In purposelessness, we find purpose

Undeniably, we stand at a tipping point of knowledge work transformation. And it is scary—designs and illustrations can now be commissioned in seconds without a human behind it. It’s making everyone nervous, rightfully so, for their livelihood and sense of purpose. We’ve seen what happened to manufacturing workers not long ago. I can’t help but wonder what this means for knowledge workers.

The painful realization for me is that our own inventions have always been and will always be obviating the need for us. Whether it’s steam engine, robots or AI, they will continue to enable us, replace us, and challenge our sense of purpose and meaning, whether it’s work or hobby.

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iPad-ifying the iPad

As someone who never had a computer until middle school, it’s crazy to think that iPads existed for almost half of my life. I bought my first iPad in 2011. For 12 years, I’ve gone through 5 different models. This is a slightly long, two-part post reflecting on the role of tablet computing, and more specifically, iPad, in my life over the last decade.

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The future of film scanning

I was telling a friend of mine last month about “film startups,” new companies that produce film photography products—development kits, scanning solutions, film cameras, peripherals, etc.. He was genuinely surprised that this niche space has enough demand for new companies to crop up.

His reaction reminded me how lucky we film photographers are in 2023 to have active investments in this space. The entire film photography pipeline is being reinvented for the digital era, and one of the most interesting of which is scanning.

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Slices of Our Brain

The most recent development in AI makes me feel like I’m living in a condensed timeline where progress flies at a 10x speed. It wasn’t that long ago that people were shocked by the image generation capabilities of DALL-E 2, a GPT-based multi-modal model. Suddenly, we have tools that are able to make functional games, websites, and demonstrate complex reasoning skills with a surprising range of flexibility over images, text, and even videos. Really, once you grasp the power of the building blocks of GPT models, there’s virtually nothing you can’t do by training and combining them in ever more creative ways. Here are some examples that blew my mind:

These use cases technically are achievable with purpose-built tools (e.g., “an app that gives you recipes based on pictures of foods.) The remarkable thing here is that GPT-4 models can do these highly complex tasks out of the box without any specialized training.

It’s as if…a human were behind it.

Well, maybe small, tiny parts of humans.

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Time Capsules

The Bay Area has seen more rainy days than I can remember. On days like these, I usually spend time by making a cup of tea or coffee, putting on some music, and working away at some project at my morning table.

This other day, I stumbled upon a background music video that uses a few piano instrumentals from classics like 5 Centimeters per Second. One of the top comments read:


“(This made me think:) ’really, music is a medium for storing memories.'”

Music really is a medium for memories. Last time, I wrote about the physicality of music. But the temporal dimension of music is also equally important.

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“The last best physical music format”

The weather was beautiful outside, but I was exhausted and in pain. Coughing, blowing my nose, I couldn’t do anything except press the TV remote while in bed. It may have seemed like a misfortune in the moment, but being quarantined in Singapore for a week had at least one silver lining. After watching hours of videos about obsolete media formats, I discovered one of the coolest things I’ve seen: MiniDiscs (MD’s).

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Repair before replacing

The ice maker at our new townhome didn’t work, but it didn’t bother us as much as we rarely used ice. Earlier this month, our landlords kindly replaced the fridge. I suppose they replaced it because there’s no one offering repairs for a fridge as old as the house.

Still, it seemed like a big waste. Other than the ice maker, it was a perfectly functional fridge. Perhaps our landlords wanted a new fridge anyway, I guess.

The old Frigidaire unit was taken apart and hauled away like trash. It hurt a little, even though I didn’t pay anything for it. Like killing a life still going strong, it felt mottainai.

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The morning table

When it comes to personal work, if I’m honest with myself, I’d say that I probably spend more time working away from my work desk than at it, no matter how decked out and ergonomic it is. So, I started wondering why.

In sociology, there’s this concept called “third place,” a place other than your home or work that you’d visit to socialize. I think the proper definition is more about a place to gather with the community, but I started thinking of it as also a place to focus, away from the inertia of familiar environments. And I started wondering if this place could exist at home as well.

For one, during most of the pandemic, my home is my world. Perhaps our regular desk has become too associated with work that I seek another spot to escape it. But even before the WFH era, I’ve always started my morning with hours of sedentary activities at such a place. So perhaps it’s the suburban environment, where things are far apart so I can’t exactly take a short and casual walk to a nearby coffee shop. Not knowing whether this qualifies as a proper “third place,” I started calling it “the morning table,” since morning is when I usually do my personal work.

I found that, for myself at least, my morning table wherever I lived has always had the following 4 traits:

  1. By or facing the window, with abundant natural light
  2. Not my “serious work” desk
  3. Somewhere I can make myself a nice drink
  4. Quiet and not distracting

Do you have a spot like this at home? Where do you do most of your nonwork work?