“I just think there isn’t necessarily anything wrong with wanting to have a form of self-expression through clothing. And if that means buying certain things in moderation, I think that’s reasonable. But I don’t buy when brands tout a sustainability model when they’re constantly floating new seasons.

And I, that’s why I kind of appreciate what Noah’s doing and admitting outright in their promotion that, you know, we are not a sustainable brand, but here’s our transparency in terms of like where we make the clothes.”

👜 Aladar L. shares how the interpretation and approach to sustainability can start with us at the social circle level:

I think it very much so falls into your friend circle. My buddy, we’ve been passing the same visvim bag back and forth. He bought it second-hand and he used it. He passed it to me. And chances are when I’m done, I want to pass it to someone else.

But it’s a behavior that’s just normalized in our friends circle group, right? Like I think part of it is education and nobody feels shame. In fact, everyone feels that type of behavior is, for the lack of better words, “cool.” Like, it’s very cool when we do it and we’re just like, “this is nice ’cause it feels good.”

🐣 James M. considers the chicken-and-egg issue of consumer or political will creating lasting impact on fast fashion markets:

“The debate at the end of the day is like, can we rely on them (political candidates) or is voting with our buying power the more important thing that we can try? But then you have too many people that might not necessarily have the same belief system, whether it’s government or their buying power.

And if, if people continue to buy cheap, then it might not necessarily change anything. A lot of it boils down to dollars and cents on the manufacturing side. You see a kind of every day and people are more willing to save a little bit to get their customer the purchase versus like charge a little bit more and have kind of feel like maybe they’re missing out on customers, you know?”

From our end

🤔 Eugene wonders specifically how fashion will emerge out of the pandemic:

“We’re perhaps in the midst of both the establishment of a new normal and a realignment of the world of fashion. We will inherently need to see if the past structures of seasonal shows, global trips to see things in real life, and even the value of clothing-only fashion continue to hold true. I really think a lot of people have come to realize that fashion itself while important, is far LESS important than we are all led to believe, especially without the element of interaction. I would like to seel the emergence of clothing and fashion that’s slower, more thoughtful, more ethical, and returns to the core of being a creative medium, and not purely as a means to an end.”

🔥 Scott is loving the fallout:

“Like Nero fiddling whilst Rome burned, I’m loving how much this industry is suffering. Don’t get me wrong, I feel for those most affected, namely the sweatshop workers, children and exploited immigrants working for pennies making those ugly ass Triple S’ (or equivalent) hypebeasts find fashionable. Fashion won’t be alone in feeling these setbacks. 

Having said that, it’s a beautiful sight to see companies that have done nothing for their employees or the environment take a huge hit. We know how disastrous fast fashion is for the environment, our wallets and mental states. I hope this will push brands to entirely re-think their fashion cycles along with their design teams. Since people will hopefully stop spending frivolously on the latest bullshit “it” item, solid and innovative designs will need to take center stage for brands to move forward. 

No more crappy H&M knock-offs of underserved designers, no more wasted discount racks, no more employees exploited across the world to make an ugly-ass teeshirt that some blogger will call “iconic”, as is everything these days. Hopefully, fashion is reborn, reinvigorated and re-innovative from the onset.”

🤷🏻‍♂️ Nate thinks there’s several layers of cultural barriers to get through before people ditch fast fashion:

“There’s a triangle of style, price and function that’s allowed fast fashion to maintain its firm hold in popular consumer culture: it’s always new enough to be on trend, easy to maintain and cheap enough to dispose of often. For consumption (and therefore the demand for production) to drop, we need to both be willing to pay for and maintain a smaller number of high quality clothes while dropping our assumptions attached to wearing and seeing the same outfits regularly.”

March 26, 2020

What print's Industry 4.0 update means for publications

Despite the focus on digital media, and especially publications, print is here to stay. But what’s certain is that in the future, it will occupy an increasingly specific place. We look at how the fourth industrial revolution has played out in updating the print industry and helped it stay relevant.

How print is changing for the better

Industry 4.0 refers to the further digitalization and automation of manufacturing that accompanies the fourth industrial revolution. The first revolution started with water and steam, the second with mass production and electricity, the third with the widespread adoption of computers.

In this fourth revolution, the use of “smart” technology means improved monitoring, simplification, and optimization of the process. This technology, in turn, builds on innovations in print’s component technologies, such as greener inks, papers and printing practices. Both halves combined and a tweaked (but still essential) human role work together to increase profitability, and reduce waste while handling increasingly complex demands.

These changes are also triggered or reinforced by big policy changes, as demonstrated by global children’s publisher Scholastic, whose diverse output means relatively more resources from colored images and paper, and special fonts for words.

And just like the notorious wastefulness of fast fashion companies and their almost monthly collections, other groups of big players like textbook makers (what could be called Big Textbook as you might Big Pharma) have long been criticized for their model of updating print editions every semester to protect their bottom line. That said, Pearson, one of the five biggest American companies, has since gone digital-first in response to changing demands and habits.

Ideally, this one-two combo of a technological revolution and improvement of industry practices means things that should be printed can be, and things that would be better off digitalized are not printed.

Why it’s still going to be needed

With or without pressure to innovate in sustainable ways, our continued need for physical experiences is not going anywhere and neither are the printed materials that enhance that. Even if we exclude the “main attractions” of beautiful labels and packaging, printed instruction manuals and marketing materials will still make up a large part of the physical product experience.

However, outside the product context, print will still be vitally important for publishing due to its still largely permanent nature (unless of course, Toshiba’s innovative erasable printing technology becomes more widespread).

We’ve written before about the importance of slow journalism — where the emphasis is on accurate and detailed versus immediate reporting. The resources involved in print publications, not to mention the irreversibility, mean that far greater care is involved: you can make near-immediate updates to web articles and ebooks, but there’s no making up for shoddy fact-checking after printing thousands of copies of a book. Delayed Gratification, for one, is a quarterly print publication by Slow Journalism that reports on events after the dust has settled and the true impact becomes apparent.

And even beyond preserving and relaying information, so long as print continues to hold cultural capital and authority for this very permanence (which it does), it serves as a means of expression and gives a voice for the most independent of publishers, something we saw first-hand when we moderated a zine fest near our old office.

The Takeaway

Every time we physically throw out any piece of paper bigger than a receipt for lack of a recycling bins, that tangible experience might give us a lot more pause than repeatedly downloading, uploading, copying and moving hundreds of gigabytes of data. It could be that the visceral reaction of “think of all those trees” made print an especially big target for sustainable innovation, even as we ignored the impact of ‘invisible’ digital technologies like AI or even e-readers.

That said, the progress up until now is welcome because it’s meant more options. As MAEKAN continues to experiment with product, the availability of new innovative production methods allows us to do something good while consciously weighing our environmental impact. This means we can stay excited when we consider what our first MAEKAN print publication might look and feel like when we get to it (we’re always open to suggestions, by the way).


March 26, 2020

Making It Up 118: Culture in the time of quarantine and luxury brand restaurants

On Making It Up 118, Charis and Eugene discuss the inventiveness of virtual cultural events in the time of quarantine. They also talk about the positive magnificence and anxiety-inducing nature of connectivity. Eugene explains why luxury fashion houses are interested in having food and beverage offerings.


00:06 :00 Quarantine connectivity
00:25 :17 Luxury F&B


March 25, 2020

Making It Up 117: The nuclear family and jjapaguri (aka “ram-don”)

On Making It Up 117, Charis and Eugene talk about the cover story of the March 2020 issue of The Atlantic written by David Brooks titled “The Nuclear Family Was a Mistake”. They dive into the definitions and history of the American family and whether it’s possible to make a new family paradigm. They also discuss how the movie “Parasite” lead to restaurants deciding to offer jjapaguri (aka “ram-don”).


00:01:02 Nuclear family
00:31:43 Jjapaguri



March 23, 2020

Save Points — Working from Home

The world is in the midst of the world’s largest remote working experiment in the face of COVID-19. What was once an opportunity granted to only a select few, it’s clear that we’re embarking on and accelerating a new approach towards work. There’s no doubt that remote working existed pre-pandemic, but for a few of the MAEKAN members, they’re quickly putting the format through its paces.

The Community’s Take

A few members of the MAEKAN community shared with us their thoughts:

Philippe H. in Hong Kong contemplates a big question:

“I’m wondering how society will change if a lot of us will actually get more choice to work from home or not. Should have quite some impact. I’m leaning towards it being a negative thing, individualizing us even more.”

💡 Jenny S. in Beijing shares with us some of her initial learnings:

“(Scheduling) Morning meetings are always effective to discourage colleagues from sleeping-in, which initially had pissed off my seniors big time. I’ve always had an 8-6 office job, so I found it quite hard to mentally “get off work” while working from home. I think my productivity level hasn’t been hugely affected, but it’s just unhealthy to keep working until late.”

👍 Behzod S. in San Francisco outlines some definitive pros to working from home:

I’m very fortunate that I have a standup desk and a setup I like at home, so the biggest adjustment is simply being in my space all day with my girlfriend who is also working from home.

We have had to adjust our schedules to include time for cooking at home, walks outside to break up the being indoors all day, and exercise not at a gym. That said, I appreciate the control and flexibility that it affords and assuming you have a level of discipline (or create a schedule), I’m all for it.

I don’t think WFH is for everyone, and I think you need to be set up for it (not sitting on your couch), but I’m optimistic that this whole crisis will force us to rethink a lot of things about how we work.

Behzod also provides a few things that make WFH more enjoyable:

🎵 Good music! I can’t listen to words while I’m working, so Tycho is often my artist of choice, though Spotify has a lot of great focus playlists I would recommend.

🏢 A dedicated workspace (and standing desk if that’s your thing): I bought a Fully Jarvis right around the time I started at Slack and it’s been incredibly worth it. This doesn’t work for everyone, but having a dedicated work space is super helpful and allows me to be in flow a lot better than sitting on my couch. If nothing else, get an ergonomic keyboard and mouse.

Zoom Coffees! I’ve set up a few Zoom coffees with friends, colleagues, and family this week so that being in my apartment doesn’t feel as isolating.

Yeah, it’s so different choosing to work remotely than having it forced upon you.”

Jeremy L. in Brooklyn explains some of the initial challenges:

“This week has been rough, my Brooklyn apartment feels small during daylight hours and I’ve had to adjust my time budgeting around meal prepping and taking breaks/walks around the block.

Next week, I feel more optimistic with some planned one-on-one work sessions with a friend. This whole thing has really made me realize how valuable it is to simply be able to look far into the physical distance, even from an office window onto the streets below.”

🎮 Yannick L. in Paris explains how his industry has been less affected relative to his counterparties in other sporting arenas:

“It’s OK. WFH is pleasant, I can’t lie. The situation could be worst. Working in the e-sports industry is “interesting” when the rest of the sports world is on hold — our players are good to perform as long as they stay in a safe place.”

From our end

For much of the MAEKAN team in Hong Kong, the past year has created conditions that necessitate working more and more from home, whether it be the current COVID-19 pandemic or the over six months of protests that preceded it. A few members of the MAEKAN team had some thoughts on WFH:

🤔 Eugene ponders the challenges of staying focused:

“I work from home a few days a week and it’s not always the most productive. I find when you have no definitive start/stop (like entering and leaving an office), things drag on. It’s far too easy to stretch out tasks because you know your workday is suddenly 16 passive/chill hours versus a deliberate 8 hours.”

🔗 Charis reflects on the boost in social connectivity despite physical distance:

“Since I have been primarily working as a freelancer for the past 4.5 years, I’m used to setting my own schedule and working alone at home. The difference now is that everyone else is also constantly online and virtually gathering together. It’s actually been a nice change for me that I get to regularly voice and video call with groups of people for both work and social reasons. I think the real difficulty for me hasn’t been working from home, but working in the time of a global pandemic—I’ve found that even work relationships have become a form of social support.”

🧠 Scott enjoys the added flexibility and accountability:

“I enjoy working from home because it cuts out all the unnecessary bullshit from a normal work environment and allows for real focus time. The hard part is staying disciplined, but as long as you set the alarm, you get it done. I think many people are still adjusting to this new reality, but after a few weeks, people will find their grooves and thoroughly enjoy it. It just takes a little planning to get in rhythm. The one drawback is not knowing when to stop. I find myself working a lot more these days, so it’s also important to set boundaries.”

🥳 Nate is building anticipation back into this new work-life rhythm:

“As a freelancer, I’ve embraced the different creative energies that come from working on the couch, at my desk or parked at one of thousands of coffee shops before switching locations when the work is done. But in isolation, there are no choices any more; the office is around you when you wake up and long after you finish. The challenge is building after-hours anticipation when there’s no more rec league, group dinners, travel or events waiting after 7pm — or even in the foreseeable future. This pandemic may have made homebodies of us all, but it’s also driven us to be creative at finding joy in our otherwise upended work-life rhythms.”

How about you? How are you holding up amid this uncertain situation? What’s been the biggest challenge and how have you solved it? Feel free to write us at info@maekan.com or DM us on Instagram.

March 19, 2020

The Case for Usability and Accessibility

Accessibility and usability are often confused and used interchangeably. We break down the difference between the two and make the case for accessibility being a positive design constraint.

The Difference Between Accessibility and Usability

We’ve previously talked about Jakob Nielsen’s 10 Usability Heuristics for Interface Design (1994) could apply to emerging technologies like VR to create more immersive experiences, but before and we consider the potential for creating, we should also consider that those exciting new experiences can’t be enjoyed by many people who’d otherwise want to.

This is because usability and accessibility are related but not interchangeable:

  • Usability: concerned with “user-friendliness” in that a given interaction is designed so a user can easily figure out how to negotiate that interaction (and remember how to do it) — while deriving a feeling of satisfaction.
  • Accessibility: in the context of the Internet, the World Wide Web Consortium defines web accessibility as encompassing all disabilities that affect access to the Internet such as:
    • auditory
    • cognitive
    • neurological
    • physical
    • speech
    • visual

Something could be very user friendly for an even broader population of users, but it can’t be user-friendly for additional segments of that population because it’s not accessible to them (i.e. not even usable). Just as importantly, web accessibility also accounts for people without what might be defined as legal disabilities (such as temporary injuries) and situations that otherwise affect usage for everyone (loud environments or sunny conditions). In short, accessible design means designing for all.

Compromise Versus Constraint

If we recall the seven principles of Universal Design, we find that accessible design is really an outcome of good design in general. The Interaction Design Foundation relates each principle to accessibility as follows:

  • Equitable Use: accommodates users with diverse ability levels
  • Flexible Use: ambidextrous to accommodate right and left-handed people
  • Simple, Intuitive Use: simplified and structured delivery of complex information and prompts that help complete the task
  • Perceptible Information: make vital information readable and reinforce it redundantly such as using both pictures and text
  • Tolerance for Error: arrange and configure elements that minimize accidents such as making sure someone could only book something in the future
  • Low Physical Effort: reduce tedious actions
  • Size and Space for Approach and Use: accommodates different types of bodies and mobility ranges

Yet not just obeying these principles but taking them to the next level to increase accessibility needn’t be seen as a limiting factor, but as a constraint. As Jesse Hausler says:

“Accessibility will not force you to make a product that is ugly, boring, or cluttered. It will introduce a set of constraints to incorporate as you consider your design. These design constraints will give you new ideas to explore that will lead to better products for all of your users.”

The Takeaway

Given the sheer volume of potential users of a publicly available digital experience like a website or app, the emphasis on accessibility in those contexts is understandable. However, it’s important to also realize that accessibility applies beyond those contexts. It’s a mindset of allowing more people to use and enjoy what you’re making in a way that absolutely does not play into the risk of “if it’s for everybody, it’s for nobody.”

In a competitive environment where we have to stand out or target specific niches, that will still be possible and a challenge regardless — “boring” is a consequence of comprehensively boring design or marketing, not because of maximizing accessibility. Besides, we’re already moving past the importance of surface-level “delightful” design towards design that favors user experience, which inevitably should include the experience of diverse users.

As long as we continue to emphasize accessibility and inclusion in designs for people, especially in non-digital contexts such as fashion, we’re going to see more and more options of how innovative (and sustainable), beautiful and accessible design will look and feel. This means new avenues of creativity and innovation. Whenever we get that combination right, humanity benefits and the designers that find it will get paid.

March 16, 2020

You Feel Us? — Let's Be Wary of Emotion Recognition AI

With agencies and companies increasingly adopting AI into their workflows, one of the possible uses could be using it to “read” people and how they’re feeling. We look at how it does this, but more importantly, why this is a markedly bad idea for now.

How AI “Reads” Us

When AI is used in emotional recognition, it reads many of the following metrics in real-time:

  • facial expressions
  • voice patterns
  • eye movements
  • biometrics (heart rate etc.)
  • brain activity

No given emotional recognition AI works the same and is used differently depending on the company. Data and analytics company Nielsen combines the analyses of those different metrics to attain an accuracy level of 77% and when tested with a self-report from respondents, the company claims the accuracy levels go up to 84%.

Some companies like Affectiva might measure a specific number of emotions such as anger, contempt, disgust, fear, joy, sadness and surprise. That company also says they gather their data in different contexts that include “challenging conditions” such as changes in lighting and background noise and variances in ethnicity, age, and gender.

How this Can Be Used

Emotional recognition has numerous potential applications for situations where extra “eyes” are needed:

  • Employees: for assessing candidates and how “engaged” employees are.
  • Education: similarly monitoring student engagement.
  • Product Development: accurately analyzing reactions to products can give clues towards making them better.
  • Customer Satisfaction: reading customers and adjusting customer service based on how they’re feeling.
  • Automotive: keeping a ride safe by monitoring the driver and acting when they’re distracted or incapacitated.
  • Health Care: assessing patients and prescribing solutions.
  • VR and Gaming: increasing immersion or enriching experiences based on how players or people wearing a VR headset feel.

The Pitfalls

There are a few issues with emotion recognition AI that could have consequences if they’re not addressed before they’re scaled up:

  • Bias: the technology is far from perfect and can be biased based on its training data as well as its detection ability. For one, AI has already been shown to have some of the same racial bias issues as other AI. Furthermore, it has to be said that expressions of emotions are not uniform across cultures and will, therefore, produce less predictable results in diverse groups of people.
  • Shaky Science: at least one study has refuted the idea that we can sense human emotions from facial movements. The science of relating how humans actually feel and what registers on the surface is complex and might not give clear-cut truths an AI should act on. For instance, we might frown when we’re sad but that’s only one of the possible reasons we would do so. Similarly, the study points out we might even scowl for reasons that aren’t even emotional.
  • Market Driven: Emotion recognition is estimated to be a $20 billion market and is sure to grow. In an article by Karen Hao for the MIT Technology Review, she explains how a single AI can emit as much carbon as five cars while it’s being trained, as well as how the scale of these training operations are only possible by those with significant resources. This makes it harder for academics and grad students to contribute to research, creating a gap in between them and industry researchers.

The Takeaway

The promise of using AI to read us lies in its blunt honesty: it tells us things about how we’re feeling that we won’t readily admit — not unlike a highly attuned and trained human that’s not afraid of calling us out. We also understand there are benefits to automating processes that free up resources elsewhere, as anyone who’s used Photoshop’s amazing Content Aware to edit photos could attest.

But perhaps the most worrying and unpredictable outcome of widespread AI-driven emotional recognition is the behavior it will incentivize in the future. If the technology reaches a saturation point in the market where it’s forced into every application possible (kind of like overenthusiasm for the Internet of Things), we’ll have those consequences to deal with as well.

Anyone who’s ever read an SEO-laden post from an aggregator understands what happens when rankings are at the whim of algorithms. The issue is for humans who don’t want to be weeded out by an algorithm might be forced to behave in unnatural and dishonest ways (say, forcing smiles) to “game” the system like a social media-savvy influencer might.

And that’s just people being judged by the AI: what about those who make decisions based on its suggestions? We’ve previously written about how outsourcing certain tasks to AI leaves us with nothing else but the toughest choices to fret over. There are certainly going to be many more when we also start to outsource our empathy at scale too.


March 12, 2020

Balancing Tradition and Progress — On Becoming Cultural Editors

Tradition and progress are in perpetual conflict and today is no exception. Each period of historical tension forces us to ask tough questions about the beliefs we’ve held for a long time and whether they’re worth changing or not. We make the case for creatives becoming the cultural editors of the groups they’re part of.

Generational Habits

Tradition is frequently defined as the transmission and observance of customs or beliefs from generation to generation. These offer, among many things:

  • Continuity: traditions give us at least one way to add structure to our lives. For those of us who don’t live close to family, the holidays still hold gravity that builds anticipation and draws us back to them at key times during the year. What would life be like if we had no traditional holidays or if we stopped commemorating special occasions?
  • Community: many traditions and rituals stem from group interactions and over time, observance of and respect for them can strengthen bonds in a community through shared experiences.
  • Inspiration: traditions are intertwined with history and beliefs that inspire us, our work and our lifestyles. Without them, the absence of traditions or strong connection to them that has led people of this generation to look to the past of their own and of other cultures to fill the void. And where it isn’t necessarily culturally specific, people are also forgoing cosmopolitan big city life for simpler traditional lifestyles.

However, as we’ve seen throughout history that’s echoed itself in today’s events, tradition and the sway that comes with it has drawbacks too:

  • Impractical: many traditions if executed to a tee are time-consuming, laborious or expensive and have since been shortened. Anyone who’s ever supplemented (or replaced) a festive meal with store-bought or delivered food is aware of this.
  • Used for different agendas: the defense of “it’s tradition” or the longing for “how things used to be” has and continues to be used by populist movements to set the clock back on areas that tie into social progress and tolerance. It also goes without saying that many traditions are grounded in beliefs that are problematic.
  • Unpopular: shifting mindsets and priorities have meant people don’t see the value in certain traditions anymore or they’re drawn towards more popular things instead. For one, American millennials are breaking the cycle of leaving and returning to religion after key life events.
  • Unethical: for whatever benefits they may confer, a lot of traditions require committing acts that are no longer deemed ethical such as the preparation of certain foods like shark fin and foie gras.
  • Restrictive: For example, people take up family businesses — or are forced to — in order to “keep the chain going.” This means a person loses their agency and freedom in the name of upholding a legacy. Of course, there are many other more severe and restrictive cultural and religious practices still common around the world.

Put simply, like many of our own personal habits, traditions are “generational habits” that can be helpful or harmful according to not just the people affected but their historical context too.

Traditional vs. Technological

We might not normally think of traditions as innovation, especially with traditional methods or design, but many of them were just that at the time they were invented. Relied upon and reused for enough decades, they become regarded as “traditional,” even if they continue to be useful today. The difference is because of progress, they can be revisited and benefit from:

  • Mass production: mass production means production can scale easily where, for example, essential but rare ingredients at the time might be easier to produce now.
  • Acceleration: many methods once done by hand or with animal labor are accelerated by being done by machines and robots.
  • Stacking: traditional methods can benefit from technological advances in other areas that when stacked together, improve the whole process.
  • Globalization: being able to source expertise, equipment and ingredients from around the world makes it possible to revive certain traditions in places where it’s no longer feasible.

With today’s emphasis on sustainability and doing more with less, researchers and innovators are looking back to the past to rediscover forgotten ways to solving age-old or modern problems — what we might now consider “traditional methods.” The renewed attention paid to our food supply and production that followed backlash against mass production of our food, for instance, has breathed new life into traditional ways of producing, purchasing and consuming food.

These events show us that traditions needn’t always be regarded as permanently outdated once their “heyday” has passed any more than we regard our current methods as the very “best” just because they’re the newest.

The Question of Utility

While we’re discovering traditions that are proving more useful to us than some of the things we can come up with today, this is where we get to the hardest question surrounding traditions and the cultures they influence: do they have to be useful?

After all, most of the actions in our waking life is composed of habits that are not necessarily the most utilitarian — and we know this, but still go about our days anyway. Similarly, we don’t necessarily hold the “best” or purest beliefs that would improve our lives, but we go on believing them and acting on them simply because we’re used to it (and because we’re forgivably human).

Just like us as individuals, cultures still practice traditions that for outsiders, aren’t inherently useful or even make any “sense.” And that’s okay. Just as our quirks make us unique as individuals, the diverse traditions of different cultures make them unique in the greater community of humans.

If we were to only protect and retain traditions based strictly on the basis utility or even enjoyment, there’s a high chance we’d eventually end up with something of a hedonistic monoculture. However, just as we have the individual power to adopt, shape and discard habits, we also have the power as members of a given culture to do the same to traditions new and old.

Our Generation’s Role

Not everything in the past is “backwards” and aspects of it can be more forward thinking than we are now, but at the same time, traditions can also get in the way of progress or worse, attempt to undo it.

Yet abandoning traditional beliefs and methods completely risks us throwing all of our eggs into one basket — even if that means believing solely in science and the objectiveness of reality — which closes off several doors to community, experience and inspiration.

As a generation of creatives that are able to bridge different cultures and subcultures, we have more power to influence the direction of their conversations and movements than we think. Part of our role as members with deep-seated interest and knowledge means we get to decide what mix of values is important to remember and pass on to the next generation — or what’s best left to the history books. In other words, we get to audit and propose “edits” to culture if not embody them ourselves.

As cultural editors, we have to ask ourselves what traditions (and the beliefs that go with them) are worth keeping and which should be abandoned? How can some be updated but retain their character? Which are useful, and which aren’t but we should hold cherish anyways? And lastly, how can tradition and progress continue to work together?

As a revolutionary technology, blockchain offers a lot of benefits for different industries, especially the creative economy. Sure it’s been synonymous with scams and extreme market volatility, but at its core are a few ideas that can benefit the creative industries.

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