My Computer Never Forgets My Birthday

Lovers and Haters Gonna Say the Same Thing

Two opposing comments in response to my article “Generation Y isn’t Unhappy, we’re just really Stressed” pointed to a common theme. One was my favorite comment, from a friend’s spouse who asked her wife “did you write this? These people are living parallel lives!”. The other was from a disgruntled Twitter user “Yeah we dealt with that shit too, get over yourself.” Both comments highlight the universality of these issues. The last time I wrote about Generation Y in long form was for DesignIntelligence in an article entitled “Generation Y Unfolding” and I came to similar conclusions. The articled ends this way:

Upon reading all this, one might conclude that these issues are the same for every employee, of every generation. While these pressures might be more obvious in Generation Y, making the stakes higher, these same opportunities are now available to every employee…This isn’t just an issue of young versus old, but an issue of 20th century companies versus 21st century employees.

Whoever you are, whatever generation you belong to, the underlying tribulations of life are the same.** Each cohort of people may react in different ways, but it’s just a surface difference. And this is the big point when talking generational issues. One generation isn’t more fickle or shallow or prone to something horrible than previous generations. The newest generation is just the youngest. So amongst their universal struggles are also the equally universal stupidity and immaturity of youth. The expression of how we deal with these issues is based on the culture and technology we were raised in. I hate the term zeitgeist, but it’s the right term. This also suggests that the starting and stopping points of a generation aren’t fixed in time, but more about when certain influencing events and tech reached a person. So in certain locations Gen Y started later because the tipping point of change was slower to arrive.

What all these commonalities mean is that we can start looking at the external factors putting pressure on a given cohort. Think about when you started using/had access to computers, cellphones, internet, etc. Or what your elementary schools were like…those are some of the things that were different between X and Y. It’s not that Generation Y is obsessed with texting, it’s that we are maturing in a world with more connectivity and access than ever before. This isn’t bad, just different. We can’t escape this new world.

We can only master, control, and adapt

And this brings me to what I find myself obsessing about more and more every day. Regardless of your generation, how will we adapt to the changing technological landscape. These pressures are at the heart of what we architects must deal with when doing our jobs. To ignore how people’s lives differ from those of twenty or even ten years ago means we will fail to produce the best work possible. But we must go a step farther. To be responsible designers we must have an eye on the future. We must acknowledge that we are never producing static spaces. The people and things in those spaces continue to evolve. Examples are everywhere—and TVs are my favorite proof of this.

When I first did drawings for a living room, as a summer intern a little over a decade ago, a TV was a big box that had to fit in or on another piece of furniture. It was perceived as a 3D object in three-dimensional space. Now when locating TVs, we look for wall area. We are designing for something that is essentially a two dimensional surface that is placed on another surface. But…how long will that be the norm? How will something as simple (or not so simple) as a TV continue to mutate and affect how we design? And I’m just talking about the physicality of a TV, not even how the function of it has changed. I’m sure I’ll discuss this example in-depth another time.

From One Universality to Many More

I write a lot about being an architect, but what interests me are the universal issues that we all face in the modern age. I could just as well talk about this without focusing on my particular profession (for now I am still claiming that as my profession; ask me again in a few years). Will your job be enhanced or replaced by a computer? Will you embrace or reject technology? How will that effect your children and your ability to lead a healthy, productive life. Is a productive life even the goal? Are the advancement of AI and predictive software such a bad thing? How could they be the most amazing technologies ever created by humanity? We can’t know what the future holds, but we can see the outlines already. And we can be thinking about it so that we are active participants rather than passive bystanders.

My computer never forgets my birthday

Is that such a bad thing? When my kitchen can cook me a healthy meal that it knows I both need, want, and will enjoy, what’s wrong with that? If we never need to cook because our tools can feed us better, what if anything is lost? Or more importantly, instead of asking what is lost by the automation, mechanization, and digitization of many common toils, we should be asking what is gained?

I love cooking on weekends, but not on weeknights

If we never HAVE to cook again to eat well at home, what does that allow us to do? If the dull parts of our jobs vanish, what do we get to do? If we no longer need to control multi-ton metal death traps to get to and from school and work, what then? Does car time become story time? Or nap time? Or breakfast? These questions all have huge implications for architecture. But also for urban design, nature, daily life, and the planet as a whole. For now I’m going to do my best to keep the conversation pointed towards how all this affects what we architects do. But what we do also depends on what society looks like. So be prepared for some more things that deviate from past topics. Today isn’t the day I completely shift gears once again, but I see a version of the future where it does. But then I’d need a new catch phrase:

Shoegnome: making life better through technology

Shoegnome: because the 21st Century Ain’t Easy

Shoegnome: exploring the unnecessary toils, one question at a time

Shoegnome: because I get distracted by lots of things

Oh and I’ll answer my own question about the infallibility of machines. Having my computer occasionally forget my birthday might make me more comfortable with it when it becomes less of a machine and more of an electronic teammate in my household. The Economist explains more.

When you remember this photo was also taken with a smartphone more powerful than any computer you had in college, there’s a lot of technology in this image.

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**yes there’s a lot of over simplification in statements like these, but we’ll save the deeper discussion for a future post or the comments.


  1. Alicia February 13, 2014

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