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In speaking of stereotypes, the emphasis is usually placed on the act of differentiation, but dividing and uniting are two sides of the same coin; in one act, both concepts operate simultaneously. We view the attitude of “us” and “them” as divisive and negative, but without the concept of “them” or “others”, uniting of people would also be impossible. Read »

This is a text I wrote for the group show curated by Francesco Bonami at the Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo (Torino, Italy). The show was named after one of my websites, AllLookSame.com. This piece describes my philosophy behind it. Read »

Reading this article in New Scientist reveals to me that scientific study of time is hampered by a language (semantic) problem. Wittgenstein incidentally used the concept of “time” to explain what he called “family resemblance.” The gist of it is that when we try to define what “time” is (or any word for that matter), we tend to look for what is common to all the phenomena we call “time”. This is a mental habit that has no logical basis. There is no reason why there must be something in common to all the phenomena we call “time”. Phenomenon A might share something in common with phenomenon B, and B might share something in common with C, but this does not mean that A must share something in common with C. So any attempt at abstracting a concept until you find something in common to all, is a futile exercise. I think some of the problems associated with time perception fall in this category. Read »

The amount of stress we endure is increasing because of our focus on efficiency. Stress is caused by uncertainty, more specifically, by doubts in our ability to handle something. As machines and computers handle more things that are predictable and certain, we are pressured to deal with more things that are unpredictable and uncertain. This inevitably leads to more stress. As soon as our tasks become predictable and certain, we automate them using our technology. The result of this process of streamlining is that we are increasingly called upon to use our, what I would call, irrational abilities, such as instincts, sensibilities, creativities, and interpersonal skills. These things are, by nature, unpredictable. Read »

Coming from Japan, the abundance of choice offered in America has always frustrated me, not because I don’t like having choices, but because many of them are meaningless for me. For instance, a typical diner in New York offers hundreds of items on the menu, but none of them are particularly good. Wouldn’t it make more sense to offer a limited number of items, but make them really well? Unfortunately the answer appears to be no. In this country where the concept of individualism is almost sacred, having choice is unequivocally considered as a good thing. No one even questions it, except for a few theorists like Barry Schwartz, the author of “The Paradox of Choice”. Read »

There is a saying that goes “Wise men learn more from fools than fools from the wise.” This can be extended to our relationship with our TVs. Even if TV is a fool, it should not prevent a wise person from learning something from it. In recent years, I’ve noticed a growing number of people around me who tossed their TVs out of their living rooms, asserting that TV is stupid, superficial, and annoying. Whenever I would mention something on TV, they would proudly announce that they don’t own a TV. I’m sure this is not a national phenomenon, but within my own circle of friends and associates, it is becoming a trend, or even a fad. Read »

One winter night, one of the few Japanese friends I had in my early 20s was playing a guitar at his company Christmas party. He was an architect and was about 10 years older than I was. Before he decided to study architecture, he was making a living as a guitarist in Japan. This was not the first time I heard him play, but I was still stunned by how good he was. After his performance, I told him that it was a shame that he was no longer pursuing his musical career. He then shared with me his recent realization that life is a process of giving up. At the time, I didn’t think much of what he said. I think I remembered it only because of its unusual reversal of the popularly held beliefs. Especially on this land of dreams, “giving up” is seen almost as sacrilegious. Everyone’s livelihood seems to precariously hinge on holding big, albeit distant dreams. For some people, the more dreams, the better. So, what did my friend mean when he said that life is a process of giving up? Read »

After graduating from college, I worked for a Japanese corporation here in the US. I hated the idea that I was taking advantage of being Japanese, but it was during the recession of the early 90s, and being able to get any kind of job, especially fresh out of college, was quite fortunate. The only reason why I was able to get that job was because I spoke Japanese. If I were Chinese, I would not have had the access to the same opportunities. I asked myself, “Why do I deserve these opportunities when many immigrants from other countries have to start their lives from the very bottom of this society?” Read »

An interesting website called “The Belonging Initiatives” was brought to my attention. It is a Canadian group which is “exploring ways by which we can end isolation and loneliness for persons with disabilities.” The concept of isolation and loneliness has always fascinated me mainly because I moved a lot in my childhood. The toughest experience I had of loneliness was when I moved to New York from Japan on my own to go to college. At the time, I spoke very little English, and there were no other Japanese students in my college. I do recall the pain was almost physical. Read »

This year, video portals like YouTube, iFilm, and vSocial are all the rage. It appears that online video viewing has finally reached a critical mass. It is interesting to think about what this means for the content developers. Before we get into the specific implications, I would like to discuss the general trend in the business world today. Read »

“The Nurture Assumption” by Judith Rich Harris offers an alternative view on the topic of parenting which is dominated by the idea that parents are the most influential figures in the lives of children. I find many of her arguments to be relevant, but this book overall is marred by her own personal biases. Read »

The recent study conducted by the two sociologists at the University of Virginia sparked a series of debates on the Internet, arguing whether women are happier staying at home or working. According to the study, stay-at-home wives are overall happier than their working counterparts. In the various arguments I read, no one mentioned the point that has concerned me for years: the unfortunate consequence of feminism on our household economies. My theory is not backed up by any research, but it seems apparent to me that women joining the workforce decreased the amount of money one person can earn for the household. Read »

The dislocating anomie lifts as you part the clouds over Los Angeles. You haven’t landed yet, but at 500 feet you recognize you have arrived. The basin stretches taut between the mountains and the water, welcomes you in its embrace. Buildings crouch low, hunkering from the sweep of the sky. Hills that later will tower starkly above now read as bumps of Braille. Green saturates as you near, intensified by the pounding rains of an absurdly early spring. The basin embraces you, hugs you. Read »

It’s nice to think our work can change the world, but is that really the case? In my view, there is a fundamental misunderstanding in our society about what graphic design is. Here is an interesting observation by Ludwig Wittgenstein to illustrate this point: “Often, when I have had a picture well framed or have hung it in the right surroundings, I have caught myself feeling as proud as if I had painted it myself.” This is the most common pitfall of graphic designers. Since our work is often viewed by thousands or even millions of people, we become proud of our work as if the message was our own. Read »

Admittedly I am on the sidelines of the Harry Potter explosion. My exposure has been limited to a mere chapter: I was pleased that such a challenging book was the rage for kids. The movies I have yet to experience. Yet, in this strange world, I had a perfect opportunity to observe the stars firsthand at The Goblet of Fire New York Premier. What I saw struck me, and I’d like to share. Read »

Every summer I make a point of going to exactly one county fair. These annual pilgrimages impart profound if merciless lessons. Make no mistake — the county fair is our nation’s most puritanically rigorous form of moral instruction. Like a father forcing his child to smoke an entire pack of pilfered cigarettes to ensure he never takes a puff again, the county fair offers you every possible type of enjoyment while sneering, “Here, you want fun? Well, here you go, here’s fun for you — and I hope you choke on it.” Read »

As a Christmas gift, I was given a DVD of a movie called “What the Bleep Do We know!?” I had never heard of the film. On the cover it said, “Science and spirituality come together in this mind-bending trip down the rabbit hole.” On the back cover, it mentioned “quantum physics”, and had a picture of an archetypal mad scientist. I assumed that it was a documentary on quantum mechanics, something we might see on PBS. On the surface, the actual movie does look like that. It is a mixture of interviews with “experts” and a fictional narrative centered around a female photographer whose life is filled with alienating jobs and frustrating personal conflicts; in other words, someone just like all of us—presumably, that is. If you did not catch onto the subtext of this film, you might assume that there is no difference between this film and what we see on PBS, but it is actually a propaganda film for a religious sect. Read »

In 1995, I wrote a piece in the New York Times Sunday Magazine where I tried to get a handle on how many people had actually been killed in the war in Bosnia. Estimates had been grossly abused, people (both journalists and policymakers) were basically hallucinating about the nature of the war—and drawing the consequent conclusions. At the time my piece was published I took a lot of flack. Among other barrages, one feature put me on the cover of the Washington Post’s Sunday Magazine (an irony here) and talked about how looking at me was like looking at something through the wrong end of a telescope. “How dare he insult the dead?” Read »

Recently, my wife went to a small stationary store in our neighborhood to buy some office supplies, where she saw spiritual words of wisdom posted around the cash register. She asked the Indian man behind the counter what his religion was. He said he had no religion. He then gave her a copy of the book he wrote. My wife came home excitedly and gave me the book called “Seeking Home—An Immigrant’s Realization” by Jayant Patel. She had a hunch that I would be interested in reading it, for I too am an immigrant. She was right. Something about it, especially the story of how she got the book, was intriguing to me. Read »

As I’ve said in the past, pursuit of happiness is rather superficial, and therefore overrated. When I said it, I did not have a child of my own, and did not even want one, at least not consciously. Now that I do have a child of my own, one might expect me to take it back. To my own surprise, I find my own statement truer than ever. In fact, I can go as far as to claim that, at the time, I didn’t even know the true meaning of what I was saying. Happiness indeed is superficial. Read »

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