My friend Tim came over to my place for dinner. He is a filmmaker, in love with the art of storytelling. I asked him why there are no films or novels about inanimate objects. We both agreed that it would be rather boring, but the question of why fascinates me. When we say "story", especially in the context of film and literature, it is implied that we are referring to human story. Could a novel be written about a tree? It wouldn't be hard if we were to anthropomorphized the tree, let it talk like a human, and interact with other trees; but then it would just be another human story. Read »

It feels strange that, these days, I don't have enough time in a day. In my 20's, I hated being awake because I didn't know what to do with all the time I had. Going to work was almost like a relief because I could take my mind off the emptiness that caused me a lot of pain. As soon as I got home, I would call and meet some of my friends who lived near me. On weekends, I used to take a walk to the nearby park and sit on a bench for a long time. Sometimes I brought a book with me, but I would often sit there just staring at the tree in front of me. Read »

Last weekend, I had a conversation with a magazine publisher at a Ukrainian restaurant about how advertising influences our artistic expressions. Although I completely agreed with him that advertising (i.e. money) does affect/influence our expressions, a few days later, I started wondering: What exactly are we trying to protect? Obviously, it is some sort of purity, and we feel that advertising taints, distorts, contaminates, or pollutes it. Read »

My daughter got a book about The First Ladies as a gift. Flipping through it, I felt disturbed by it. Before this, I had never given much thought to the position of First Lady, but juxtaposing it with my own daughter created a new context in which to rethink what First Lady means. My first thought was that I wouldn’t want my daughter aspiring to be a First Lady. I then asked: In this day and age, why should any title be forced on you just because of your husband's job? One of my Facebook friends put it succinctly: “I hate that politicians and society always have to define women by their relationships as mothers, daughters & sisters, etc..” That is exactly it: When speaking of careers, we should not define anyone in relationship to their spouses; it’s irrelevant and inappropriate. It devalues and demeans who they are on their own merits. Read »

As a graphic designer, it was fascinating to read this New York Times article entitled, “Psychotherapy’s Image Problem Pushes Some Therapists to Become ‘Brands’”. In the past 5 years or so, I’ve been telling all my graphic design clients to be as specific and personal as possible in marketing themselves, and it’s interesting to see that the same holds true for psychotherapists. Marshall McLuhan’s famous idea that the medium is the message is useful in understanding why the market craves for specificity now. It is the message of the medium, search engine, that changed our expectations and desires for specificity. Now that the search engines are almost uncanny in their ability to find the exact answers to our very specific questions, we expect to find exactly what we want when we search for any products or services, and if we are not getting exactly what we want, we feel that we are not getting our money’s worth. Read »

Today I was looking through my Twitter account and came across the account of Andy Jacobson, the graphic designer who used to work for Tibor Kalman. I noticed that he hadn’t updated his Twitter account since November 18, 2011. His blog too ends abruptly on September 28, 2011. I then noticed that his Facebook URL has been taken over by someone else named Andy Jacobson, and his LinkedIn profile has gone missing. Something was definitely wrong. Googling for “Andy Jacobson designer” didn’t turn up much but I eventually found his obituary on New York Times. I have to say I was shocked. Read »

There are many books and films about enlightenment but The Woman in the Dunes written by Kōbō Abe and directed by Hiroshi Teshigahara is a rare example which is capable of actually triggering an enlightenment in us as the audience. Before analyzing the psychological mechanics of the film, I'll provide a brief summery of the plot. Read »

There are certain things in life that we do quite frequently but not know why we do them, or how they came about originally, like shaking hands. One of these mysteries of everyday life is bay leaves. What the hell do they do? Despite their ubiquity, I couldn't find any definitive answer on the Web; only opinions and theories. Let me deconstruct them below. Read »

Email is often considered a medium prone to conflict. The common explanation is that it's because emotional content is lacking. In the late 90s, I remember reading an article about a president of some company banning the use of email because his employees were constantly fighting and arguing over email. He felt that it was counter productive. To some degree, this was true in my own experience also. Even a new word was invented for this phenomenon: flaming. My own theory is that it was caused by our unfamiliarity with how to express ourselves in writing because we had been using phones as the primary medium of communication before email. The switch wasn't just a technological one; it forced us to switch from speaking to writing. It wasn't because of something inherent in email as a medium that caused the conflicts. In fact, it wasn't because writing is inherently more prone to conflict either. It was because of the learning curve. It is like the learning curve the Chinese people are facing with driving cars in China. (In 2004, at least 300 people were killed in traffic accidents every day.) Read »

Most of us want some degree of control over our own success, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to gain that control in today's Global Village. The efficiency in electronic communication turned every field and market into a global competition. For almost everything we do, we are competing with billions of people from around the world. Furthermore, due to the same efficiency, billions of us all flock to the same best solutions/products/people, rendering the vast majority of the rest in the market irrelevant (and unprofitable/poor). And, it is becoming increasingly clear that what goes "viral" is fundamentally unpredictable. Someone who has created something viral once, cannot be relied on to create another. Even for those who are already famous, if we study the popularity of their individual products/works, a small percentage of them gets a disproportionate amount of success. (This pattern of Power Law is found at every level and subsegment.) So the obvious question we have is: How can we have any control over our own success in this hyper-competitive, unpredictable world? Read »

Are you addicted to anything? When someone asks me this question, I'm not exactly sure how to answer it. My feeling is that I must be addicted to something; I just don't know what it is. It's certainly not something that I can append "-holic" to. The reason why I'm convinced that I'm addicted to something is because I have strong compulsions, and I believe that the only difference between a compulsion and an addiction is that the latter is inconvenient, inappropriate or disadvantageous for today's society. Read »

Derridean Deconstruction Therapy (DDT) is a new school of psychotherapy that aims to find your emotional or psychological crutches and Deconstruct them. It can also be called Zen therapy as crutches can also be called "attachments". This method is particularly helpful for those who dismiss the idea of God. Instead of entirely denouncing the act of appealing to higher authorities, they simply replace God with other noble concepts like science, reason, rationality, family, conscience, morality, evolution, art, love, humanity, nature, etc.. In DDT, these sacred cows are Deconstructed so that their hierarchies are reversed to reveal their unconscious assumptions. Read »

Defense mechanism is a way to cope with inconvenient reality; one that could potentially cause us pain. We develop an unconscious habit to block out or distort certain areas of reality. This means we are blind to these areas of reality for which we develop defense mechanisms. Read »

The majority of wealth is now concentrated at the top of the social ladder. This is particularly true in the US, and the gap is widening every year. This, I believe, is because of efficiency, not China. Today the best ideas can efficiently and quickly propagate worldwide, and everyone can efficiently find them and buy them. This makes the owners of these ideas filthy rich, and those ideas that are not the best, can hardly survive. It’s not just transfer of information that is fast; wealth too is transferred very fast and efficiently. Read »

Think of yourself as an iceberg. In the illustration below, you are on the right, and on the left is someone who works in the same field but is more successful than you. The tips of these icebergs are identical, and they represent talent. That is, you are just as talented as your rival is. Now, the rest of the icebergs represents things like confidence, social skills, empathy, ability to manage stress, negotiation skills, understanding what other people want, marketing skills, health, business savvy, etc.. In other words, it represents everything else that the public does not care to know about you. Read »

Being in high school I often hear “she’s weird” or “that’s weird.” I always like to ask why. What makes something or someone weird or normal? Something is weird when it breaks societal norms. For example, if someone puts his hand over his mouth while talking (in everyday conversations), you would probably consider that trait as weird (but not necessarily him as a person). But why? Because people don’t normally put their hands over their mouths while talking. Read »

In the last 10 years, I don't think computers increased our productivity. The processing power of our computers increased dramatically in that period, but for the vast majority of things we do on computers, the increase in power is actually irrelevant because the bottleneck is our brain powers; how quickly we can respond to computers. For instance, as I type this essay, my computer is using a tiny fraction of its power. The computer I was using 25 years ago had more than enough processing power to handle what I'm doing right now. In terms of writing (which is still a huge chunk of what we do on computers), the advancement in computer hardware was pretty much irrelevant. It didn't make us write any faster, because the bottleneck is our own brains, not computers. Read »

“Small talk” has been a bane of my existence all my life. I could never figure out why small talk has such a critical role in socializing with others. Why is it that trying to talk about particle physics at a party is looked down on? In fact, why are parties necessary in the first place? Why can’t we just meet with one another, sit down in a quiet place and exchange our knowledge and insights? As silly as it may sound, this question has baffled me all my life. Read »

The short answer is: I don’t really know. I don’t think anyone knows. So we need to make our best guesses, and that is what I would like to do below. Let me divide us Asian-American parents into two schools of thought. One school believes that we should teach our children whatever we know about our Asian heritage, which includes language, culture, values, customs, etc.. The other school believes that we should do our best to raise our children as Americans. Naturally, there are a lot of people who fall somewhere between the two extremes. Let’s call the first school, “bi-cultural school” and the latter “assimilation school”. Read »

These days, we tend to assume that “diversity” is a universally desirable quality, especially when applied to a group of people. I’m guessing it’s because the theory of evolution is now thoroughly in the domain of popular culture, and because “diversity” is a key concept that allows the process of natural selection to work. My daughter, Annika, attends a public school that prides itself for its “diversity”. In terms of the racial makeup of the school, it is indeed diverse, but having spent a year and a half there, I began to wonder what “diversity” means under the skin. I believe that diversity in and of itself is neither good nor bad. The question is how it is implemented. The fact that any school is “diverse” by itself does not mean anything. Read »

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