Video Script with some additions and sans some ad libbed parts:
Ever since I started making videos there’s one thing that has always bothered me. I’ve talked about this before, and that’s this graph of user retention. It shows that people tend to watch my videos till about 2-3 minutes in and there’s a steep decline in the number of people who watch my videos till the end.
I’ve been listening to the feedback that people have for me and I’ve been making changes in every video that I make, but there’s still that statistic, that low engagement with the video that sticks with me as something I need to improve on.
With that in mind, I began looking at the usual tips and tutorials online on how to be a more effective communicator, but that felt like I was just scratching the surface. So, I decided to read up about media theory. The first thing that came up was the well-known work of Marshall McLuhan who famously said “The medium is the message”.
What he meant was that the medium of communication shapes how the message is perceived, which in turn also shapes behaviors and has an effect on society as a whole. He divided history into four epochs: Oral, where information was communicated solely through the spoken word, then there was the literary epoch, with the invention of writing and the creation of manuscripts. The third was the print epoch which came to be after the invention of the printing press and movable type, and the fourth is the electronic epoch, which is today’s society.
As mankind moved through these epochs, the invention of new communication mediums changed how we thought and remembered things, and also changed how societies were structured.
I want to talk about an aspect of McLuhan’s theory, the concept of Hot versus Cool media. Contrary to what you’d expect, he described hot media as the one you passively accept, and cool media as the one you actively participate in. To explain further, hot media engages one sense in a high definition way and has a low level of audience participation. Radio or printed books are examples of this. Radio engages the auditory sense while books engage the visual. Cool media, on the other hand, involves the use of multiple senses at once and involves “filling in the gaps” with your own thinking and cognition. An example of cool media would be watching TV, where you have to absorb the visual as well as the auditory information at the same time, while also forming thoughts and opinions on what’s being talked about.
I looked at the two things I usually create- blog posts and videos- and tried looking at them through this lens of hot or cool media. I realized soon that this binary classification wasn’t quite enough to fully understand how people engage with these things. You could oversimplify and say that blogs are mainly text-based and more “hot” media and videos are more “cool” because of the audiovisual information. Here’s the thing though- blogs are not plain text like printed books, they are purely digital and you can add pictures and other forms of media into them. You can also allow people to comment and share them. Also, I make videos, but the platform I use for them is youtube, which has its own design features and caveats. When you think of a youtube video or a YouTuber, you think of a particular archetype of person, a particular style of delivery, and a particular set of calls to action (like share and subscribe!). Not to mention all sorts of other “tropes” that have emerged- making things appear organic and less “high production”, building a sense of community, and the often mentioned parasocial relationships… the list goes on. Link in the description for a playlist of the videos I watched, as well as some articles I read.
I remember when I started making youtube videos a lot of people told me I was softspoken- they sounded surprised about it like it was different from what they expected. It was as if there’s some unwritten rule about how you present yourself that says you have to be loud and boisterous and “always turned up to 11”. As if there are unwritten rules of how to engage with the audience on this platform. Again- youtube isn’t just a video viewing platform, it’s a video delivery platform: there’s an algorithm to suggest videos to you, a comments section, a whole bunch of communities and followings- it’s an ecosystem unto itself.
Another way the Hot/Cool dichotomy breaks down is to think about it from the perspective of a viewer. I watched a video where there’s a discussion of how what’s hot for one person may be cool for another person- just because of how they interact with or consume the media. For example, I may listen to a podcast attentively, or I may just have it on as some background ambient sound while I do something else. Also, people may “heat up” or “cool down” based on the media type, the platform they are on, and a whole bunch of other factors.
So when it comes to the original question of engagement, it looks like I’m back to square one. Not quite- I did learn a lot about media theory and this exploration got me thinking a lot about how people engage with media. The most important lesson was the true meaning behind the words “the medium is the message”.
This does raise a few questions though- should I start using these tropes? Should I start having a high energy boisterous presentation with the goal of forming a parasocial relationship with my currently unnamed “fanbase”? Or should I continue doing what I’m doing and hope that youtube’s algorithm decides to bless me one day? For now, it’s the latter. But I am open to suggestions and feedback, and who knows, maybe I’ll stumble upon something that both engages the audience and gives me creative fulfillment.
This is the end of the video, so I’d like to thank you all for watching, I’m very close to 100 subscribers which is a milestone (for me at least) and I’m very grateful for all the support. Be sure to like this video, subscribe and hit the bell icon if you want more of this content, let me know what you think about this video in the comments, and remember:
“Anyone who claims to know all the answers has lied to you once already.”
Today I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback. When I first set out to make this video I wanted to talk about a couple of life experiences and what they taught me about giving and receiving feedback, but I soon realized that the subject of feedback has a lot of nuances that I couldn’t do justice from my own experiences alone. So I decided to get some, well, FEEDBACK from a few people, and I got a lot of different perspectives from them.
First off I realized I have to define the scope of what I’m about to say. I want to talk about giving and receiving feedback on someone’s creative expression. I’m not talking about getting feedback in a work environment. I’ll tell a story about it- I wrote a blog post about something I learned in grad school called self-determination theory and sent the first draft of it to the professor who taught it to me. I was expecting some criticism of what I’d written, but in the email, he sent me he started off with the sentence “Your writing needs work”. He then proceeded to completely eviscerate my writing. I mean I hadn’t seen that many red lines since I was in elementary school. He did, however, say that he really appreciated the amount of thought I’d put into the piece.
I’d like to pause the story here to talk about some lessons that I took from that experience. The first lesson, keep in mind the relationship between the feedback giver and the receiver. In this case, It was between my college professor (giver) and his former student (receiver). Second, context is key – he was giving me feedback from an academic perspective, thinking from the mindset of writing a paper or academic piece, while I was writing from a personal perspective. With that in mind, we discussed it over a few emails and hashed it out.
But I remember being very shaken by that experience. For the next several months I felt terrible about it. I’d created a sense of self-worth around being a writer and that was my self-identification, and it was all shattered by four words – your writing needs work. I introspected and realized that maybe I really wasn’t looking for feedback; maybe, I was looking for validation. That’s what really happens these days- you post something online, you wait for the validation from social media- you have the words “feedback welcome” in your post but you really just want people to encourage you, and when someone does the opposite, you entrench yourself further into your own mindset and try to find things that support it (Confirmation Bias). The important thing is to understand this impulse and curtail it.
How I got out of that negativity was by trying to improve myself- I began working on my public speaking skills through Toastmasters, and I found a club that gave me feedback but also gave me a whole lot of encouragement. It also opened my mind up to different avenues of expressing myself. Maybe if it weren’t for that email my professor sent, I wouldn’t have been here making videos!
Speaking of videos, I also realized that it’s important to have a thick skin when you put yourself out there on the internet and to anticipate and prepare for situations where people are being especially mean or hateful.
I’d like to talk about another story that happened recently, where I had a completely different experience with getting feedback. I made a new banner for my social media and posted it online mentioning that it was my first attempt at creating one. Check out my website, my twitter page, and subscribe to my youtube channel while I’m on this topic. I got some feedback from my peers in the User Experience biz, telling me about things like the contrast ratio, font size, and other things about the visual design that I could tweak to make it a more effective banner.
I felt the impulse of retorting, of defending my design, but I realized I’d been in this place before. I decided to look at their feedback objectively. I thought about the goal of a social media banner; it’s about spreading the word, making sure people get the information on it as quickly as possible. I realized that if peers in the User Experience business are giving me feedback about a design I’ve made, they’re taking time out of their day to look at what I’ve created and suggested ways in which I can achieve the goals of the design in a better way, then that’s a good thing.
So I took their advice, made some tweaks, and thanked them for their feedback. To my surprise, someone told me that it was a pleasant surprise for them, and that people tend to stick to their guns and be very defensive about things, and that it was a breath of fresh air to see someone being receptive.
This whole thing was a complete 180 from the time I felt a shattered sense of self from four words by a professor.
All in all, these were two life experiences and two completely different approaches to receiving feedback. I feel like I grew as a person in the interim of the first experience which was a few years ago, and the second experience which was just a few days back.
Here’s a transcript (sort of) to go with this video, where I explain why I haven’t uploaded any new videos in a little over two months. In a way it also explains why I haven’t posted anything to my blog in a while, but my blog posting frequency has been sporadic at best, so I digress.
Video Transcript (Paraphrased):
Hi! Welcome to Shriviews. It’s been a while since I made a video and I wanted to talk about that before making any other videos. It’s been over two months and a lot has happened since then.
I tried recording this video a week ago and I decided to re-record- it’s like I’d forgotten everything about speaking to a camera. It was a lot of starting over, a lot of pauses, a lot of looking away from the camera… but I just had to get in front of a camera and go through the motions for it to come back to me. It helped shake off the cobwebs. Almost like riding a bicycle.
Anyway, the main reason is that I moved to a new city in a new state for work. It took a little while to set up my new place and get settled in. I even have this new backdrop that I thought would look cool for videos- let me know what you think about it in the comments.
Another important reason is, as I’ve mentioned in previous videos, that with all that’s going in in the world, especially in the past few weeks, it’s difficult to bring yourself to create something. Sometimes the best thing to do is to be quiet, to listen, and to learn.
So that’s what I’ve been doing this past couple of months. I have a few ideas for videos and blog posts that I’m thinking about at the moment. Let me know what you’d like to see me talk about in the comments.
Until next time, take care, stay safe, and remember: for every action, there’s an equal and opposite distraction. Goodbye!
We live in unique and interesting times. One of the effects of the times we live in is the need for working from home. While it looks pretty straightforward on a surface level, there are certain implications on productivity and creativity, that need to be discussed.
I talk about these issues in my latest video. To summarize it briefly:
Since there is no spatial separation between the home and the office (they are both in the same place), there needs to be a temporal separation (you need to separate work and non-work hours)
It’s perfectly fine not to be able to be creative in times like these. The current times are on everyone’s minds, and there’s an innate expectation in a lot of people, that staying at home will usher in a creative renaissance, an expectation that isn’t coming to fruition, which leads to frustration
The key is to know to give yourself time. Staying at home gives you the illusion of having more time for yourself and your pwn personal endeavors than you really have. So go easy on yourself, and cut yourself some slack
If you liked this video, make sure to hit like, and subscribe to my channel.
I uploaded my first video on February 9th, 2019. In the year that followed, I’ve learned a lot about the process of video creation, and it has influenced my creative process in more ways than one. In this video, I talk about the main takeaways from a year’s worth of videos.
One takeaway was that only 30% of the people who watch my videos are subscribed to my channel. If you’re reading this and aren’t subscribed, please go ahead and hit that subscribe button!
The top 2 countries where my viewers reside are India and the United States. It is tough to think of topics that both audiences can relate to, but I try to mostly talk about my experiences living in the United States as someone who moved here for higher education and to begin their career. I am open to more suggestions though!
Related to this point is the fact that different audiences want different forms of content. Some prefer longer form (20 minutes and above) content, while a lot of others prefer shorter content (3 – 5 minutes). This is corroborated by my retention statistics. On average, people tend to view about 3.5 – 4.5 minutes of the video before they tune out. The solution to that, of course, is to make the videos engrossing enough that people stick around and to ensure that the videos don’t go on for too long.
An effect that making videos has had on me is that it has rejuvenated my creative process. Writing for videos requires a directness that the written medium doesn’t always need.
Those are the 3 major talking points in the video. I hope you watch it, and I also hope you suggest some topics for me to talk about in the future. Here’s to more years of making videos and writing blog posts!
It’s the start of a new decade (unless you want to be pedantic about when decades begin), and what better time than this, to look back at the 2010s, a decade when I stepped into adulthood, got a couple of degrees, and began my career. I’ve broken it into chunks delineated by the aforementioned academic and professional milestones.
2009-2010: The Entrance Exam Gauntlet
Although the decade began in 2010, I want to include 2009 here as well, because that was a crucial time in my life. Crucial, because 2009 was when I began taking the steps towards who I am today.
Of course, at the time it felt like walking barefoot on a gravel path to no destination or jumping headlong into a dark maelstrom of confusion, but I digress.
Some background- I was a teenage kid in Junior College, in the “science stream”, working towards the end goal of a degree in engineering and a career in the tech industry. I was just one among thousands, lakhs, even millions of kids in their late teens, going through the meat grinder, or the sugarcane juice machine if you will.
This two-year period is one of the most mind-numbing periods of the aforementioned teenagers’ lives. All you’re expected to do is pore over textbooks, the only thing anyone ever asks you about is how your studies are going. It usually feels like you’re being pushed through a current having no control over where you are heading- most of the time you do these things because that’s the ordained way of things, the only realistic and practical way of ensuring financial stability in the future. Whether that is right or wrong is another matter- on the one hand, the kids themselves aren’t allowed to explore what they want to do in life, but on the other hand, securing financial independence allows for a better standard of living.
At the end of this period, lies the final challenge- a gauntlet of entrance examinations, the culmination of every academic effort in life up until that point.
Of course, I ran the gauntlet, along with scores of other teenagers and to cut a long story short, let’s just say I managed to earn admission into an engineering college.
Physically and mentally, I was a hormone-addled teenager. Emotionally, the situation was like a bandaid being slowly ripped off- the realization that there was no “set for life”, that there was no “it’ll be easier after you just do this one thing”. An understanding that from then onwards, I would only have more work and less time, that there was no real respite from the “rat race” as everyone likes to call it. You may come out of the meat grinder that is life as a junior college or higher secondary student a fine, stringy, homogeneous paste of a human being, but the real change is the one that lives forever in your brain.
Until very recently, I used to look down upon this time as being one of the worst and most traumatic times of my life, but being ten years(!) removed from it, I can sift through the mud and gravel and cherish the nuggets of gold: the friends I made during those times. Friends who are there for me to this day. The traumatic and stressful times may have served to forge the friendship well enough to see me through the decade and beyond.
2010-2014: Engineering College
A large chunk of the past decade was spent in securing a higher education. Engineering College was a highly regimented affair but a lot of things stand out to me even still. First and foremost, is life as a student at Mumbai University. The university was trying new things at the time, changing things about the way exams are conducted, and to say that they sprung a few surprises on us would be an understatement. I’m grateful for that experience though- it taught us to deal with unforeseen situations in a way that would have taken us decades to learn otherwise.
Another major thing I did at Engineering College was becoming the co-editor of the college magazine, and the co-organizer of literary events. Experience organizing events was a stressful but rewarding experience that involved dealing with bureaucracy, getting the word out, and getting people to attend, among other things.
However, the key thing I always take away from my years in College was how they shaped my tastes. This was the time when I began listening to music for long stretches, whether it be the long walks to and from college, or just long walks around my neighborhood to clear my head, I began forming the habit of listening to whole albums rather than just a song or two to pass the time.
This was also the time I began writing things for the sake of it, writing that wasn’t just for an examination. Shout out to “The Collegian World” and another website that was a football blog whose name I don’t remember- they were my first forays into writing about things that interest me.
Feelings wise, I started to get a grip on my emotions by maintaining a journal. I still believed that feelings had meanings in and of themselves- I kept thinking about what I felt like over and over again and kept coming back to the same spot. The listless and mostly routine life probably kept me in the mindset of doing the same thing over and over again and somehow brute-forcing my way into a breakthrough.
As far as friends go, I think I made some good ones. This was the time I began understanding that the older I get, the less dense the ties of friendship would get. At least in college, it was a lot more of “we’re all in this together” and less of “but what can you do for me, though?”
All in all, I’d describe my days in Engineering College as rowing a makeshift raft, traveling to islands of activity on a mostly still, yet unpredictable ocean. I wouldn’t have it any other way.
2014-2016: Grad School
As the decade rolled on, my overall life experience kept going up. It all reached a crescendo between the years 2014 and 2016 when I entered grad school in an attempt to get a Master’s degree. I took an elective called “Human-Computer Interaction” in my final semester in college, and I liked it enough to spend another 2 years making that my Master’s degree specialization.
Studying in grad school was so different from whatever I was subjected to up until that point- the weekly assignments were intense, but there was a degree of “freedom within the framework” that I wasn’t able to fully exercise up until that point. There were rubrics, of course, but there was also a degree of autonomy which made me apprehensive at first but was something I learned to love as time went on.
I also lived with roommates in an alien country and culture half a world away from where I was born. A lot of the real learning stemmed from this experience. The first of which was being extracted from a sheltered, privileged existence, and being forced into a kind of semi-autonomy, or controlled autonomy. Just enough autonomy to learn basic things like taking care of myself, while still being largely financially dependent on my parents.
While my friends in college gave me a feeling of camaraderie; the people I met at grad school were a lot less interested in any form of “stick-together-ness”. Most of the students in my class were older than me and were a lot more jaded due to their experiences in the corporate machine. They often chose to keep their professional and personal lives separate, and were unwilling to let me, a bright-eyed fresh out of college kid with “naive” notions of companionship, into their lives in any earnest way.
I used to get very peeved at this cynical and transactional approach to life. I just wasn’t used to it. Perhaps if I had more people close to my age and experience level, I would have had a different experience. I did learn to deal with it after a conversation with other people in similar situations. I realized I couldn’t continue being mad at them for wanting different things and going about things differently- their moral compasses were pointing in a different direction to mine, and their destinations were different even though they appeared to be the same at first glance. Grad school was just a stopping point along the way.
Despite how purely transactional my experiences with fellow students may have been, I’m glad my roommates were the polar opposite. You have to meet the right people at the right times as they say, and my roommates were exactly the sort of people I needed to experience to fully understand the gravity of my life situation at the time.
I shared a 2 bedroom apartment with a few people in my two-year tenure at Grad school. I experienced people from surprisingly different backgrounds despite usually being from around the same age and backgrounds. It was their lived experiences that I was able to learn a lot from. A lot of my roommates had lived through the struggles of finding a job and keeping it- whether it be dealing with corporate culture in the workplace, or being able to think on your feet as a traveling engineer tasked with solving a whole host of technical and people-centered issues; they had a lot of stories to tell.
It wasn’t just the stories, though- a lot of the things I learned were from simply observing their lifestyle. The urgency when it came to applying for jobs or internships. The waking up early every day to catch a bus and go to work as an intern just to get a foot in the door in the industry. The networking with colleagues and professors to ensure they knew about every opportunity. It was witnessing these everyday actions that spurred me on to act on my career, and I’ll be forever grateful for that.
Otherwise, I continued getting better at dealing with my emotions through journaling, continued getting better at being more affable to people, and had just the right amount of challenges and struggles in life to grow as a person. The best years of my life so far.
2016-onwards: Employment and “The Routine”
At the end of my time at Grad school, I was fortunate enough to land a job opportunity to begin as soon as I graduated. There is a huge difference between life as a Master’s student and life as a professional. Life in Grad school was a mile a minute- a lot of things were happening at once, and the frequency of experiences and achievements was very high. Life as a professional, however, is a lot less eventful and varied. Not that that’s a bad thing- having a routine and an occupation is just a part of adulthood.
The thing with having a routine set in life is that a lot of the days just go by really quickly, and before you know it, you’ve been working for over three years. That’s just the thing isn’t it- the routine is just so all-consuming, that you don’t think about all the good things that have happened to you or the challenges you’ve faced. It’s all just one strong current that washes over the rocks and slowly grinds down all the facets until all you’re left with are smooth pebbles.
I am thinking about all the little things now, though. A lot of good things happened, albeit they weren’t landmarks of personal achievement. Met some good people. Formed some connections. Kept putting one foot ahead of the other, and just kept on walking. A lot of the time, that’s all I did, and that’s fine. If you keep looking for the big wave to surf, you miss the hundreds of gentle ones that barely tickle your feet.
That’s the major theme of this, the current period of my life. Mindfulness and gratitude. Being mindful of every small thing. Being grateful for everything I’ve received and earned up until this point. The concept of gratefulness is hard to fathom when you’re going through a rough patch in life when everything seems like it’s going against you. The funny thing about it is that beginning to fathom it is in and of itself a key step towards knowing that the bad times and bad mindsets are beginning to change.
I won’t mince my words about it- in 2019 I faced and overcame, some of the biggest challenges I have ever experienced. I learned a lot from them. I found out that I am a lot more resilient than I thought I was. That I am a lot more loved than I thought I was. That I wasn’t as lonely as I physically appeared to be.
I was able to find a group of people facing similar life situations and find support in our common challenges. I was able to make life more comfortable for myself, by moving into a nicer apartment and buying a car. For all these things, I am grateful. In fact, I am even grateful for the challenges I have faced. As the saying goes,
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.”
Lessons for 2020 and beyond
Looking at this past decade, I’ve learned some things by living through them over and over again. Most notably, that tough times don’t last, and that you shouldn’t miss out on being mindful of the small things that bring you joy while you search for that big surge of dopamine to hit you like how your brain reacted when you experienced eating icecream for the first time. Pure, unbridled joy is an amazing thing, no doubt. Remembering to note every small nice thing is sometimes what you need to do, though. They’re like little matchsticks you can keep in your back pocket. Sometimes a little spark is all you need when darkness envelopes you.
Another thing I’ve learned is that financial independence really gave me a place in society that makes all the struggles worth it- for me at least. A lot of people reminisce about old times and how it was simpler back then and always dream of going back to when they had fewer responsibilities. I don’t mind the responsibilities, at least at this point in life. The independence and sheer amount of agency that I have in life negate any of the desires to go back to a time where I had fewer responsibilities.
Also, I re-framed my mental image as someone’s idiot brother or someone’s disappointing son, or someone’s weird cousin. I was finally able to truly imbibe that fact that I’m loved by my family despite the mistakes I may have made, and that they’re truly proud of what I’ve achieved in life.
All in all, this decade was all about getting an education and a means of gainful employment. In achieving all those goals though, I lived through a whole host of different experiences. I grew as a person, into whoever I am today. I went from being a hormonally charged teenager to a pretty chill but somewhat impulsive adult. I went from being engulfed in emotions to learning to give them their time in the sun while also finding and dealing with the root cause. I went form taking friends and family for granted to understanding that the ties of blood and friendship are so much more important than chasing pieces of paper or numbers on a screen.
The 2010s were a decade where I really grew into my own. It was less of metamorphosis and more of a mundane transition, but sometimes the biggest changes are the ones you don’t outwardly see. Here’s to more growth and change in the years to come.
As a video content creator, I’ve always been interested in trying out new things, and dabble in new formats. I felt like it was time to explore interviewing someone. I had a discussion with my colleague Shasank “Shank” Nagavarapu, where we discussed the latest trend in the US Car Market, which is the trend towards buying Crossovers or SUVs instead of traditional family Sedans.
You can view the playlist here, or you can click on the links below.
Let me know what you think in the comments! I would appreciate any constructive feedback.
As always, please subscribe to my YouTube channel, and follow Shasank’s work on his website, nomadunplugged.com.
I achieved a significant milestone this month— for the first time in my life, I am a car owner. It’s yet to sink in, to be honest. After years of searching, window shopping online, years of research and years of back and forth- I found a great car at a great price, and I had the means to procure it. I even made a quick video about it.
I’ve talked at length about how my thinking about cars changed when I moved to the Midwest. I’ve talked about how having a car unlocks a new level of “American” experience that is totally hidden from view otherwise. I have just started to witness this experience unfold. I’ve been to places new and old in these past few weeks. New places, like the tire shop, to the title agency, to the Bureau of Motor Vehicles… but I’ve also revisited familiar places to experience them in a new light. The parking garage at work. The grocery store. The park. The library. The places are the same, but every time I go somewhere, it feels like I have arrived.
I’ve also talked about the different schools of thought when it comes to cars— cars as an appliance, and cars as an aspiration and a lifestyle. One of my biggest fears was that I would buy a car that was nothing but a daily driving, point-a-to-point-b taking appliance. The mental image is clear as day. A beige Toyota Camry, with faded cataract headlights, and a dirty, brown interior. As dreary as flavorless cornflakes with cold milk for breakfast on a dull, rainy day.
The cars I am lambasting are great machines, no doubt. Marvels of engineering, even. But my problem is what they stand for. To me, they stand for a resignation to one’s fate. The acceptance of a stereotype. The submission of my personal agency to the all-powerful forces of nature and society. The forces that tell you to do things a certain way, at a certain time, and just because that’s the pre-ordained way of things because they said so.
I remember what was on my mind when I made my video about cars. I was dejected. I had been looking for “fun” cars, namely the Toyota 86 and the Golf GTI. However, I was unable to find good examples online despite messing with umpteen filters on umpteen different car-buying websites.
But as they say, good things come to those who wait, and boy did I wait. I waited as good listings came and went because I was waiting for the perfect one. The perfect confluence of the car that I want for the price that I want. When I did find the perfect one, I didn’t hesitate to get a test drive and make an offer. At the end of all of this, I became the proud owner of a 2012 Volkswagen Golf GTI.
I wish I could go back to the past and tell myself I don’t have to worry about giving in to the “car as an appliance” mindset. I feel like I won a round against an undefeated “heavyweight champion” that goes by many names— time, fate, societal norms, the inherent absurdity of the universe. He may be destined to win in the end, but right now, at this moment, I am looking him right in the eyes and going, “Not today, champ. Not today.”
I’ve been obsessed with the Scion FR-S/Toyota 86/Subaru BRZ for years now. What interests me about it is that Toyota and Subaru committed to the purebred concept of the roadster, with front engine, rear wheel drive, and playful handling as the most important aspects of the design. This design philosophy also translated into a bare-bones, functional interior with minimal creature comforts and simple hard controls for climate and media.
Another positive for car enthusiasts is that the vehicle lends itself well to modifications- Toyota and Subaru knew their target audience would be car enthusiasts who’d love to tinker with their vehicle, and hence made it easy for them to access the mechanical and electronic parts of the vehicle. And tinker they did- a simple web search will yield hundreds of different possibilities, from headlights/tail lights to exhaust to wheels, even swapping out the engine!
Now, I spend a lot of time watching videos and browsing through forums for this vehicle- think of it as window shopping. As a result of this habit, one fine day the Youtube algorithm recommended to me a video about a new(ish) touchscreen head unit for the Subaru BRZ aptly named “Brainiac”. It is a touchscreen interface that combines the media and climate controls into one sleek-looking touchscreen interface.
The “Brainiac” piqued my interest because I do a lot of research on automotive infotainment systems at work, and in our practice meetings we tend to discuss how perceptions of a vehicle’s “coolness” or “futuristic quality” end up being translated into “less buttons and knobs”; more specifically into “like the Tesla with its big touchscreen that has everything on it”
As Human Factors Researchers we know that the trade-off of this “Tesla-ification” is that you lose the immediacy of access that buttons and knobs provide. To put it simply, hard controls like buttons and knobs may appear to be “old school” and “clunky”, but you don’t have to look at them to operate them, which lets you pay attention to the road.
Paying attention to the road is an important aspect of the design of the Toyota 86- it is a roadster purpose-built to enjoy spirited driving. Cutting through canyons and navigating hairpin turns. Knowing how much grip you have through the tires because of how low you are to the ground. Turning the steering wheel and knowing that the vehicle will go exactly where you’ve pointed it.
But that’s just my personal opinion- I wanted to know what the community felt about it. My thoughts about this are perfectly echoed by Reddit user TurbochargedSquirrel.
This split is something we’ve seen in our research for a while now- people who prefer simplicity and want to focus on the driving primarily, and those who want all the bells and whistles that modern technology has to offer. My reservations with replacing traditional controls with touchscreen interfaces remain, but to the credit of the developers of Brainiac, they have added touch gestures to their interface to allow the user to perform actions without having to look. The issue I have with that, however, is that touch gestures usually have to be remembered, and do not have a visual component to them that the user can “follow along” or “trace”.
So what’s the best of both worlds? What’s a way to maintain the spirit of driving intact while also moving away from old fashioned controls? Designer Kasper Kessels’ concept might just be a bridge between those two worlds. With help from the design department at Renault, he created a concept for incorporating touch gestures into a vehicle’s infotainment that aims to solve the issue of the visual component that touch gestures tend to lack.
In the end, I’d like to pose the question to you- what do you think about the move towards “Tesla-ifying” in-vehicle infotainment systems? Are we attempting to fix something that’s not broken? Is there a way to create an interface that caters to both spirited drivers as well as technophiles? Let me know what you think!
One of the things I haven’t talked to you guys so far is that I’m a craft beer fan. I really like finding out about local breweries, trying out what they have, and occasionally go out of my way and hunt for a beer that’s hard to find, or a seasonal exclusive. I wanted to talk about how I started this journey as a beer hunter.
The story of how I decided to get into craft beer
My story as a craft beer enthusiast began in the summer or fall of 2015. I was a 23 year old in grad school and it was just another weeknight- kicking it, shooting the breeze with some friends, some 90s Bollywood music on the TV, and of course, some run of the mill beer. The beer in question was a Corona which wasn’t particularly good, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
Anyway, I remember I hadn’t had the best day, and I was hoping to put it behind me. Unfortunately, this unwinding time wasn’t going as well as I had hoped. The tunes on the TV were mostly b-movie fare that my friend put on because they thought it would be funny in an ironic way (it wasn’t). Also, I was texting a girl but it really wasn’t going anywhere- you know when you’re trying to have a conversation with someone and there’s just no substance, and you feel like just typing out words on to a screen and nothing has meaning? It was one of those dead-end conversations.
But I was about to put all those worries behind me, I had a beer in hand, a Corona, (no lime) and in just a few moments it was going to help me take the edge off and unwind.
…and the beer had gone bad. It tasted funny and it smelled like skunk. As I sat there, thinking about all the things that had gone wrong, I just kept saying to myself, “There’s got to be something better than this.” I looked at the TV and I said there’s got to be something better than this, I looked down at my phone and I said again, there’s got to be something better than this, and then I looked at the bottle of Corona, the icing on this cake of misfortune, and I said
“There’s GOT to be something better than THIS!”
When I went back to my room that night, I decided I wanted to change something, starting with something simple, like the beer that I drank. Thus began my journey as a craft beer enthusiast.
Getting more into the enthusiast space
So I began to do some research about beer- watching videos, reading books about history, how it’s made, and the different types of beer that exist. I went to local breweries and started trying to chat up the employees there about the different beers they had and what went into them, I even have a spreadsheet where I write down what I think about all the unique beers I’ve tried.
All of this made me think about the enthusiast space in general- how you go from having a cursory knowledge about something, and how over time you learn more about it and there’s always just more to learn the deeper you dive into something.
My friends didn’t share this enthusiasm at first- they thought I was being a bit of a snob when I started bringing my own beers to parties. In time I was able to show them the way, though- now they too source their libations from the local brewery, by the growler, and sometimes even by the keg.
Being an enthusiast is all well and good, but sometimes it helps you in ways you don’t expect. A couple of years ago, I was giving a job interview at the company I work at currently, and my to-be boss asked me what I like to do for fun. At that moment, I decided not to give safe answers like reading or writing or being outdoorsy, I simply told him I was a beer enthusiast, and started talking about the experiential qualities of beer and how beer isn’t just beer, that it’s so much more. The gamble worked, it really resonated with him- turns out he was an investor in one of the major craft breweries in Columbus!
I like to think that the answer helped seal the deal for my employment.
In conclusion, I think that fateful night in 2015 was one of the turning points of my life in a bizarre way. Life takes unusual turns sometimes, and you never know how certain things will end up working with other things in synergy. I guess that’s what they call serendipity.
I’d like to end by repeating a quote often attributed to Benjamin Franklin:
“Beer is proof God loves us and wants us to be happy.”