{ Coffee Culture } and the value of Face-to-Face Communication

In celebration of International Coffee Day, I’d like to talk about how we can rethink one of America’s most coveted beverages. Many Americans love their daily morning cup of coffee. For me, it’s all about the coffeehouse. It is a place where a buck entitles you to stay for as long as you like, and it’s a cornerstone of communication and connection that holds something vital for our disconnected generation.

coffee

[ A History ]

The coffeehouse has been a social hub of public discourse since its introduction into British society in the 1650s. The concept of the coffeehouse immediately resonated with the British bourgeoisie; by 1700 there were two thousand coffeehouses in London, and they were considered “the site for the public life of the eighteenth century middle class”. Initially, these places took on many communal functions, characterized by civil discourse and intellectualism and home to the first modern newspapers and ballot box.  Some go as far as to suggest coffeehouses are the birthplace of modern democracy. Coffeehouse culture quickly caught on in colonial America and became a defining aspect of American culture dating back to 1689.

One aspect of coffee culture that has been retained over time is that of “bourgeois sociability.” Many coffeehouses in 18th century London began to represent community, harmony, and civility.  The coffeehouse was a crucial institution in the development of the public sphere of society because it embodied the “civilized self.”

The modern-day coffeehouse experience, mass-marketed by Starbucks, is one of relaxation, leisure, community, and enjoyment.  It is a respite from the stresses of political and economic life. This redefined purpose of the coffeehouse is, best described by Ray Oldenburg in The Great Good Place, a cure to the more “jangled and fragmented” American lifestyle.   Oldenburg’s research concerned the specialness of commercial places that served as a location to unwind, relax, and talk.  This social space was coined the “third place” because it was neither home nor work, but rather a place where people simply felt comfortable.  Oldenburg felt that this place would facilitate conversation, both between friends and strangers.  This place has become a necessary solution to America’s interactional ills.  The disconnection in a world of technology and constant work can be offset by the civil engagement produced in the coffeehouse. The public nature of a coffeehouse interaction enables the physical and psychology intimacy of face to face conversation.

[ The Ignition Initiative ]

For the most part, NYC is full of strangers. It’s one of those weird places where you can be surrounded by people but feel completely lonely. Coffeehouse culture here is mostly people conversing with their own friends or students and the self-employed staring intently at their Macbook screens.

However, my favorite coffee shop, Birch, has something called the Ignition Initiative. The initiative presents a new twist on American coffee culture, and it’s one that could really show promise for promoting human connections in a place where connection has traditionally thrived. As can be seen below, the shop has little placards with thought-provoking conversation starters. To participate, one simply places a placard on her table and waits for some one to approach.

Participants in the Ignition Initiative receive an extra free hour of WIFI (Birch provides 1 hour per customer), and it also resolves the issue of crowding, where one person has commandeered an entire table.

photo

I have to admit that I haven’t yet tried this out yet, since I’m usually there to do schoolwork, but I’d love to give it a shot. Would you?

{ Thoughts on Travel } the people and the lightness

Elsa recently posted about her desires to travel light and then left to do just that. While she is gone, I’d like to reflect a bit on my own recent travels, the people I’ve meet, and thoughts on materialism and the joys of having nothing but a backpack and your passport.

I love to travel. I’ve spoken in the past about my trips to [ The Grand Canyon ] and [ Israel ]. In total, I’ve been to about 26 different countries for varying amounts of time. Of course, traveling is amazing for the beautiful places you see and the cultures and differences you are exposed to.  But for me, backpacking is as much about the local people, the fellow backpackers, and the feelings of minimalism that I get when I arrive in a hostel with nothing but my 50 liter Gregory pack.

The Locals

Meeting locals takes skill and luck and willingness to leave your comfort zone. It can be near impossible in countries where the locals don’t speak your language and dangerous (especially as an American woman) in certain countries. But when I look back on my trips, some of my most salient memories are of conversations and experiences with locals. In Sapa, Vietnam, I arranged a two day trek through a local female-owned and run company that has local women escort tourists through their towns. These women became fast friends as we talked about different cultural norms about femininity, marriage, and dating as well as the portrayal of “America” in their community.

vietnam sapa

In Cape Town, South Africa, we met local college students in a bar that ended up becoming friends I keep in touch with to this very day. A few were from Johannesburg and when we flew there later in our trip, they picked us up from the airport and had a full day planned to show us everything they loved about their city, from the touristic (Nelson Mandela’s home) to the not-so-touristic (their favorite fro-yo place in town). Recently in Morocco, we chanced upon meeting a Moroccan-Canadian who spent two full days showing us his city and introducing us to his neighbors and friends.

I’ve learned far more about other cultures and cities from locals than from any other experiences in my life. Navigating differences in culture and language and learning from one another, we all left with amazing feelings of how both similar and different we all truly are.

Fellow Backpackers

I also have a soft spot for fellow backpackers. The types of people who venture out of their home countries to travel for months or years are generally more open-minded, friendly, and interesting than most people I’ve met in life. They also have plenty to share about and from their home countries, and at this point I have an international group of friends that I would not trade for anything. From a psychology perspective, there is something extraordinarily bonding about having new, exhilarating experiences with someone. I’ve become friends with people from very different walks of life that I likely would never encounter or think I could have something in common with had we both been in NYC. I’ve also learned from my fellow travelers who often have different values and philosophies on life than my own.

Lightness

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After a month backpacking Europe with WAY too much stuff, I’ve been packing increasingly less stuff each time I go somewhere. THIS is a post from my 2012 Southeast Asia trip where I listed everything I decided to bring. I don’t have a more recent packing list, but I definitely packed almost half of that for my recent month in Portugal and Morocco.

I’ll admit that I am far more materialistic than I’d like to be. I love my apartment and all of the things that I’ve accumulated over the years that adorn it. Many of these items are attached to important memories, others I enjoy for aesthetic or functional purposes. That being said, there is something indescribably freeing about venturing into the world with so few possessions. A lighter backpack makes my burden feel literally lighter. I feel reduced down to the core of who I am. It’s also very liberating and satisfying to live successfully with so few items and to realize how little we actually need to thrive and function in everyday life.

In response to Elsa’s query about how others live with the contradictions and tensions of materialism and minimalism, my answer is that I do both. I come home to my possessions but I leave with very little on my back. I prefer to alternate between these lifestyles and am thankful that I am currently able to.

Relating this back to rethinkED, I believe that travel is an integral part of my personal growth and wonder. Without these journeys outside of my everyday life, I would not be able to appreciate and enjoy the daily grind that I return to. Meeting new people reinvigorates my interests in human behavior, seeing those less fortunate reaffirms my decision to work in education research, and thrusting myself into new and sometimes scarily foreign environments forces me to rethink my values, my strengths, and myself.

 

This is your brain on metaphors.

 

Hello rethinkED..* !!! I’m back from my annual summer hiatus and excited to keep this blog in motion while Elsa explores the universe. I can’t wait to share the exciting new breakthroughs in my research, ideas from the courses I’m taking this semester, and stories from the trips I took this summer.

Today I’d like to talk about this interesting article a colleague sent me: Your Brain on Metaphors. The article provides some neurological evidence for embodied cognition – a hot new topic that we’ve mentioned HERE and HERE.  As a reminder, embodiment is the idea that our thoughts are integrally connected to our bodies and their movement and experiences in space.

The article discusses studies where people read sentences that are either literal, metaphorical, or idiomatic in an fMRI machine and researches see whether the motor cortex is activated. Research has shown that metaphor deeply affects the way we think. For literal phrases, such as “The player kicked the ball”, the brain reacts as if it were carrying out the described action, igniting memories of kicking.  For metaphorical phrases, such as “The patient kicked the habit”,  the brain’s motor cortex similarly lights up, giving evidence that metaphor is not abstracted from our sensory-motor brain regions.

Idioms are “dead metaphors” or phrases that are so commonplace as to become cliches. For these, such as “The villain kicked the bucket”, researchers have found that the more idiomatic a phrase, the less the motor system became involved, suggesting that how familiar one is with the metaphor can affect how the motor neurons fire.

….

Beyond providing interesting evidence for embodied cognition, I love what this says about reading and metaphor. When we include metaphors in our writing, we are activating all sorts of parts of our readers’ brains. I told you I would keep this blog in “motion” earlier and according to this research, your brain activated the actual idea of motion. This research could support how a good metaphor can really provide depth and substance to one’s writing, and why certain types of sentences evoke such passionate emotions from a reader.

It also can explain how metaphor increases learning, by connecting an unknown or unexperienced fact to something one has experience and memory of seeing or doing. If I tell you that getting back into reading research articles this semester feels  “like riding a bike,” you can infer that its a skill that you never really lose and can pick up again quickly.

RoadNotTaken

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite classic poems, which uses the long-standing metaphor of roads representing choices in life:

The Road Not Taken

BY ROBERT FROST

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

 

 

{ Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage, Blisters & Permethrin } A More Nomadic Iteration of rethinked …*

{ Liszt's Années de Pèlerinage, Blisters & Permethrin } A More Nomadic Iteration of rethinked ...*  |rethinked.org

“My dream is to walk around the world. A smallish backpack, all essentials neatly in place. A camera. A notebook. A traveling paint set. A hat. Good shoes. A nice pleated (green?) skirt for the occasional seaside hotel afternoon dance.” – Maira Kalman

Kaixo (“hello” in Basque), rethinkers *

We’ve gone silent on the blog rather abruptly these past few weeks and an update is long overdue. If it is any excuse, the last two weeks have been a whirlwind of preparations for a long journey and an updated more nomadic version of rethinked * 

A couple weeks ago, as we got together to dream and discuss the next iteration of rethinked * we decided it was time to get hard about living out the * ideals. From its very beginning, rethinked * has been grounded around several core principles–among them: smallness, w[o/a]nder and Δ– which we have aimed to explore and express as both dreams and questions in our work, lives and learning. This year, we decided to really push what it might mean to fully live out these principles. Which brings us to the Basque country, from which I am now writing this post.

I am taking rethinked * on the road and living out, in a very literal way–think rethinked*annex on steroids–many of the things we have been thinking and writing about these past two years (from the fascinating link between action and imagination; the connection between movement and creativitythe human impulse to w[o/a]nder; the function of changing environments in keeping us active thinkers; trusting in the processbeing in the world as a knowmad; traveling lightly and thriving within our individual tensions and contradictionstransformation processesdealing with the fear of change; our innate restlessness and embracing the spiritual aspect of walking). It is time to balance out our intellectual exploration of these ideas with a more emotional understanding of what all these things might mean.

After spending the past two weeks geeking out at REI; saying goodbye to friends in New York; watching YouTube videos on the proper way to apply permethrin to gear; packing my backpack, trying to lift it, stumbling around hunched over, taking stuff out only to put it back in an hour later; downloading four different versions of Liszt’s Années de Pèlerinage (I bought Murakami’s Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage at JFK, devoured it on my flight over and decided last night, in the midst of a bout of jet lag induced insomnia, that I absolutely must have the full set, in multiple versions, to listen to over the next few months) and giving myself a blister from writing down (hoarding) poems and quotes to take with me–all the while seeping in all sorts of existential questions–I am finally ready. Or as ready as I’m likely to ever be. Tomorrow, I will set out on the Camino Francés from Saint-Jean-Pied-De-Port and walk my way across Northern Spain to (hopefully) reach Santiago.

I will not be writing on the blog for the next two months although I will be taking with me a journal and a space pen, which, as its name suggests, allows one to write in every imaginable condition, space included. So the blog won’t be updated daily, but you can look forward to a couple posts from my teammates each week.

Finally, if you’re in Europe and would like to meet up to share ideas, food and moments, get in touch – elsa@rethinked.org –I will have some free time the last two weeks of October and would love to check out the intriguing projects and questions you’re exploring.

get lost & rethink …* 

{ Tinkerers Delight } Download PSFK’s Makers’ Manual …*

Cool free new resource alert for rethinkers–the PSFK’s Makers’ Manual.

The Maker’s Manual explores how everyone from do-it-yourselfers and artists to inventors and entrepreneurs are leveraging new tools, platforms and services to take their ideas from concepts to reality.

learn, make & rethink …* 

In a World of Constant Change, How Do I Constantly Construct New Lenses Through Which to Make Sense Out of the World?

“People are amazed today at a 2-year-old being able to pick an iPhone and make it work. Okay? Whereas a 50-year-old, many of the executives that I know, or 60-year-olds, feel like they can’t figure this thing out. Or anything new that comes up, they get thunderstruck. Oh, damn it, what do I do now? They have to call for help. There’s no sense of saying well, hold it, let’s just goof around with it a moment, get a feel for it, see how you get out of that problem. And if you can do that, then you don’t feel alienated by these changes. And instead, you start to see how oh, I can figure this kind of stuff out, and I’m beginning to connect the pieces in new ways, and pretty soon I feel like I own this. Because a tremendous sense of learning is, how do I make something personal? How do I bring it in to me as opposed to just things out here? Can I internalize it, can I play with it, make it personal to me? And then I got it for life.” - John Seely Brown

In the short video below, John Seely Brown highlights the importance of play in enabling us to navigate a world of constant change. He also shares some insights on the types of context–from the one-room schoolhouse to cultures that promote reverse-mentorship–that facilitate and harness the potential of play as a source of understanding and innovation.

So it is the kind of the willingness to be able to sit back and just play with something, look at the world as a riddle, see if you can generate epiphanies about these little micro-riddles that come forth, and when you can do that, you start to craft a new set of conceptual lenses. And so the real question is, in a world of constant change, how do I constantly construct new lenses through which then I can pore all kinds of knowledge and make sense out of the world, see how to connect the dots? So this actually has a tremendous amount of play to it, but it also has a fair amount of tinkering into it. It’s kind of working with the system – if you can work with the system abstractly as you do in string theory, but it’s a sense of playing with how do these pieces really come together? It can be casual play, fairly simple stuff, or it can be deep conceptual play. But then you see things kind of lock in. You made that lock-in happen and so suddenly things start to now jell.

play, learn & rethink …

 

Questions Are a Tool to Organize Our Thinking Around What We Don’t Know …*

“If you look at the research, a four year old girl is asking as much as 300 questions a day. And when kids go into school, you see this steady decline that happens as they go through the grade levels to the point where questioning in schools, by Junior High School is almost at zero.” – Warren Berger

While Berger acknowledges that there are multiple reasons behind this alarming decline in questioning, the key culprit that he highlights is the large bias for answers that dominates the culture of our education system. If, however, “questioning enables us to organize our thinking around what we don’t know,” it is a critical capacity for navigating and thriving in the 21st century. In a time such as ours, where the pace of change keeps accelerating, where uncertainty is omnipresent and wicked problems proliferate, it is imperative that we teach our students to become fluent thinking in questions. Berger suggests checking out The Right Question Institute, which has a set of tools and resources to help children build their questioning skills.

How do you help your students grow as questioners? 

Questions Are the New Answers – Warren Berger via Big Think

Frame Your Day Using This Little Rethink to Increase Gratitude & Mindfulness …*

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A new Indian restaurant recently opened near where I live and while I am thrilled with all the added delicious vegetarian options available in my neighborhood, I find my favorite part of ordering from them to be my encounters with their deliveryman. Each time he comes, he beams with a giant smile and shares tidbits of wisdom handed down from his mother. This weekend he told me about his mother’s 25-hour day and I thought it was a brilliant way to shape one’s frame of mind to increase gratitude and mindfulness in one’s life.

His mother would tell him, “I have twenty-five hours in my day.” When he asked how that was possible when everyone else only had twenty-four, she replied that she saved an extra hour, because no one ever knows about tomorrow.

I absolutely love this. Nothing is promised; tomorrow is not given to us. That’s something that we all know but most of us fail to fully appreciate. Most mornings I wake up to the jarring sound of my alarm, or the insistent meows and head-butts of my hungry needy cat and I get out of bed annoyed and groggy. I’m not a “morning person”, I generally wake up on the wrong side of the bed and anyone who has shared a roof with me has quickly learned not to speak to me until I’m done with my first cup of coffee (earning me the nickname of “bear” from my mother). But in the past few days, since hearing the 25-hour day anecdote, I’ve made a conscious effort to wake up and be grateful. When I open my eyes, I really take a moment to appreciate how lucky I am to be waking up to a new day. It may sound a bit cliché but really, it’s anything but. Life is unpredictable, circumstances change overnight and without notice. In claiming and savoring that moment, I feel I have added an hour to my day, it makes me less grumpy, more energized, happy, even.

The other aspect of this story that I really enjoyed was that the motivation behind adding another hour to each day had nothing to do with trying to be more productive or cram more things into a single day. It was about being present; about enjoying as much as possible what one is given. In the age of chronic busyness, stress and not-enough time, I found this focus on presence and gratitude greatly refreshing and inspiring.

Try it out and let me know how the 25-hour day works out for you …* 

Rethinking “Someday” – On Courage & Letting Go …*

Rethinking "Someday" & Making Room For Flow ...* | rethinked.org

“About six months ago, I sat down and wrote some really audacious lists: one was Dream Mentors; another was People with Awesome Mystical Powers; another was Stuff I’d Like to Do Before I Die; and the last was Stuff I’d Like to Do Someday. On my dream mentor list, I had a mutual connection to one of the people, so I emailed her. For the mystical powers people, I wrote a cold email to four of them to ask if they’d like to do a weekly call with me for accountability and support. On the things I’d like to do before I die list, I created a plan. I literally backed my way into how to make those things happen. I put the things I’d like to do someday into a pile and threw them away, because who has time for someday? The very next day I heard from my dream mentor and we went out to lunch a week later. I don’t think people realize how close at hand their dream mentors can be.” – Elle Luna

Over the course of this past week, for National Simplify Your Life Week, I have been using the quote above by Elle Luna as a sort of compass for simplifying my time and my things. I went through my closets and let go of all those “just in case” items that I never use but feel an irrational need to hold on to because someday, in some improbable situation, I may need them. In the great, wise words of Elle, who has time for someday? So off they go to the Salvation Army where hopefully someone will be able to make use of them now, today. Conversely, I looked at some of the things I’ve been wanting to do but have felt “not enough” to begin–not enough time, ability, resources, knowledge, courage–all those things I’ve been dreaming about and saving for someday when I’d feel enough to start. I let go of most of the items on my “someday” list, but there were a couple dreams and projects on there, which when I considered abandoning, made me feel heartbroken. I took this as a cue for action and transferred them to the ‘things I’d like to do before I die” list. I am now in the process of backing my way into making these things happen. Step one, I decided, was to eliminate the many ways in which I mindlessly spend my time, those default activities utterly devoid of intent, flow or growth. 

I’ve decided to go a month with no TV watching. I don’t own a TV but between iTunes, Amazon Instant, Hulu and Netflix, I spend an ungodly amount of time watching bad TV shows. I’ve canceled my Hulu and Netflix memberships (did I ever really need both?!). 

I’ve gotten rid of email on my phone. Instead of having a constant stream of interruptions throughout the day popping up on my screen I’m going to allot two chunks of time for email, one in the morning, one in the evening. 

I’m also going to try going a month without using Internet at home. Given that some days I work from home, I think this one might be the toughest, but it will be a good excuse to get out of the house. I’d like for home to feel more like a sanctuary, a space and time to focus on passion projects with calm and intent.

I’ll see after a month if these are habits I want to shed for good. I think it is likely that I will, but after years of running experiments on myself, I have learned that I need to break down change into small, achievable steps if I want to follow through.

What have you been doing to simplify your life? Any good tips? Let me know …* 

Harper’s Playground: Rethinking the Typical Playground to Create A More Inclusive World …*

“A quality play area is more than just a collection of play equipment. It is a place for play and learning – a place where children develop essential physical, social and cognitive skills, where different generations share common experiences, and where community members gather and build relationships.”The Inclusive City, Susan Goltsman & Daniel Iacofano – MIG

Haper’s Playground, located in Portland, Oregon, is an inclusive playground which allows children of all abilities to play together. Harper’s Playground was founded by April and Cody Goldberg whose daughter Harper uses a wheelchair to get around and could not enjoy their local playground. The Goldbergs were also frustrated with the alternative option of “adaptive” playgrounds which they view as:

expensive solutions to the wrong problem.  The problem isn’t about access to a structure, it’s about allowing and encouraging children of all abilities to play together.

They decided to design their own solution to the unmet needs of their daughter. The result is Harper’s Playground, which is an inclusive, fun and social place where children of all abilities and their families can come together to play, learn and explore. This is a splendid project, which aims to create a paradigm shift in how we think of and design the typical playground. Every community should have such a thoughtfully designed and delightful play space and luckily for us, the Goldbergs have a How To tab on the Harper’s Playground website with a form you can send them to receive feedback and advice on how to start an inclusive playground in you own community.

more play for more people …

Harper’s Playground: “More Play for Everyone” from Cody Goldberg on Vimeo.

Hat Tip: A Lot of Playgrounds Can’t Accommodate Children With Disabilities. A TEDx Speaker is Changing That. via TED, published August 6, 2014. 

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