As a city dweller who spends most of my days tapping keys and barely keeping afloat in the constant wash of global sound bites and social media feeds, many days I wonder what this ever-increasing flow of ones, zeros and distractions is leading to. Is it possible to sharpen and sustain a curious mind in a society that demands quick decisions, not thoughtful reflection?
What exactly are we hurrying towards? After all – what you focus on, whether offline or increasingly “on” – ends up comprising your life. In a recent Guardian article on the “slow web” movement and “conscious computing”, philosopher Damon Young notes that: “to be diverted isn’t simply to have too many stimuli but to be confused about what to attend to and why. Distraction is the very opposite of emancipation: failing to see what is worthwhile in life, and lacking the wherewithal to seek it”.
As we come up to the first anniversary of Assemble Papers, I write to you from another time zone and season. Chasing the sun to Europe, without the usual shopping list of distractions, this is an opportunity to reflect on the conversation we’ve leant our voice to so far, and a chance to chart our future course. To remember that what we publish aims to encourage participation and awareness – not distraction or escape. One year ago, we founded Assemble Papers to provide a slow, steady knowledge base of ideas and dialogue – fuel for both left and right sides of the brain – and to provoke thought and encourage greater debate on living consciously and creatively in cities. That mission feels as prescient as ever.
In the early 80s, biologist Eugene F. Stoermer coined the unofficial term anthropocene (“new age of man”) to describe our current epoch in time. For my part, I think it’s time that as humans, we both accept and take responsibility for the future of our habitat. To understand that as humans, we are part of a kind of super-ecology, neither superior or separate to the interdependent concepts of “nature” and “culture”. The city can then be seen as an ecosystem, not simply “man-made”, “artificial” or in opposition to a more “unspoiled”, outside world. Perhaps then we can view ourselves as active citizens, part of a greater, global ecology that is in our carriage. As environmental journalist Andrew Revkin writes, “we no longer have the luxury of ignorance… As far as science can tell, there’s never, until now, been a point when a species became a planetary powerhouse and also became aware of that situation”. In this article on his Dot Earth blog for the New York Times, Revkin talks of the importance of moving beyond the “nerd loop” (of academics and specialist scientists) so that discussion spreads beyond the disciplines of the physical and environmental sciences to sociology, history, philosophy and the arts, “making sure this conversation spills across all disciplinary and cultural boundaries”.
What we think, read and consume is all connected. Joining the dots and forging connections between the local and the global, the practical and the philosophical, the artistic and the architectural with intelligence, humour and hope will continue to be the order of the day here at AP. In the coming year, while many of us will likely still float in and out of “conscious computing” and grapple with staying “slow” in a world that’s gone into hyperdrive, the main event from Assemble HQ will be the thoughtful presentation of ideas, words and knowledge that is informed, active and optimistic in its approach to small footprint urban life. In our second year, we will continue to bring you an eclectic and thought-provoking mix of words, ideas and images across the spectrum of art, design, architecture, urbanism, the environment and financial matters, while exploring a greater emphasis on the relationship between creativity, contemporary life and sustainability.
A big thank you to all our readers, old and new (and we have a number of special treats and giveaways this month for you). Keep reading, writing, thinking and conversing with us. In time, we hope to continue the conversation and debate offline, with a future series of talks and get-togethers hosted by some of the thinkers, doers and contributors we are lucky enough to work with. For now, our biggest, loudest shout-out of gratitude goes to all our contributors, mentors, interns and supporters without whom these digital pages wouldn’t see the light of your screens. As friend and artful image-maker Sonia Rentsch observes with her specially-commissioned AP first birthday visual: “what Assemble stands for and promotes is not a new idea – as per the iconic image of a smiley – it’s a new take on an old idea. A simple but great idea. It’s not hard to understand, and at the basis of it, the end result should bring joy”.
Happy birthday, one and all.