On the four-day week

Recently there's been some extra interest in the four-day workweek that we practice at Icelab. We had a TV crew from the national news in last Thursday and I spoke to ABC radio on Wednesday. Today was Friday, my extra day off. What did I do?

I drove with my partner K to the city and had breakfast with her. I talked to a group of architecture students at the University of Canberra about how to give their presentations some design love. I had lunch (and, later, afternoon espresso) at some of Canberra's best cafés. I bought food and started dinner. I repaired a broken headlight on my car. I purchased some warm clothes and unpacked gear for a trip to the snow. I washed clothes and hung them out. I took out the compost. I booked accommodation in Melbourne and set up a new bank account. I read about politics and energy and urbanism and listened to podcasts about philosophy and technology. I talked with my friends and shared jokes and ranted about politics and thought about life. I collected wood and lit a fire and picked up K and talked other about her day and brought her home to a warm house with dinner on. 

Not working Fridays makes me a calmer, smarter, more engaged person, a more attentive partner, a better human. Yes, it will cost you money. An extra eight weeks off per year is a lot of time to make up. But it will give you riches beyond material wealth. You can always make more money. You will never get more time.

A universal basic income

As technology advances, it's inevitable that jobs will be lost to increasingly sophisticated robots.

We should be embracing that freedom from drudgery. No-one wants to stack shelves for Amazon.

But our current focus on jobs means that the less-educated get left on the scrapheap. That's bad for everyone.

A universal basic income is an essential part of an equitable, just society, where there is dignity for all citizens.

By breaking the nexus between employment and money for living, we free ourselves and our societies to do better things.

And don't think it's just manual labour that can be automated. "Knowledge workers" are next.

What is living well?

Something I struggle with daily is the competing obligations we have to our own lives and to our world.

Seems to me that a well-lived, happy life isn't compatible with trying to make the larger world a better place.

Politics, as it is currently practiced, rewards aggressiveness, mendacity, a lack of principles. Who would want that for themselves?

But unless people of courage and compassion and empathy and kindness stand up and fight, how will it get better?

Readings good, Amazon bad

Sometimes you'll get linked to an Amazon product page. Sure, you could buy it from there, but if you're in Australia, Readings Bookstore is a way better place to get your p-books. They have numerous Melbourne locations, a great website* and free shipping anywhere in Australia.

It would be convenient, would it not, not have a handy bookmarklet which would copy the product title from the Amazon page you were looking at and search for that title at Readings? Yes, yes it would.

What are you waiting for?  Drag the bookmarklet below to your favourites bar. Next time you're on an Amazon product page, you'll be ready**.

*Yes, we made it.

** I haven't actually tested this on more than two pages. YMMV.

On the permeability of the individual

We're accustomed to thinking of ourselves as atomic, indivisible entities. I am me, and you are you, and that’s that. I’m coming to see that this is only approximate. When people live and work together, sometimes—when it’s good—a gestalt entity emerges. Who can say who’s responsible for this piece of work, this meal, this idea, this experience? And as we offload more of our sensory and cognitive apparatus to a distributed digital armamentum, we share more of that apparatus with others. How long until the world mind?

Kinds of knowing

When I was twenty, an architect friend-of-a-friend designed a house where kitchen and shower wastewater ran in a stream across an internal atrium, the idea being that an awareness of one’s effluvia was a prerequisite for dealing with it effectively.

At the time, I didn’t get it: I had an intellectual appreciation for environmental concerns, but I didn’t see what I do now – how intuitively right his solution was. What is it, to feel something deeply, rather than just thinking it? What’s the difference between “knowing” and knowing?

Designing our lives

Code is hard but people are harder, and perhaps one’s own self is the hardest of all: it’s difficult to have the critical distance. We're skilled at considering how to make things better, quicker, more beautiful. Can we apply those same skills to our lives and our communities? Can we establish clear structures, eliminate the unnecessary, give ourselves breathing room? Can we refactor our methods, optimise our algorithms, stop making the same mistakes over and over? Can we spend a bit more time deciding what to do, and once we've made that decision, do it to the best of our collective abilities?

Two wheels good, four wheels bad

I’ve been thinking bike-positive thoughts of late, and thinking about ways to motivate people to walk/cycle/public transport their way around. It’s a challenge, particularly since my city (Canberra) is highly optimised for car transport. The roads are more direct, wider, better lit and better maintained than the bicycle paths. I can drive 13 kilometres in 17 minutes (average speed: 45.9 km/h) to get to work, whereas the same trip on cycle paths is 18 kilometres in 45 minutes (average speed: 24 km/h). So I need to spend an extra hour each day to commute back and forth by bike.

How can we start to change that equation? Conventionally, only economic incentives have been proposed to help reduce private car use – but people have repeatedly shown that economic incentives are ineffective. We should instead be thinking of using the currency which really matters: time.

Prioritise cycle routes over roads for cars: If the cycle paths were as direct as roads (or I could safely ride on the roads), I’d save almost half an hour (13km @ 24km/hr = 32.5 minutes each way).

Slow cars down: one way to make it safer for cars to coexist with bikes on the road would be to limit their speed, say, 40km/h, saving weight (smaller, less powerful engines), fuel, pollution, and noise. This would reduce the incentive to drive, help the environment, and make the roads safer for everyone. And before you think this is politically impossible, consider that we already have quite arbitrary speed limits already.