Applying SpaceX’s production process to the development of memorable experiences

I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t had time to do a write up of our first prototype of Karl-Heinz StockHausen’s Kugealauditorium, a project I described in a previous post. Anyhow- better late than never, so here’s an update on KA2.

Recap of the project

For Kugelauditorium, our plan is to develop an open-source recipe for spherical concert halls that are cheap and easily deployable. We’d like to create a universal instrument that can provide for its users expansive psychonautical journies capable of vehicling them to the outer reaches of human consciousness, or, if not, then at least give them an engaging audiovisual experience. The provisional dream is “a Kugelauditorium for every garden”.

For that to be the case, we need a very simple and cheap design that anyone can knock together in no more than an hour or two, that’s sufficiently magnificent for human consciousness that it is more highly valued than, say, a lawn. In other words, something an order of magnitude or two simpler than any present-day equivalent immersive sound experience, but at least as compelling.

To develop such an ambitious recipe, we’re engaging in a rapid prototyping methodology loosely inspired by the Starship development system currently being executed by SpaceX at Boca Chica, Texas.

Obviously our project has much more upside for the future of human consciousness, but SpaceX’s work bakes in a few pretty robust insights about project management, decision-making and building towards ambitious future scenarios in a speedy way.

Their method in a nutshell is to optimise for the number of iterations in the development process. So rather than even trying to get everything right first time, they build speedily and iteratively and holistically. The genius of this method is various:

  1. First, it forces simplicity. With the luxury of time, one can over complicate anything, and one will. By insisting on an improved prototype each month, we force selection of the simplest thing that will work. Relatedly, because one has to spread the budget over many prototypes, you have to select for cheapness.
  2. Second, by aiming for a holistic working prototype each month, one has to think everything through together- you can’t go too deep on electronics or speakers for example, and completely forget about the structure. So one always remains tied to the whole end user experience, and everything has to be thought through together- and this means that solutions at the intersection of different parts of the system emerge.
  3. Third, since everything has to be designed so that someone else can build the next version somewhere next month, the whole is optimised for easy reproducibility and transparency of design. Since the goal is a widely deployable open-source Kugelauditorium design, this is fit for purpose.

—-

We began the project in April, and aimed for the first prototype in May. This interestingly led to an initial budget estimate of $50k for a KA being compressed down to a budget of about $12000- the merits of a tight time scale eviscerating all indulgence.

Here’s how we did it:

Dome

We built the dome using a very simple compact kit provided by Build with Hubs. They provided just the joins between struts, and the struts themselves we got from a hardware store for $150. They came in 50 odd 240cm round poles, and we cut them at a single point in the correct ratio to waste no wood (1179 vs 1221mm for short and long segments, if you’re interested). There’s a nifty thing on their site that helped calculate the ratio. Using two spherical domes, placed one on top of each other, we could get a fully spherical dome for $400. 

Timelapse of dome construction
The two hemi-domes joined together

Speakers

Next, for speakers, we got two cheapo 5.1 surround sound speaker systems that took care of amplification and presented a total of 10 channels to address. That allowed a 360-degree sound experience, though only 2D- as the speakers were all arranged around the middle rung. On the software side, we used standard tools . All of this part was done by Tomek Smilok.

Lights

To simplify things on the light side of things, which was not our main focus, we used sound-reactive LED strips, so as sound travelled round lights were activated with the moving sound (this saved requiring programming the light by itself) and provided a glimpse of how the light can in future be super-additive to the sound. This was the work of Iannis Bardakos and friends, and involved lost of soldering.

Music

Tomek created an improvised symphony entitled ‘backpain’. Of course, till you have a Kugelauditorium in your garden, you won’t have the faintest idea of the magnificence of the experience but here’s a sense of it.

Result

Phenomenologically it felt relatively spectacular, definitely tremendously immersive and engaging.

The faces tell the story of the wondrous phenomenological adventure
KA2 at a distance.

That was Kugelauditorium 2, (KA2) and it was pretty epic. The experience of the surround sound was great -one felt held as if a spirit in space, and it was unexpectedly comforting- I suspect the final instrument may have some pretty potent psychotherapeutic uses. Visually, the full sphere looks more than twice as cool as the generic hemi-dome, justifying the indulgence by itself, and we were able to get a glimpse of the full experience. Undoubtedly, this represents an instrument that every garden in the world should possess.

Total cost was $1200, and it took a Saturday to knock together.

Areas to focus on in KA3

We figure that a dozen or so iterations will be enough to get to something truly masterful, so we have no time lose in keeping iterating. The next prototype will be built in London in July, with the following one likely in August by Californian sound artist Sarah Stevenson.

The principal limitations in KA2 were:

  • The sound was limited to ten channels and was only 2-d (360-degree surround but on just one plane)
  • The positioning of people in the structure was at the bottom not in the middle
  • We didn’t really have time to experiment with the music.

The key issue we’re addressing in KA3 is the first, making the sounds fully three dimensional and over many more channels, including the capacity to map the sounds to that space in software easily. We’ll also aim to develop the structure so that a person can be suspended in the middle.

—–

KA3 spec: our main project here is to make the sound fully 3-D. So we’ll use the same basic dome structure, but use stronger wood to create the possibility of a single person being suspended right in the middle to enjoy the fully three-dimensional sound immersion.

We don’t know how many individual sound channels are required for fully-3D maximal precision of audition, but because the dome structure has 42 joins (from top to bottom at the different layers: 1/5/10/10/10/5/1) and because is 42 is more than 10 and because audition isn’t terribly spatially accurate, we’re going on the basis that 42 will more than cover it, and 41 in fact since there is no lowest point. That we guess will be perceptually equivalent to having 1000 speakers in terms of spatial precision (we may be wrong about this, of course).


For simplicity for the next version, we’re cutting this 42 down since 32-channel audio is relatively easier to manage from a hardware perspective, so we’ll aim for that, provisionally with 1:5:5:10:5:5:1 at the different levels of the dome (or perhaps 1:4:6:10:6:4:1), and a subwoofer at the bottom to make 32.

The basic diagram of the architecture is like this:

So our complete recipe for the kit (not including lights) for the KA3 will be this:

  • Two geodesic dome kits from Built with Hubs (it’s cheaper to get your own sticks, but these kits including sticks are very convenient- (2* £275)
  • two multi channel DACs, specifically the Cymatics Audio live player LP16 (£215*2)- this was the most exciting piece of kit to discover, as 32-channel DACs normally set you back $3000.

So in total we get to £2300 before cost of any lights we may add. Not bad, but still touching $3000 and twice as expensive as the first prototype. We will need to build efficiencies into the prototyping process, but we should still get 12 prototypes in for the original Bitcoin which was swapped for the dream of a Kugelauditorium.

With this recipe, we can get to a fully spatialised 3-D sound and that will help us answer these questions:

  • Are 32 speakers enough for fully spatialised sound?
  • Does the hardware work and is it simple to set up
  • What is the experience like building music in this set up?
  • And are slightly thicker broom-sticks sufficient to hold a person suspended in the middle

We aim to have the prototype built for end of July, the work taking place not in Burgundy but in the crypt of a chruch in Holloway, UK, under the auspices of Merijn Royaards. The hope is that he audio hardware will be fit for purpose, and so future iterations will be able to reuse the same hardware.

I’d love to express my thanks to, among other in what was a glorious group project, Tomek Smilok, Alix Faddoul, Iannis Bardakos, and Primavera Di Fillipi for actually building the thing.

Some memories hold you back. Here’s how to refresh.

Reading Time: < 1 minute

We often assume we see the world just it is; but many examples suggest that we’re highly constrained by our own memories in what we experience. It’s a bit like the world is rehearsed. 

By confusing your memory, however, you can counteract this tendency, and perceive the world anew. It comes down to breaking from the comforts of routine. Here are four suggested ways you might upset invisible routine, and thus memory, to so see the world clearer.  

1) Sleep with your head at the wrong end of the bed: on waking up, your memory will be lost for words and give you a half-second or so of pure perception- where you may notice, for instance, that your curtains are ugly and need replacing. 

2) Eat dinner at breakfast time: it’ll be uncomfortable, but interesting: you’ll perhaps notice that your sense of the difference between morning and evening is based mainly on the distinction between corn flakes and macaroni cheese. 

3) Re-arrange your furniture: when a room is reconfigured, the very objects themselves can be seen anew.

4) Go nocturnal, and check out commuters in your new (7 a.m.) evenings. You’ll perhaps notice new things.

Once you’ve felt the power of a simple refresh like this, you can have spectacular fun finding tiny ways to incorporate a change of perspective into your routines and habits so that they never become an immovable constraint and you remain free to transcend them when necessary.

21 things we learned from hosting our first online party

Reading Time: 10 minutes

Parties are at the heart of most of what is good in human life: love, friendship, fun, escape, spiritual exploration. It’s obviously therefore of great importance that we continue partying despite any physical distancing. But how to host decent parties online?

It’s not like anyone was attending online parties before the lockdown.

Last week, I gathered with a few friends to form an experimental collective devoted to exploring how to make online parties actually good, actually real. We decided to call ourselves the Co-reality Collective, in line with our purpose.

And so last weekend we threw a party. It took us about two days to organise. And it was certainly a learning experience. Here are twenty-one of those learnings…

1) The party begins with the invite

If your online party is real, behave accordingly, beginning with a proper invitation! Credit to Eszter Balogh for the great visuals.

We chose to theme three things heavily with our first invitation, in order to begin to structure party-goer expectation in profitable fashion. We emphasized that the party was real; that it would be a network of spaces, not one boring Zoom call; and that a quest would be involved. Double down on this early impression of reality with Eventbrite ticket purchases and other ‘real world’ elements of party experience.

2. Party appetite is international- so time your party accordingly

It Is Time to Reimagine Global Governance

We had significant contingents wanting to come from the UK, Sweden. France, Germany, UK, East-Coast US, West-Coast US. The timing that just about worked for all these fine party people was noon-8 p.m. PST, which was 8 p.m-4 a.m. UK time, 9 p.m-5 a.m. in most of Europe.

I liked that people joined from all over the world!

Loved the breakout rooms where you put with strangers for a random amount of time, loved dancing with people around the world, loved the shows/performances. Sounds quality was much better than I was expecting

3. People are grateful for instructions

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 00.25.44.png

Very few of our guests had been to an online party before, so it was necessary to provide a helping hand with quick tips on the tech and the technique to ensure everyone was comfortable and set up to succeed.

4. Queuing is part of the fun

Parties are journeys, and to have a truly good time, you need to win the right to have that truly good time by putting your time in in the queue like everyone else.

We staffed our queue with bouncers (Maz in La, Frederick in Sweden) who vetted guests for costumes, party-commitment, etc to make sure that everyone who made it into the party deserved to be there.

5. Greet every guest, and introduce them to someone fun

Screenshot 2020-04-03 at 23.14.42.png
Guests must be warmly greeted and served a drink on arrival 

Everyone deserves a warm greeting, and to have a glass of virtual Prosecco. And then they need to be able to start making friends.

Here we used Zoom’s breakout room functionality to establish little conversational pockets for people to connect in smaller groups. It works surprisingly well,. and even extreme introverts were able to begin enjoying the party from the get go.

6. It’s the people who make the party

Partygoers get out what they put in.

At every party, but especially at online parties, you rely on the people who attend to invent the fun. We found that making the event invite-only added enthusiasm, safety, and commitment.

7. Your partygoers need a map

If your online party is real, people are going to need to be able to find the fun. A visual map of the party excites imagination before the party, and provides a guide during the party. Our guests loved seeking out where the fun was at, and for that a map was key.

We soon learned a digital map is also key so people can find their way back to rooms they’ve left. Eventually, simply sharing access to Google doc with all the live rooms proved a neat way to give people a sense of orientation and control over where they wanted to go.

8. Don’t forget the toilets

bathroom.jpeg
The toilet had no host. It was just a live-stream to an empty toilet space, where people could chat and exchange party tips.

We’d provided toilets as a joke, but they ended up proving a really popular location: a neutral zones with no background music or strong demands on expected party behaviour where people can chat with each other unsupervised, back-channel and gossip and understand what is going on, and do things like make out or take illegal drugs (which we do not endorse).

“That familiar FOMO you get at parties when you realise you’ve been chatting in the toilets for 2 hrs and everyone else might be having a better time, or might have just left”

Party Toilet Enthusiast Feedback

9. Use Snapchat for your virtual costumes

People dressing up is critical; and partygoers who went to the effort of preparing (sometimes several) real-world outfits acclaimed the benefits. It got them in the mood!

But Snapchat filters on desktop provide incredible virtual costumes as back-up/additions, and at we saw all manner of angel, cow-boy, child, old man, animal. egg, potato and cross-dresser.

We can’t recommend the desktop Snap camera highly enough.

10. People really, really like to dance

We knew people might want to dance. We didn’t know they’d love dancing so much that the dancefloors would be open for ten hours, almost always packed

One of our DJs in fact spent the entire party manning the Golden Gate Dance-floor. Sorry about that Jonathan! In any case, people love to dance – especially perhaps during the lockdown- so prepare accordingly.

11. Use Twitch for higher quality audio

For background music, you can use Zoom audio. Go to “share” then click “share audio” then go to advanced and click “just computer audio” so you can play e.g. Spotify on your computer so everyone else can hear it decently.

But for high quality danceable audio, mute the Zoom room and pipe in some Twitch audio (which you need to remember to regularly link to in the dance-floor chat / and/or share with the map)

12. It never gets realer than when you bring everyone together

A midnight ritual that brought all the international party-goers into conetmplative silence and sharing of experience was the highlight of the party

In the middle of the party, we closed down all but one of the rooms- the cabaret- to bring everyone together.

We then held a ritual, where people brought their hands to the screen if they’d been personally affected by the pandemic, and then everyone joined those who had been as we all did so. And then people were free to speak to their experience from all round the world as a group, and many did with amazing, emotive stories.

It was a very striking moment amid all the fun and silliness to have the reality of the pandemic made personal and visible, a moment of international solidarity and sharing. And then we danced it all out to Bohemian Rhapsody.

” my hairs were standing on end and I felt electricity in my body when we all put our hands up together. It was important to have us all come together at this moment and have a ritual, amongst the general partying and chatting other times. Followed by Bohemian Rhapsody – perfection.”

“I thought it was wonderful!! It was really really touching to put our hands to the screen, and to talk about how this was “real”. I actually shed a tear at that point. The continual repetition of “this is real” was important – it is real. It is sad this is all the connection we will have for months, but you made it *real*, it’s true.”

13. Your best performers are your guests

Performances are great, but when they are shared in full vulnerability by your partgoers, and witnessed as such, they become magic. Poems, songs, and even a strip-tease added a great deal to people’s memories of the party.

14. Deep and meaningfuls call for Yurt spaces

At normal parties, people often wind up sharing their deepest feelings in a drunken early-hours-in-the-morning corner somewhere. We found that small, yurt-like conversational spaces where a few people could chat intimacy and openness made for great deep-and-meaningful territory, without need for excessive inebriation.

15. A bit of confusion is your friend

Screenshot 2020-04-08 at 01.39.23.png

We didn’t mean it this way, but things got pretty disorganised in the party. This actually ended up adding to the allure and as it turned navigating the party space into an adventure game with cluies spread across multiple social media channels.

16. Nonetheless, you’re going to need to up your Gant chart game

Screenshot 2020-04-11 at 15.58.44.png

As hosts, you need to have your rooms prepped in advance, a clear rota, a comms channel (Whatsapp group) back-channelling between hosts. And a high level of coordination between everyone.

Even with this in place, it takes a lot of proactive improvised behind-the-scenes management from a spontaneously appointed chief operating officer to mange things. And various mistakes were made with Zoom room configuration, leading to, for example, people being stuck in unnecessary waiting rooms, rooms lacking hosts, one person having to manage a room all by himself for 8 hours.

So from an organisational point of view, get your A game on!

17. Having a shared fiction adds to the fun

Turns out that having a mysterious theme considerably adds to the fun. Our party was inspired by Tarkovsky’s The Stalker a weird twigh-lit film where some men try to find “The Zone”- a place where their deepest desires will come true. But they’re not quite sure they want to get there.

Similarly, it was never quite clear to our party-goers whether The Zone was a room, an attitude, or an experience… but the mere possibility of it was enough to add a certain zing to proceedings.

My deepest desires did not come true. But some of my desires did come true including having authentic vulnerable connections with people, having fun, dancing, watching a super sexy strip show, hosting something edgy, and going with the flow. And I met a sexy being who we had a nice FaceTime date with the next day so that was an unexpected bonus. 🙂

Wow, what a party!! Epic!! My favorite was the Zone. I didn’t know if it really existed but once I got there… whoa!!!! 

18. Mixed reality hot-tubs ftw

Throughout the party, people are in real space and in virtual space. We fused the two further in the Hot-tub room, where you had to actually get into your bath and run it, and then do the Zoom call. So that everyone was in a virtual hot tub while sitting in their pretend hot tub at home.

This worked incredibly well, and we will seek to do more mixed reality stuff at the next party.

I felt that the hot tub experience was a fucking joy to participate in. Never saw an explicit sign saying it was the zone, so who knows, but a safe, sensual, Intimate place to see and be seen and share the joys of serendipitous loving play was powerful medicine that I am grateful to have been part of.

“I made it to the hottub! Glorious and delightful”

Hot Tub. Activated my divine female <3

19. Donations can add up!

We added an option to donate on our Eventbrite. And of our 200-odd guests, about 30 donated nearly a $1000 for the artists and DJs many of whom don’t have any secure source of income anymore.

20. Puppets can be first class party guests

Some of the most popular and entertaining party guests were actually two puppets who danced pretty much non-stop for 8 hours.

THE PUPPETS!!!!!!! Mesmerising… I am in love. I want to go party with them!

21. Reality is in the eye of the beholder

Partygoers overwhelmingly judged the party to be as real as a normal party.

This was a real party. How do I know for myself this party was real? Because everyone I met there was real — I could really feel your presence even across our physical distance. I know too because the experience challenged me sometimes to be more real, which only happens when I feel myself being seen. And because the next day I woke up with that precious afterglow that follows all the best parties, remembering snippets of conversation, emotions and ideas and perspectives taking root inside of me.
This was not just a virtual ‘internet’ experience any more than a bus ride or a laundromat visit when shared with friends is ever just a ‘train’ or a ‘laundromat’ experience. The backgrounds change, but it’s the people in the foreground that see us through our lives. We are real for each other. And I know that this matters to me, because the whole night/day experience had me captivated for five hours, even after I’d just that day driven 700kms straight before arriving at our new house to discover that our digital key cards did not work (now solved, thankfully). Even though I was tired and wired, and in this state would never have sought out mere entertainment, I simply could not miss this moment of reality, because PARTIES ARE NON-NEGOTIABLE.

Next party, next weekend

This was our first attempt at throwing a party as a collective. We’ll be giving it another go next weekend, April 18th 2020, when we’ll look to learn from this first experiment and take things up a few levels.

If you’d like to help out or attend, fill in the form here telling us what you’d be up for, and how you can help.

Would love to hear your thoughts and ideas!

How to expand subjective time during the lockdown and beyond.

Reading Time: 15 minutes

A three-step technique for creating space, slowing down and enhancing creativity.

One of the challenges of living, working and socializing all from home during this Pandemic-induced lockdown is that the spatial structure of our days has been largely dissolved: where before we’d have a repertoire of different spaces for different activities, now everything’s happening at home.

“When one has much to put in them, a day has a thousand pockets.”
– Nieztsche

If you think about a typical pre-COVID day for someone who works in an office for example, events are naturally distinguished by where they take place. 

In my case, I’d get up, exercise in the park, cycle to the office, work and have discussions in different meeting rooms, go out for lunch, return to the office, go for a walking meeting, perhaps zip across town for a meeting in a café; and then after work, I’d often meet someone for food and sometimes go a concert or an exhibition: all in different, distinct locations… in short, my day would have as its backbone an elaborate spatial journey.

But with this lockdown, even though much of the content of my former lifestyle has been recreated digitally (including the parties- the subject of another post), it’s all now happening in my flat on my laptop. So all this experience has lost any meaningful spatial component. 

The troubling consequence of this is that the day can feel without shape, and time can seem to slip past; it’s relatedly more difficult to remember what happened… and despite in some sense now having more time… it’s easy to feel as though I have less.

Moreover, without clear demarcation of work and home life, the preoccupations of the day naturally infest my evenings… it becomes more difficult to turn off, and equanimity and mental freshness can suffer. 

Having struggled with this, I’d like to offer an analysis of why this happens based on how we humans apprehend time and space, followed by a three-step technique for structuring your home-life during the lockdown in which you can conduct a substantially more spacious, creative and calm existence.

Before we get to that, though, let’s consider how we relate to time and space cognitively, to understand our options.

How we experience time

Space and time are deeply interconnected in our way of understanding the world, and indeed time is mostly conceived through spatial metaphors. 

We compute these metaphors so effortlessly, that we’re rarely aware of their presence in our experience. But whenever we “squeeze in a trip to the gym between meetings” or “look forward to the summer”, or talk of “distant memories” a “crowded schedule” or “way back when” or indeed when we enjoy “bitesize” content or bemoan the boringness of a “long argument”, we’re borrowing our mental mastery of space to imagine and reason about time.  

Specifically, our spatial metaphors for time carry an underlying mapping: 

  1. time = space or journey through space
  2. moments of time = locations or objects in that space 

These metaphorical schemas are amazingly flexible and sophisticated. When we say a busy day is “back-to-back” with meetings, we’re imagining the day (time) as a container (space) and our activities (which take time) as objects (smaller space-occupying entities) filling that container. In this example, the objects fill the container so tightly that they press against each other, leaving no space (i.e. time) for that coffee at which you wished to pick my brains, or whatever. Therefore, even if I just respond “sorry I’m back to back” you immediately grok my meaning. 

This is of course taken to a nefarious extreme by calendars, which reduce time to a grid of boxes in space- with very potent, and many regrettable, consequences for our experience of our lives. That though is a different subject to the one we have on our hands here.

Now, while the high-level mapping of time to space is almost ubiquitous in cognition, there are interesting cultural and contextual variants. In Chinese culture, time goes up and down, not forward and backward, as it does in western cultures. We’ll avail ourselves of that flexibility later.  Even with the forward/backward time relationship in English, we flexibly use different sub-variants, without necessarily realizing that that’s what we’re doing. 

“Wednesday’s meeting has been brought forward by two days. What day is it now on?”

Some will say “Monday”, others “Friday”. Both make perfect sense, but which you choose depends on whether you imagine from an object- or observer-centric framework. In the observer-centric case, the event currently sitting in the space of Wednesday is an object being brought forward towards you, the observer, which will land it on Monday; but if you assume an object-centric perspective, you are Wednesday and move forward two days in time, landing on Friday. Check our Lera Boroditsky’s extraordinary work on the embodied cognition of time, from which these examples are taken. 

Anyhow, this mapping of time to space is of course a good design principle for the mind, since, in the normal peripatetic run of things, different events happen in different spaces, as we saw earlier with my routine. This natural pattern or constraint cascades down into how memory works: indexing very thoroughly on the spatial. We remember things primarily by where they happen, and only indirectly by when. This is incidentally why “memory palaces” are such a potent device for remembering things in sequence (i.e. time): they leverage our powers of spatial recollection to structure long temporal sequences in our imaginations through imagery.  

Why living all of life in a confined space can mess with our sense of time, and feel cramped and stressful. 

We’ve seen how our experience of time is rooted in our apprehension of space, and how this is reflected in memory. So when we stop moving around over the course of the day, we shouldn’t be surprised that it messes with our experience. 

And this is why a day spent all in one spot will tend to feel like it’s passed quicker: as we experience the sequence of activities in our day, each is a little bit less distinctive and differentiated than it would be under normal conditions because it lacks spatial context, and the different portions of the day then bleed into each other.

This interfusion of the different parts of the day diminishes them all. Your yoga headspace carries into your work headspace carries into your argument with your flatmate headspace carries into your creative time headspace, and the resources of your mind are never fully focused on any one of these things.

And this lack of distinctness to individual moments in your day has its flip side in memory, where because there are no spatial hooks for it to gain purchase on, it becomes difficult to remember what we did: there are no differentiated locations to trigger recollection. It’s as if all the photographs have been made on top of each other on a single print. 

And when we lack spaciousness like this, things quickly begin to feel claustrophobic, monotonous and stressful.

How we can control our experience of space and time using our imaginations.  

We’ve seen that time is spatial, and that when we take spatial experience away, it can be stressful and confusing. What to do about this?

Well, it turns out that our dependence on space is both the disease and the cure to this one: by imagining and relating to our spaces differently, we can regain control of our experience of our time.   

In order to manipulate back into health our diminished experience of time, that is, we simply have to manipulate our experience of space- with the tools at our disposal. 

This might seem tricky, given we’re stuck indoors, but in fact our experience of space is much more highly contextual, subjective and full of opportunities for alteration than we normally imagine, or commonly admit.  

This is because space as it arises in our experience (which we often confuse with the space of physics) is not a feature of the world, but of our relationship to it. By changing how we relate to our home spaces, we can transform them. 

One way of seeing this is to think of how we tend to be surprised when we revisit places last seen in early childhood: they seem much smaller than we remembered, because when we were small they were relatively bigger in relation to us. 

This phenomenon goes way beyond the size of our bodies, into their skills, interests and athleticism: people with heavy backs perceive slopes as steeper, for example; we experience the world in terms of how we can act within it.   

To get a handle on how our experience of space is our experience of our possible movements, ask yourself this: have you ever had the strange experience that an empty room can come to feel larger when it is filled with furniture?

How can this be? Well, one way of thinking about this is that now the space is structured, there are more opportunities for movements than before: it, therefore, is bigger so far as your body is concerned. 

On top of this, we don’t experience spaces devoid of their emotional, social and pragmatic contexts. Space isn’t just a container, but a field of action, pregnant with significance: for example, people can tell almost as much about your personality by looking at picture of your office or bedroom than they can from meeting you personally.  

A carpenter’s studio invites a totally different set of actions than a kitchen and feels correspondingly different- even if laid out much the same. Changing the colour of the walls of a room can make it feel more spacious, warmer, more formal, more calming. 

So we see from all of these examples that our experience of space is highly embodied, contextual, and subject to all manner of emotional layerings. This gives us a clear set of tools for how to change our experience of time in a restricted space: by manipulating our patterns of behaviour, emotion and perception.  

With this analysis in our back pocket, let’s look at five strategies that can be deployed against the problem of expanding subjective time in the lockdown, which collectively add up to turning your home into a kind of memory palace.  

The three-step technique

  1. Divide your home into a set of distinct locations, with activities for each  

Your home is your new city. Let’s kit it out accordingly.

Of course, we need to work with the tools at our disposal: which will seem meagre to begin with, but all of which we will see can be applied to an arbitrarily small space.

First, choose ten activities you want to accommodate in your lockdown

Ten activities is a good basic repertoire. I do in my life: sleep, yoga, reading, washing, working, writing (managerial), work (creative), exercising, partying, eating/socialising.

Your repertoire will, of course, be different depending on what you like doing, and need to do. It’s actually quite fun to reflect on your life and make a list of ten best-version-of-you core activities. Not a bad moment to dig out that list of unactioned new year’s resolutions: that habit of a daily workout? Now’s a good time to actually begin doing it.

Another way of finding your ten activities, is simply to think “what are the activities I’d love to be able to do somewhere else, but I can’t”?

Whichever way you create your list, it shouldn’t take more than a few minutes of honest, joyful self-reflection.

Next, find ten locations around your home to which to assign these activities

Reminder: to be calm during the storm, we want to have clear, differentiated spaces in which we can conduct the activities of our new life in a way that we are “insulated” from distraction, and in such a way as to foster calm, creativity and joy.

So the next step is to select ten distinct locations within the overall space of your home, to which you’ll uniquely assign these actvities.

For me, I had to choose ten locations across the four available rooms to me: bedroom, bathroom, living room, kitchen. If you have more space than this, be expansive. If you have less, zoom in. 

You really can do all this in quite small spaces. The only constraint here is to ensure these locations are each at least a metre or so apart from each other. I think it would be just about possible with a bit of creativity to do this in the smallest flat I ever lived in, a 3x3m garret in Paris in my early twenties.

Not having much space to play with is actually part of the fun. I’m grateful I don’t live ibn a castle: it would remove the opportunity for creativity.

To illustrate, I have had to set up four different locations in my sitting-room, for example, and three in my bedroom. Neither room is especially large. One important trick when you are creating several locations in a small room, is to ensure that when you’re in those spaces, that you’re pointing in different directions: out of sight is out of mind, and this will help them differentiate the locations later and make them feel “insulated” from each other. In this way, in that old cell-like flat in Paris, I’d have arranged the spaces “looking outwards” roughly in the four corners, and against the four walls, with a space in the middle to get to ten. 

Assign activities to locations

After you’ve chosen ten locations, link the activities to them uniquely. I have several types of work requiring a desk, and so I have set up three tables in my living room and I move tables to do different kinds of work. 

So, zooming in on my livingroom, we have three desks, pointed in different directions, for different kinds of work. The Eastern desk (in front of the window) is for working on managerial tasks at Memrise -a diversity of tasks. The Southern-facing one (less than 2 metres away) is also for working on Memrise, but this is for creative work- which I especially enjoy, but which can be difficult to find intellectual and emotional space for in the course of a busy day. The third desk (facing West) is for writing. This way, I’ve created differentiation between these kinds of work. 

My full list of locations and activities is then this:

  1. Bedroom: Bed (sleep)
  2. Bedroom: floor by bed (yoga)
  3. Bedroom: Rocking chair by window (reading)
  4. Bathroom (washing)
  5. Sitting room: East wall (working)
  6. Sitting room North wall (working)
  7. Sitting room West wall (writing) 
  8. Sitting room: space in middle (exercising)
  9. Kitchen (eating) 
  10.  Bar counter between kitchen and living room (partying)

Now’s the moment then to get

2. Imaginatively amplify the distinctiveness of these spaces

We now have different locations for different activities. The next step is to amplify. their felt differentiation using our imaginations, and a few props.

Remember, space is a space by dint of the full gamut of the perceptual and emotional experience that is taking place within it. So we can change space by manipulating the experiences

Our key levers here are:

  • The activity itself
  • Props (photos, hats, lamps)
  • Lighting
  • Music
  • Aromas (candles, food)
  • Simple imagination.

To see how we can leverage these easily controlled inputs to create differentiation, let’s look at some examples. 

Bathroom

I’ve kitted out my bathroom as a Hammam (by adding a chair, a kettle, and some imagination). Where before, I’d be in and out in five minutes, I now hang out there for 30 minutes with my (imaginary) friends, the room steamed up by running a lidless kettle into the corner and letting it boil. 

Sitting room (4 locations)

In my sitting room,  I’ve set up, as we saw, four locations: three separate desks and exercise space. 

To stop them interfering with each other (i.e. feeling like the same space), I ensure with music, props and lighting that each has an entirely different feel and vibe to the others: to go along with the different patterns of activity and so on.

So when I’m at the East Desk (reserved for Memrise managerial work) I have a fully differentiated multi-sensory set-up that changes the character of the whole room, and effectively makes the location I’m at feel like a totally different space.

Specifically, when sat this desk, I keep all the curtains drawn, play Balkan music whenever I’m say there and imagine I’m in Croatia. On my desk, I keep a photo of Novak Djokovic and hanging on the nearby cupboard is a traditional Croatian dress. All of these things in combination give the location the feel of a totally different room. 

If I then move to the North desk (which takes me ten minutes, as we’ll see later) I open the curtains, change the music to jaunty Italian Tarantella, and enjoy a spacious paper-only desk environment. On the wall in front of me is a view of the Italian town of Cividale that I once ineptly painted. No matter, I imagine it as a window and I’m in Italy, doing wonderful free creative tasks. Again, it feels like I’m not only in a different room but in a totally different country. 

The West desk is for writing: things like this blogpost, love letters to my girlfriend (currently quarantined in Burgundy, France), and other purely verbal activities. The wall in front of me is covered in bookshelves. Since this is a space of pure ideas, and we’ve already established it’s in effect possible with these techniques to change country, I take it a bit further here and imagine I’m entering into a beyond-worldly magic space of pure imnagination. The music genre here is jazz, and since I tend to sit here at night, the lighting’s also naturally different. My props here include my computer, but I keep the internet off to aid the sense of isolation.  

Kitchen 

I visit the kitchen three times in the day, but I make sure that each feels like a different experience. 

My kitchen in the morning is a French Café. I drink coffee while listening to French radio. I eat a croissant. I talk to myself in French. I complain about the government. No mobile phones are allowed. 

It’s all very different in Berlin (lunchtime). Here I’m in Kreuzberg, surrounded by hipsters. I’m listening to Wagner. I’m talking to myself in German. I’m actually not listening to Wagner, I’m playing café sounds to give me a sense of being in an energetic social spot. 

In the evening, there isn’t a specific nationality to the kitchen: it’s more of a guest spot for different cultures depending on what I’m cooking. Devices are actually allowed in the kitchen in the evening (as I like to dine over Zoom with a friend and a bottle of wine).

But all in all, the kitchen manages to be three spaces only through changing up the food, the attitude, the music, the props.  

Bedroom

My favourite location is the rocking-chair by the bedroom window. I’d picked this up off the street years ago and it had sat there broken and never-sat-upon as a vague never-quite-prioritized to-do item.

Self-isolation and duct tape dealt with that, and now I can read before bed while calming myself down after the energetic day by rocking myself back and forth. An aromatic candle further changes the mood, and my bedroom is now a no-device zone so if there’s a disaster I won’t get to know about it till tomorrow morning.

In sum

You won’t land on a set-up this elaborate overnight. You can gradually experiment and find what feels right in terms of props, music, rules, lighting, and activities in each location around your home.

But the basic principle is very simple: by behaving in thought, imagination and action as if each location is an entirely different space/room/country, you make it feel so.

And this does a massive amount to free us from the sense of claustrophobia and time-disappearance that living all day in one place can occasion.

3) Design your preferred daily adventure, then perform it. 

Our next step is to build a schedule for our days that travels through our newly invented repertoire of spaces: which may now exist in many different countries, yay!

Designing your daily journey

But schedules suck. They constrain and control, and we don’t want too much of that. So the way we’re going to organise our day’s activities is to transform our schedule into more of an adventurous travel-journey. Doing so is pretty simple: we just need to decide on our itinerary.

To do this, simply pick a path through your new city-home that fits with what you need to do across the day. Writing it down helps. This is your daily journey in the new imagination-built city in your home. Hopefully, we manage through this tool to construct a daily routine as exciting as any that ordinary life could offer.

Performing your daily journey

We have all the pieces in place, now we just need to begin performing them. 

A few tips follow as to how to do that in the most effective way possible. 

Stick to your itinerary

Itineraries work best when you stick to them, so keep a softly sounded alarm of some kind to let you know when it’s time to move on. Pomodoro is a good tool for this.

Consider changes in costume between activities

Often in normal life, we habitually change clothing for the different activities in our day: with different outfits for work, gym, socialising etc.

It’s good to reproduce these habits in our new city-home. Even small changes do good work to make different moments feel different: the addition of a hat, putting on a jumper, changing our shoes. And they take hardly any time to implement.

Use physical activity to amplify transitions between spaces

A dominant feature of our experience of spaces, and of times, is landmarks and moments of significant transition. This is why rituals are so important to creating experiential space: they act as tools to amplify transitions in our moods. 

To boost differentiation between moments in our day, getting moving acts a ‘reset’: there’s nothing like it to freshen yourself physically and emotionally. My current favourite mode of doing this is dancing socially for five minutes: by powering up Zoom and getting on a virtual dance party. But press-ups stretches or even jumping jacks equally get the job done. 

My advice is to aim for one of these approximately hourly and to deploy them even if you’re not changing location.  

Consider adding a “travel-time” layer

This one is for the advanced practitioner.

Let’s return to our core inspiration: the city. The nature of a city is that it takes time to get between places, which enriches the overall experience and introduces breaks and stimulation between activities. To solve the problem of an absence of the experience of travel-time and the consequent reduction in felt spaciousness, we have to add these back in with a bit of embodied, performative imagination.

The baller options here is to magnify the scale of your flat by simply forbidding yourself from moving at a normal speed between rooms. After extensive experimentation, I’ve found that an allowed pace of 1-2cm/second works well for moving between spaces (this only applies to changing locations, by the way, you’re going to need to move around at your desk at normal speed). But I wouldn’t recommend this on day one, you won’t have the discipline yet. 

Whether you choose a physical activity or slowed movements, in time these embodied practices begin to make the whole flat seem much larger. Space is, after all, relational. And there are in fact numerous additional benefits to this approach. You realize, for example, that there’s a ten-minute walk or ten press-ups between you and the fridge (even though  it’s just 6m away), and so you begin to find it much less tempting to grab a snack mid-task.

An  example schedule

Here’s an example of what a schedule can look like, once you’ve divided your home into ten locations for unique activities, and ‘gamified’ the transitions between the spaces.

  • 6-6.15 a.m. Wake up, travel to Hammam
  • 6.15 -7 a.m. Wash, hang out in the Hammam, dress
  • 7-7.30 a.m Commute to Paris (kitchen), while listening to a podcast
  • 7.30- 8 a.m Enjoy Parisian breakfast, coffee, French radio.
  • 8-8.15 a.m. Commute to Croatia (East desk) 
  • 8.15-12.30 a.m: Croatia. Management work / meetings on Memrise. Occasional breaks to dance between tasks. 
  • 12.30-1 p.m. Freshen mind with 30 min stroll through the Park (central living room) on way to Berlin. 
  • 1 p.m- 1.45 Lunch: Berlin lunch. 
  • 1.45- 2 p.m. Commute to Italy while calling family members.
  • 2-4 p.m. North desk: creative Memrise work in Italy listening to Tarantella
  • 4-4.15p.m Jog to Croatia (through park)
  • 4.15-6.45 p.m More Memrise management work in Croatia (East desk) 
  • Travel to Ukraine (kitchen, last night)
  • 7 p.m. Cooking and dinner with friend over Zoom
  • 8- 8.15 p.m Travel by bicycle to the West desk (realm of pure ideas)
  • 8.15p.m- 10.15 p.m.  West Desk writing in pure realm of ideas. 
  • 10.15p.m.10.30 p.m. Walk home to bedroom.
  • 10.30-midnight: Rocking chair reading until sleep.

If suitably enacted, each of the events in this schedule will be insulated emotionally and mentally from the others and will lead to gloriously pure and focused consciousness, as well as a very clear recollection of the events once they’re completed.  

To sum it all up

Time in the lockdown can slip away from us, and disturb our mental tranquility. Being locked up inside our homes can be claustrophobic, stressful, boring and uncreative. This simple methodology will allow you to free yourself from these issues. 

By combining perceptual, bodily and imaginative techniques, the featureless open scape of a day at home can assume all the spatial trappings of an adventure out around a city, with all the benefits of fun, memorability and distinctiveness, but none of the incidental opportunities for contracting COVID-19. 

When you get this method spinning, you’ll feel calmer. You’ll feel like you have more time in the day. You’ll be able to concentrate with a greater purity of focus. You’ll be able to do more different things throughout the day. And you’ll have a tonne of fun while you’re doing them, which is something we all need a bit of in our lives right now.

Finally, with luck, you may find that the core principles underlying this technique will serve you well even when you’re back to living out in the world again. I’m certainly intending on keeping the bedroom as a no-device zone, and on keeping the Hammam too: if nothing else, this lockdown has taught me that I have been under-using my bathroom like a muppet.

Zooming into Flora – a technique for touching heavenliness

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If you get up very close to some flora such as these and carefully elongate all other aspects of reality from the centre of your mind by staring adroitly at said flora and doing things like breathing very particularly it’s possible to taste – distantly, a mere flicker of flavour- what it’s like to exist in a universe where flora are all that exist, and, if that is to your taste, it can seem transiently heavenly.