Isaac Asimov vs. Rosie, outcreeping taxidermy, design to save China, why your friends and your ZIP code will change the way we do business, how 148 monkeys will deem MySpace moot, and what rivers have to do with music. Welcome to the Concepts Revisited issue.
By Maria Popova
MODERNITY IN RETROSPECT
The joy! It’s like a bunch of the goodies we’ve been digging lately — steampunk, repurposed stuff, quirky sculpture — have all been rolled into one big ball of coolness. It’s all thanks to artist Gordon Bennett and his delightfully unusual work.
Bennett Robot Works is all about robot sculptures made from objects old and new, found in junkyards, garages, dumpsters, construction sites, basements, sidewalk sales …you get the idea. Bennett uses wood, metal, glass, plastic, bakelite, rubber and paint to make the magic happen.
The Isaac-Asimovesque creations are an endearing allusion to visions of modernity from eras past. All the robots are completely unique, have personal names, and each takes over a month to complete. You know, just so you’re prepared for the sticker shock.
But, really, can you put a price tag on awesomeness? Plus, we always did like Rosie from The Jetsons.
KEEPIN’ IT REAL
What would happen if you mixed photography, anatomy, paper, sculpture, and a dash of creep? Bert Simons would.
The Dutch artist creates photorealistic 3D paper sculptures of human heads. And while we’d think twice about hanging one over our fireplace, the pure craftsmanship is beyond impressive.
He starts with a precise anatomy map of the head, then takes 6 photographs of his subject from different sides, which he projects onto the anatomical model. After some texture-mapping magic, he flattens out the photographic images into printable parts using special software and gets to modeling the head onto the anatomical model.
Simons also shares our fascination with anatomy — his paper anatomy head model is a true hybrid of art and science. Again, it may be a tad too real to add to your living room art collection — but then again, it’s sure to spur quite a bit of conversation at your next dinner party. (And maybe some, um, recycled entrÃ©es.)
COOLER THAN NIGHTVISION
Here’s the thing about product design: the best of it is the convergence of visual indulgence and functional utility. Which is why we dig the latest work of nr21 DESIGN (the Japanese duo behind the adidas adilettes and more great stuff): the TONG City Bike.
It may look all fashion, but it’s all about function: the TONG is an inspired solution to China’s growing urban traffic problem. It provides a nimbler, more eco-sound alternative to the invasion of cars and scooters. At the same time, its unique BikeSafe TONG Lightframe keeps the rider visible at night — and packs an extra design punch: the light tubes are customizable to any color you desire. Then there’s the slick frame: it neatly houses the brake system, the gears, the shock absorbers and the drivetrain.
And while everyone and their mother wants to be the Apple of their category these days, we must say this one is as close as any non- Cupertino product can get.
There’s a new Facebook app making tsunami waves in the media and business worlds this week. Loladex is vaguely reminiscent of the ever-popular TripAdvisor Facebook app in terms of function, but its subject matter is entirely different.
It’s a local search engine that uses reviews and recommendations from people you actually know, lets you make favorites lists you can share with friends, and throws professional reviews in the mix for comparison.
And here’s why it’ll rock the social networking world:
First, we wrote a while ago that consumer reviews are actually the mother of all social networking, dating back to the early Amazon days. They’re a backbone of credibility based on a shared interest, even when they come from complete strangers. (Hands up: who hasn’t consulted the reviews before buying something on Amazon?)
Next, we think local search is the thing to watch in 2008 and will ultimately redefine the search marketing business model. It’s essentially search customization — and in this day and age of Subservient Chicken culture, customization has become the norm we expect. So combine that with the enormous credibility of recommendations coming from your real-life friends, throw in the social viralization factor of Facebook’s newsfeed feature, and you’ve got something truly revolutionary.
Loladex comes from two ex-AOL execs (including the executive director of AOL’s travel, local and search products) who invested $350,000 in the venture and have solid plans for expanding it onto other social networking platforms. The app will eventually become ad-supported and include additional third-party professional reviews from magazines and other media, but will remain local and empower users to choose whose recommendations to trust: a friend’s or a magazine editor’s.
Speaking of social networking, the continuing boom of it and the race to out-friend your friends have made us ponder one recurring question: Can you ever have too many friends?
Yes, according to the Dunbar Number. It’s a socio-anthropological theory that argues there’s a cognitive limit to the number of stable social relationships you can maintain. We’re talking about the kind of relationships wherein you know each person as well as that person’s relationship to every other person in the group.
The theory comes from primatology and how primates maintain social contact with each other through grooming. In Homo sapiens terms, Dunbar’s Number includes all the people in your life with whom you plan to maintain a stable long-term relationship — from your current friends and coworkers, to your high school buddies you’ve kept in touch with, all the way down to your best friend from childhood who still calls you every Thursday.
So what’s that number?
148. (But it’s usually rounded up to 150, for convenience.)
Which makes us seriously question all those people with 500 Facebook friends, not to mention the very concept of MySpace “friends” — we’re looking at you, Tila Tequila.
SOUNDTRACK TO GOODNESS
Update: remember the feel good initiative? They’re back with a serious site upgrade that can give Pandora, iTunes iMixes and Last.fm a run for their money. And they’re just getting started.
It’s still the same 1 song / 1 day brilliantly simple framework. But now it’s all about music as social currency. You simply upload one tune every day, building your “channel” — whenever you upload, you can write a short blurb on why you dig the song and add album artwork or an image you feel captures the track’s vibe.
Other users can then tune into your channel, or you can listen to other channels and tag tunes you like by clicking the little heart icon. And if your channel is particularly good, you’ll get a bunch of “followers” — people who subscribe to your daily songs, kinda like a Twitter following.
The homepage features “The River of Music” — a constant flow of newly uploaded songs from the site’s members, and you can tune in instantly by just hitting the Play button. Although the interface can use some design work, we dig the simplicity of the concept and think the platform has enormous potential to build a social hub around the great human passion that is music.
Published April 4, 2008