All the Details Matter … Incremental Technological Change

“We’re building something here, detective. We’re building it from scratch. All the pieces matter.” Lester Freamon. The Wire

This abstract photo is of the spotlights set flush into the floor along the front windows of the Apple Store in Sydney’s CBD. Going into the Apple Store yesterday was a valuable reminder of the value of writing architecture criticism outside of the freelance journalism world I used to be in.



As a freelance journalist I was constantly researching the world I was interested in, but also, necessarily, bouncing from assignment to assignment. And while story rates were high they didn’t allow for the kind of immersive reporting that magazine writers in the 70s were able to do.


Now I find I have that immersion. When I come to write something, it’s bubbled up from a long process of gathering thoughts and observations, and bringing them together when the story is there. I don’t START with the story, it EMERGES from the reporting.


I wouldn’t change anything that I wrote a couple of days ago suggesting that, given how great technological shifts have happened in the past, Apple is unlikely to develop whatever the next paradigm shift may be. But what I can add is a temporal clarification. When writing about the future of technology it’s almost always outside the scope of the story how we’re going to get there, how many objects are going to be left mouldering in landfill, how much confusion new features and capabilities will cause, and how bumpy the whole changeover will be. My current frustration is with the amount of cords and adaptors I need to connect headphones and the disc player and printer UBS cable to my new MacBookPro. And I DO find the little bar at the top of the iPhone X eternally ugly and distracting. I have something I think of as incremental upgrade fatigue. I was incredibly happy with my MacBook Air (though it’s too old to be effectively upgraded now … it doesn’t have enough memory for image rich files I’m increasingly needing) and the iPhone 6s was the perfect size and weight and shape, excellent for reading Kindle books on. I would have happily stayed there treading water, if I could. (My phone was out of contract so it was paradoxically cheaper to move to an ultra-expensive iPhone X when offered a deal.) I’m interested in new things but a late adopter of them.


Whenever I go into the Apple Store now it’s for repairs and free classes. And each time it seems that more of the store’s three levels are given over to customer service and classes. There was an incredible diversity in age, ethnicity and character taking classes in the Sydney CBD store yesterday. It was a lively mess that reminded me that when the Apple stores opened there were similar “face planting into plate glass” stories with reports of employees with rulers calibrating the exact angle each device would stand at on the display tables.

The neurotic fixation on design details at the Apple ‘Spaceship Headquarters’, in that context, suggests a turning away from the actual world and into their own hermetically sealed world. But that detail of design serves the Apple Store well. The Sydney CBD store is almost ten years old and the small amount of scuffing on the floors, scratches on the metal detailing, and the deepening in colour of the wooden tables are patina, they enliven rather than detract from the design of the interior. The spareness of a Donald Judd level of simplicity in the tables and large screens along the back wall has made the space easily reconfigurable during the product cycles and shifts in focus during that time.

By comparison I’d been in Barangaroo the day before. Walking back to Wynyard station through the windy, snaking series of tunnels created by Woods Bagot is charming. But the level of workmanship was disheartening. I went to look closer at the large pale panels on the walls, to try and see what they were made of. I didn’t figure that out. But they had an insubstantial feeling, as thin as veneer. The paint job was sloppy, with paint marks on the thin metal panels. They hadn’t been expertly masked.



I HAD A ‘REVENGE OF ANALOG’ MOMENT YESTERDAY that solved my printing problems. David Sax’s book documents the resurgence of physical formats … not in complete denial of digital but in association with digital tools… in my territory, notebooks, he gives examples of the big tech companies moving back to using notebooks and whiteboards as tools even as they finesse digital-only options for the rest of us. There’s a chapter about the difficulty of reviving a cinema film production factory in Italy that resonated with me yesterday.

I’d been caught between two extremes. @canva is a brilliant tool and several people there have been helping me but their print services are still developing and can’t yet do a book project like mine and there was no simple way to transfer my files to another program to put them into a print format. And when I went into Pages on my Apple Computer I couldn’t see how to create a booklet. So yesterday I booked in for one of Apple’s free classes and as it progressed I figured out that I was looking for features that used to be in Pages but had been jettisoned when the program was also made available on mobile devices. On a screen you don’t need mirrored page numbers, for instance. (even # on the left, odd #on the right.) So I spent a couple of hours last night simulating the features that had been taken away. I now have a template that can be used for all of my own projects, that I can also offer to those I’m working with to easily mock up their own projects.

EASILY is the key word here. I’m looking at projects in an embryonic state, being sketched out. And the mindset is, “what can I create with the tools I have lying around … already on a computer … or a smartphone …” without having to download and subscribe to feature-clogged expensive digital tools.

A tweet conversation between Rosanne Cash and Neko Case yesterday on Twitter, described how these tools may also confound the richness of the real world and there’s little we can do about it. “I wish you all had to taste a record so you could appreciate how awful MP3’s sound,” wrote Neko Case. “And most things involving computers, streaming services, iTunes etc. They have settings that recompress the shit we work so hard for.”



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