Flatiron Building in New York is coming up for auction soon. I learned about that when I posted a photo of the Flatiron Building being constructed on a social network. It triggered a chain of thoughts about permanence in what we build as a society.
The building was started in 1901 and was finished in May 1902. The architect, Daniel Burnham, not only created a beautiful design to utilize what was not an attractive plot of land but also turned it into an urban icon. Since then, it has become as much a part of New York cityscape as the Chrysler Building and the Empire State Building.
Seeing how beautiful it still looks and inspires even today, is a testament to its good bones. One hundred and twenty years later, it is still standing tall & good. There is a lesson: good bones sound good quality is timeless! Flatiron Building is one of the most Instagrammed locations in North America, if not in the world.
“The Flatiron Building and the picture postcard seemed made for each other,” Miriam Berman, an urban archivist and designer, once said. “The shapes were just right.” Of course, not everything in the building was perfect. There were issues galore, but the building has survived. How many of today’s buildings can stand the test of time?
People argue that the speed with which our buildings are put together today is why we don’t have many iconic buildings. Speed to market isn’t new — Flatiron Building also went up in just over a year. If you look around today, all you can see are hastily thrown-up boxes devoid of personality, useful only as disposable fashion.
We have lost a willingness to create something beautiful and lasting. Built to last is not part of this post-Internet society, and our ethos as a society has changed. And it is not just buildings but everything else around us — they are designed with intentional obsolescence. Whether it is modern cars, fashion, or conveniences, the marketplace is optimized for maximum profitability and immense scale. What a terrible way to think about our urban spaces and our future!
March 17, 2023. San Francisco
At the very end of 2022, I wrote about my photographic journey and how it has allowed me to look at both the world and life in new ways. It has allowed me to embrace imperfections, my own and in others. Of course, it could just be that my inner monologue influenced my photography.
Regardless, many of you wrote wanting to see more of my photos from 2022. There are quite a few favorites, so instead of creating a long string of photos, I roped in my friend Felix and had him create a video presentation of the best of my 2022 photos! Sit back, relax, and enjoy!
February 4, 2023, San Francisco.
“Time moves in one direction, memory in another,” said William Gibson. I was reminded of these words when reading two long pieces about my friends Mathew Ingram and Wesley Verhoeve.
Both stories (tangentially involved me,” and inadvertently took me down memory lane. Mathew wrote about the first Mesh conference, where he invited me as a keynote speaker. When I returned from the conference, I quit my day job at Business 2.0 and started working full-time on GigaOm. The year was 2006; since then, life has been a journey. Mathew later became a writer and confidante at GigaOm, and some of the folks I met at the conference have become lifelong friends. Like many events at that time, Mesh captured a vibe and a feeling of optimism about what was to come. Mathew’s piece reminded me of one truism: “life is a contact sport.” Going-out, mingling, and learning are how you grow.
Wesley is now a professional photographer, but a long time ago, he worked in the music industry. He started taking photographs late in life and has been doing so for ten years. My Photos.app archive shows the first time I met Wesley was 12 years ago, when I went out to have a coffee with him and dragged along Naveen Selvadurai, co-founder of Foursquare. In 2015, I published an interview with New York Times writer Jenna Wortham, and Wesley took her portraits for the profile. At that time, he was chronicling the stories of creatives who moved away from big urban centers on his website, Oneofmany.co Wesley’s story was a good reminder that success is never overnight and takes a lot of passion and belief.
I had a fantastic start to 2023: in the mountains, taking photographs, and being completely meditative. That didn’t last long — on my way back, I picked up something, and by the time the work week got rolling, I fell sick. All sorts of symptoms — sore throat, nasal congestion, aches, pains, and high fever. It felt like it was flu — flu shots are no protection — but worse. I was so tired and could barely crawl out of bed.
So was it the deadly virus? I don’t know. I test three days in a row. The results were negative. Maybe it was the new variant? Or the flu is extra strength this year. I wouldn’t know. It was bad enough for me to go without coffee for over eight days. I didn’t read anything and barely listened to any music or podcasts. And, of course, I could not watch anything on my iPad. I had to sleep this sickness off. As a plus, I managed to stay dry and miss the rains brought to San Francisco by the “atmospheric river.”
Regardless of the long and short of it, I am better. Sadly, I will be playing catch-up to unanswered emails and to-dos. And that means all the words I was supposed to write. Time to get to it!
January 12, 2023. San Francisco
A very happy rainy, soggy hump day! Let’s start by wishing my friend, Matt Mullenweg, a very happy birthday! It is amazing to see someone you met as a teenager turn into a man and a titan.
Quiet quitting is not a life philosophy or policy proposal that needs logical scrutiny. It’s also not a political weapon to be wielded to prove how much more woke or conservative you are than everyone else. It’s both more incoherent and essential than all of that. Figuring out how work fits into a life well lived is hard, but it’s an evolution that has to happen. Quiet quitting is the messy starting gun of a new generation embarking on this challenge
I can understand why every generation needs to go through this challenge to find work-life balance. Many of my friends (of all age groups) talk about this balance, but somehow I don’t seem quite to understand their quandary. I am not a callous person, so what is it? Why don’t I understand the concept of work-life balance?
The answer came to me when I stumbled upon this gem hiding in the archives. The proverbial lightbulb went off. Not everyone on the planet has the opportunity and the option to do what they love. Most of us work on things we don’t care about but have to because that’s what humans have to do.
So perhaps when you find something you love, which happens to be your work, embrace your good fortune. Writing is my work, but it is also my life. Every so often, I need a smack on the back of my head to remind myself of what I have!
“The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle.”
― Steve Jobs
January 11, 2022. San Francisco
I took a quick break for the holidays and went out to take photographs in Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho. The photography was amazing, and I got a chance to connect with nature. I managed to do some hiking as well. However, the biggest adventure was when flying home. In the winter, United offers a direct flight from Jackson Hole to San Francisco, which takes just over two hours. So, when I got to the airport, I was hoping to be in my apartment by 6.30 pm, ease into the evening, and get back to work.
Of course, the weather gods had something different in mind. The flight took off two hours later, primarily due to local weather conditions that had backed up the flights. And as a result, our flight got to San Francisco in the middle of a rainstorm and crazy winds. The smaller planes like ours were having a tricky time landing and instead were routed to San Jose. We sat on the tarmac at the San Jose Airport for about 3 hours. The plane needed to refuel and fly back to San Francisco, where we could get our luggage and go for other connecting flights.
The onboard staff was as accommodating as possible, but they couldn’t do much. There were a lot of angry passengers who missed their connections. Since the pilots had been on duty for longer than their usual term, they weren’t legally allowed to fly. In other words, the plane was to find fuel and a new crew. And that wasn’t happening anytime. Around 10 pm, it was decided that we could disembark, but our luggage would remain onboard.
I got home at 11.15 pm, had a snack, and slept.
Thankfully, I had an AirTag in my bag to keep a close eye on the status of my luggage. The empty plane took off from San Jose Airport at 10.50, and at 11.30, I saw my bag arrive at the airport. I made a beeline to San Francisco International and got my bag. The adventure was finally over!
The first trip of 2023 was a gentle reminder of the reality of life — plans are just plans. I am sure that had I missed connecting flights or misplaced my luggage, I wouldn’t be that sanguine. But no matter, sometimes you have to go with the flow.
Happy New Year!
PS: Did I say the photos were amazing?
January 4, 2022. San Francisco
Time has a strange habit of slinking away. It does so quietly that we don’t notice it till it’s too late. And what you are left with are fragments, or what we grandiosely call memories. You remember some days, a few moments, and a handful of faces, and they all add up to become your past. Today is one of those red letter days — fifteen years ago, I faced mortality, and somehow I came out on the other side. Looking back, what seemed like a dark period in my life has turned out to be the best thing that has ever happened to me.
It taught me the lessons we learn late in life early: excess, perfection, and accumulation are fair-weather friends. I learned that by giving time to play its hand, I would stop being impatient. Life, as it turned out, has been much better than how I had planned it. And more importantly, you are better off finding comfort in the company of imperfection.
For the past decade and a half, one day at a time, and one step at a time, I have slowly learned to embrace my own imperfections. What has been harder is letting go of judging others. because of their imperfections. This is an ongoing process, made harder because emotions like love carry the weight of expectations. A journey’s final destination has to be a place where everything and everyone has space to be less than perfect.
I woke up today wondering how I would remember the past twelve months. Would my work-life transition be part of the memory? Or the amount of time I spent in contemplation? Or the books I read? Or the place I visited? Or was it the time I spent with family and friends? As the rain beat down on the window and I looked through the thousands of droplets of rainwater streaming down, it all became too clear: my photography was a visual manifestation of my journey on the road to embracing my own imperfections.
“Photography is painting with light!,” Czech artist and photographer, Miroslav Tichy once said, adding. “The blurs, the spots, those are errors! But the errors are part of it, they give it poetry and turn it into painting.” This is such a liberating insight — for photography in specific, but also for life in general. It is one of the reasons why I stopped identifying where I clicked the camera, instead focusing on what I felt.
Wabi-Sabi is about coming to terms with the imperfection of life itself. Koren reminds us in the book that “reason is always subordinate to perception.” At least for the artist or creator. For a person of science, reason and logic has to take precedence. In a weird way, as someone living on the edges of science and creativity, it has allowed me to look at our changing world without judgment and with a bit more clarity about what really matters.
“Things wabi-sabi have no need for the reassurance of status or the validation of market culture. They have no need for documentation of provenance. Wabi-sabi-ness in no way depends on knowledge of the creator’s background or personality. In fact, it is best if the creator is no distinction, invisible, or anonymous.”
In 2022, my visual vocabulary found appreciation for error and blur, and, more importantly, I learned that reality is just a perception. I don’t know whether it is my own internal growth or my mind’s reaction to a world emitting too much information, and the only way to deal with it is by abstracting it all. Or it just is that I have found the by-lane I need to veer in order to continue on my visual journey.
In my time writing about Silicon Valley, it has gone from being a place of naive curiosity to a place where posturing is everything. And the reason we have this state of affairs is that, with extreme success, the denizens of the valley have ostracized these four phrases from their vocabulary:
I don’t know
I was wrong
I need help.
Nothing is more potent than admitting I was wrong or that I don’t know. And that I need help. It all starts by actually admitting you are sorry. Thank you Inspector Armand Gamache for the reminder!
December 22, 2022. San Francisco
I have always enjoyed Trevor Noah, who hosted “The Daily Show,” a faux news show originally made famous by Jon Stewart. About seven years ago, Noah, a South African comic took over from Stewart. He and brought an outsider’s viewpoint to this quintissential American socio-politican and cultural show. He wasn’t always liked or appreciated. However, an outsider who grew up in a world of grays, I respected Noah’s erudite approach to humor and the human condition. Noah ended his seven year run yesterday. And in his parting commentary, he said something that I feel needs worth amplifying – context matters.
Never forget how much context matters. I feel like we live in an age of limitless information right now. But we never seem to acknowledge that there’s a shortage of context. We don’t realize that we have a lot of information but we don’t have the context that is so necessary for us to process that information, which is so important.
Context is truly everything.
We know we know about a flood in Pakistan. In a way that we never would have known before we know about protests in Iran. We know about what the troop movements are in Ukraine. We know about a drought in parts of you know, Sudan. We know all these things. We know who Pete Davidson is dating now. Sometimes I feel like we know it before he does.
We see a clip a video. It’s designed to make us angry, we respond to it accordingly. We don’t know how it started. We don’t know how it ended. We don’t know what the actual story is. And context is so important for everything for every conversation if you think about it in life. It makes you angry. Don’t you wonder why it makes you angry.
Try and find the context. Wherever you can ask as many questions and may slow you down in being able to make a decision that may slow you down and being able to form a take, but maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe we shouldn’t have an opinion immediately. Maybe we should wait and see what happened. See what the context is.
Just remember without context, nothing makes sense.
If you have been a reader, you all know that context has been the driving force for me as a writer in specific, and observer of the world in general. It has stood me in good stead. It helps me deal with the vagaries of the modern life. I will miss Noah and his work as the host of The Daily Show. I hope in time, we get to enjoy him as a comic on the road. That would be worth paying for.
I am reminded daily that the Internet and online media can be awful places. Today, the reminder came in the form of reactions to the election of form Chancellor of the Exchequer, Rishi Sunak, as the British Prime Minister. Whether these are bots doing the bidding of some hidden powers, or just plain old-fashioned racism, it is depressing to read comments about Sunak’s race and ethnicity.
To call him Indian would be a stretch. Is he of Indian origin? Of course. But make no bones – Sunak is British. He was born in Southampton and educated at Winchester College, & Oxford. Sunak is the grandson of Indian migrants who moved to the U.K. from Kenya. That leads me to the bigger question: if birth doesn’t make you “British,” then what does?
To be clear, I am not naive enough to think that these reactions are limited to the U.K. or Sunak. It is the world we live in — where your skin color or ethnicity is used to pigeonhole you. As an immigrant, when do lly stop being an outsider? How many generations have to pass for you to be from somewhere else, and your skin color defines your place in society as first among equals?
Politics, like religious beliefs, is a private matter in my books & that is why I don’t talk about it. But sometimes, you are just compelled to think out loud. To be clear, I don’t have particular affection for Sunak or any love for the British.
The questioning of Sunak’s origins just brought up some strong feelings. I have spent more time in America than in India, where I was born. I carry an American passport, yet the first question people ask me is where are you from? For me, the answer is simple. But for others, it doesn’t seem to be the case!