AirSpace
August 4, 2016 2:08 PM   Subscribe

How Silicon Valley helps spread the same sterile aesthetic across the world
Every time Schwarzmann alights in a foreign city he checks the app, which lists food, nightlife, and entertainment recommendations with the help of a social network-augmented algorithm. Then he heads toward the nearest suggested cafe. But over the past few years, something strange has happened. "Every coffee place looks the same," Schwarzmann says. The new cafe resembles all the other coffee shops Foursquare suggests, whether in Odessa, Beijing, Los Angeles, or Seoul: the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.
posted by the man of twists and turns (84 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
 


Digital platforms like Foursquare are producing "a harmonization of tastes" across the world, Schwarzmann says. "It creates you going to the same place all over again."

Millennials did not invent international design movements (e.g. the now almost 100 year old International Style) or trends among the global elite, but the internet has really changed how quickly and with how little local variation they are adopted.
posted by ryanshepard at 2:15 PM on August 4, 2016 [31 favorites]


"The Airbnb experience is supposed to be about real people and authenticity," Schwulst says. "But so many of them were similar," whether in Brooklyn, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, or Santiago.

Only someone with an entirely deficient education in history could expect anything else. It's so...cute, it's cute - all these techno-utopian Silicon Valley types truly think that there's nothing to be learned from history, that everything is different now. They're like kids who think their parents don't know what drugs are, or people who think that they alone in history will be fighting a just war.

Also, it's horribly depressing. I feel like the world is being made over in the image of these boring people so that they can jet around the world making apps and getting rich while making the world worse and duller to match their godawful taste.

And this whole "best of everything" business. They're so whiny. If there's a leaf on the lawn (and I remember a mefite talking about getting dinged on AirBnB for having fallen leaves on her property during the fall) or the counters aren't marble enough or the espresso isn't espressed enough...god forbid that there should be any risk to the perfection of the prepackaged experience. Simultaneously thinking that for some reason they deserve physically perfect surroundings no matter the expense to the working class and being afraid of the risk that comes from seeking non-prepackaged novelty.
posted by Frowner at 2:20 PM on August 4, 2016 [102 favorites]


Before Sand Hill, there was Madison Avenue, there was Burbank. There have always been tastemakers. Now they just have a global reach. Same as it ever was.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:26 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I must be using the wrong AirBnB hosts? I do sort of know the aesthetic this article is talking about, but most of the places I've ever stayed using the service have been very different and in most cases pretty charmingly weird. Even in Seattle -- my favorite stay of all was in a sweet jumbly house that usually had actual people living in it usually, and which was decorated in a wonderful & dorky owl theme.
posted by feckless at 2:27 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Every single thing Airbnb promised wouldn't happen has happened , whole buildings got converted into quasi dormitories with all the decor bought by the truckload st Homedecor.com
posted by The Whelk at 2:29 PM on August 4, 2016 [32 favorites]


On the one hand we could critique this aesthetic for its blandness or whatever and mourn lost authenticity.

But on the other hand, isn't it fascinating — not necessarily good or bad, but just fascinating — to be slowly sliding into the Snow Crash future where the culture of any given place depends less on the culture around it, and more on the different networks that that place is plugged into? One of the reasons why I am viciously nostalgic for the pre-google 90sweb is that it allowed for the rapid spread of ideas and styles without regard for geography, but without the current web's homogenizing function. I'm fine with the Clean Cute Rich Bland style of Google and Apple becoming quickly international; I just want to know that there's dozens and dozens of other fast-spreading distributed international cultures popping up alongside it.

In politics, I think accelerationism is reprehensible. In aesthetics, though? accelerate away!
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:30 PM on August 4, 2016 [24 favorites]


You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Everybody.
posted by adamrice at 2:31 PM on August 4, 2016 [7 favorites]




I think there will always be countercultures, and counter-aesthetics. Even on the web, tumblr is a thing. Twitter is a thing, but with words and symbols. Noise instead of minimalism.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:35 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


You want to go where everybody knows your name.

Everybody.



I want to go where no one asks any questions, or looks too long at your face.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2016 [30 favorites]


But on the other hand, isn't it fascinating — not necessarily good or bad, but just fascinating — to be slowly sliding into the Snow Crash future where the culture of any given place depends less on the culture around it, and more on the different networks that that place is plugged into? One of the reasons why I am viciously nostalgic for the pre-google 90sweb is that it allowed for the rapid spread of ideas and styles without regard for geography, but without the current web's homogenizing function. I'm fine with the Clean Cute Rich Bland style of Google and Apple becoming quickly international; I just want to know that there's dozens and dozens of other fast-spreading distributed international cultures popping up alongside it.

But most of the landscapes in Snowcrash are horrible, that's the thing, and it's because the networks themselves are terrible and corrupt, and their terrible corruption itself is networked - bad places create bad places. The rich-tech-people-AirBnb aethetic propagates not as one among many but as one exploiting many - it only exists because of the armies of low-waged and housing-insecure that prop it up.

If you want a "networked" culture that exists mostly outside of the bad networks, look at punk houses - you can go to a punk house in San Diego and it will look much like a punk house in MPLS...except it will be truly local, because it will be enmeshed in food, music and cultural traditions that are local. That's, if you like, a peripatetic subculture that does not generate bad landscapes or depend on the exploitation of others. Your tolerance for punk houses may vary, of course.
posted by Frowner at 2:39 PM on August 4, 2016 [23 favorites]


I'm not sure why an analysis of interior design trends would involve AirBnB. I'd be more inclined to actually examine the dissemination and sharing of imagery on Pinterest/Dwell/ArchDaily/Tumblr-esque platforms, and how they influence designers today.

Part of this phenomenon, IMO, is that the material, budgetary constraints of interior design / architecture legitimately lend themselves to concentrated, focused moves. White subway tile is cheap, yet can look pretty clean, like how wearing all-black jeans and a t-shirt can be acceptable in formal situations. For light fixtures, better to go cheap or super-expensive; most things in-between end up looking less polished. Pendants are some of the cheapest fixtures out there; it's essentially a metal shade on top of a bulb housing. Buying furniture is often cheaper than architectural moves, so having a minimal, clean, flexible space (read: white walls) with colorful furniture/rugs/wall decorations gives you a lot of bang for your buck. Plus, if you purchase high-quality furniture, it's possible to sell them later in case you have to recoup some costs.

Add these all together, and it means that 'doing more with less' as a design strategy becomes about working with, not against, the 'reclaimed', the 'raw', and using 'punchy design' to provide 'accents' for your space.

Combine this with a general hyper-dissemination of imagery, and the fact that most interior designers / architects are the most imagery-hungry/precedent-savvy people I know, and it means that the internet as a global imagery dissemination mechanism often generates design trends that don't obey geographical lines but disciplinal trends.
posted by suedehead at 2:43 PM on August 4, 2016 [27 favorites]


Before there was AirSpace, Holiday Inn made a mint catering to and creating the tastes of generations of business travelers.

And that's who this article is largely talking about. People on business trips or people who like to travel on holiday like they're on business trips.

But Holiday Inn, they were (and perhaps still are) so consistently laid out that I could walk into a dark room after an after-work flight and semi-conscious cab ride and know exactly which way to turn and how many steps to take to unpack my bag and brush my teeth. And what I would eat for breakfast tomorrow before going off to my meetings.

Holiday Inn wasn't as pervasive and influential as Yelp or Google+ are on local businesses. Holiday Inn was copied but not quite a slavishly. But I think that's because consumer preferences are more transparent, through immediate ratings and, importantly umbrella apps like Kayak or Expedia. So business needs to be more responsive and so uniform to make a buck.
posted by bonehead at 2:44 PM on August 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


I want to go where no one asks any questions, or looks too long at your face.

Because nobody knows you, and nobody gives a damn either way.
posted by [expletive deleted] at 2:45 PM on August 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


If you want a "networked" culture that exists mostly outside of the bad networks, look at punk houses - you can go to a punk house in San Diego and it will look much like a punk house in MPLS...except it will be truly local, because it will be enmeshed in food, music and cultural traditions that are local. That's, if you like, a peripatetic subculture that does not generate bad landscapes or depend on the exploitation of others. Your tolerance for punk houses may vary, of course.

Punk is another good example of a pre-internet global aesthetic - I remember some people (e.g. RE/SEARCH's V. Vale) calling it "the last international" in the 80s (though hip hop quickly proved them wrong).
posted by ryanshepard at 2:45 PM on August 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


A lot of punk houses will certainly expose you to local cultures.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 2:48 PM on August 4, 2016 [19 favorites]


I don't know, I think I'm resigned to the idea that all possible futures are now godawful in one way or another. Maybe I'm just okay with the Snow Crash future because I think I can just keep up residence in the International Distributed Republic of Academia while somehow ignoring the deep flaws in that particular franchise of burbclaves.

The thing that's bothersome about Airworld isn't that it's bland, maybe, it's that it's got turf, and a tighter grip on turf than distributed countercultures can ever get.
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:49 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


I used to refuse to go to a place unless it had good reviews on Yelp. I'm wildly obsessive about food safety and I figured that would keep me from going to places where I could get sick. But then I realized that a lot of bad reviews are just because of things I don't care about. The server refused to take a weird off-menu order, or the talking was loud, or they were playing bad music. I was falling into this pattern of making sure all my nights out were vetted by other people, most of whom apparently have nothing in common with me.

I've always been so worried about money that the thought of spending my cash on something imperfect was just horrifying. But the alternative isn't that fun either. I'm starting to learn how to branch out and take minor risks with my time and money.

Anyway, it's not like I remember all the perfectly fine places I've been to in my life, but I do remember, say, the weirdly empty "chalet" in Vermont where the only music was the Blue Danube waltz on repeat for an hour (every time it started again we'd burst out laughing). Maybe it wasn't the best meal for my money, but I don't regret it.
posted by teponaztli at 2:49 PM on August 4, 2016 [29 favorites]


The other day I picked up this book at work and flipped through it. I live in Toronto and if you'd blacked out all of the business names and addresses I would have believed you if you told me it was a book about this city.
posted by The Card Cheat at 2:50 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I used to refuse to go to a place unless it had good reviews on Yelp.

One thing we've been doing lately on trips is checking against the "Tim Hortons Floor". One problem with Yelp and similar is calibration. What does 3.5 stars mean? Is it the same in Barrie and Toronto? So we check against a baseline franchise store that's enormously consistent in service and even store layout, and one that is so ubiquitous as to be in even the smallest towns. In Canada, that's the Tim Hortons doughnut shop. I figure if it's not much better than Timmies, then it's not even worth a look.

But there's often a surprisingly small band between the franchise floor and the top end. 1.25 to 1.5 stars sometimes. Some communities rate their pre-fab doughnuts pretty highly.
posted by bonehead at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


Their relentless push toward absolute homogenization was why I quit going to malls about 20 years ago. Now we have this.

And people wonder why I think voting third party is ineffectual.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:58 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


While this doesn't account for a consistency of styles in coffee shops or bars, let's call Air B&B Style what it is: it's Ikea Style. Because if you're kitting out a spare bedroom or an apartment you no longer occupy, you're probably doing it at Ikea.

In the 80s, Japan had a bunch of home-grown coffee-shop chains that were each pitched toward a certain demographic, with their own aesthetic. Doutour, Renoir, Cafe La Mille, etc. As soon as Starbucks made inroads there, a bunch of chains immediately realigned to be imitations of Starbucks, even redesigning their logos. There are trends in commercial decor, and those trends can propagate more quickly today. If people in one part of the world see something is working somewhere else, there's a good chance they'll copy it. I don't think this has anything to do with world travelers.
posted by adamrice at 3:05 PM on August 4, 2016 [10 favorites]


And yeah it is interesting how much of these design trends are Doing More With Less, creating a strikingly clean look or "reclaimed" aesthetic that doesn't need a lot of expensive materials or upkeep.


Reminds me of when I was doing DIY set design and hit in the idea if you just had a lot of very cheap things and unlimited time you could create striking effects (an entire wall of photocopies of political figures, marked over with neon markers. Walls of black and white balloons, a Forrest of flashy blinking LEd wingers on invisible wire, bought by the box of thousands for 12.99)
posted by The Whelk at 3:09 PM on August 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


I prefer a house laden in fabrics and drowning in kitsch, so I look forward to the backlash against Scandinavian minimalist straight lines.
posted by palindromic at 3:10 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


If we're talking anecdotes: The last decade and a half I have spent time each year in Sweden and in California. When going to California, I've been bringing Swedish comfort food, and vice versa. Each year I have brought fewer food items than the year before, as more items are available in both places.

Some might say this means the world is becoming homogenous and boring, with grocery stores the world over stocking similar items. I think of it as a great increase in variety to be celebrated. People now have access to many more goods from overseas, as well as their local specialties.
posted by Triplanetary at 3:13 PM on August 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


Until I can buy a decent hard roll anywhere outside of New Jersey, I can't believe that the world is at all homogenous.
posted by octothorpe at 3:18 PM on August 4, 2016 [4 favorites]


Homogenization affects working class people differently, I guess. So AirBnB moves already-shitty but potentially unionizable hotel jobs(I have a friend who worked for many years in a union hotel and retired on his pension) well over into invisible contract-cleaner territory. "I go to the fancy grocery store for Swedish delicacies" appears on the other side of the economic divide as "we have Aldi's, home of 90% terrible products and terrifying produce" or "when there were multiple non-Aldi's grocery stores, they used to compete and have nice stuff; now there's one and it's progrssively shittier" . And I know the latter two situations because they're in my neighborhood, where I shop.

The poverty and striving evident at an Aldi's in a poor neighborhood are really upsetting. I have a pink collar job and I'm working class, but I'm rich at the Aldi's, meaning that I can afford to buy only the 10% okay products there and get the rest at Cub.

And Aldi's has an international style, yeah, but it's no AirBnB.
posted by Frowner at 3:22 PM on August 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


I'm wildly obsessive about food safety

It depends where you are travelling, but my general experience with the less first world areas of the world is that if you want to get sick you should go and eat at a western style place the locals don't go to much, which is probably also on yelp. It's way safer to follow the crowds and eat as the locals do, and even better if you can see your food cooked in front of you.
posted by deadwax at 3:26 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I dunno this kinda just seems like they same thing that mass media and globalization have always done, except of course faster than ever, because the communication is more and faster than ever.
posted by atoxyl at 3:27 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Was wondering if this was going to link that brilliant Carles article from before, pleased to find on clicking below the fold that it did...
posted by en forme de poire at 3:40 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


Maybe they should spend some time considering why things you haven't earned can be unsatisfying, and the relationship between everything being easy and everything being boring.
posted by lefty lucky cat at 3:44 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


> I think of it as a great increase in variety to be celebrated. People now have access to many more goods from overseas, as well as their local specialties.

This is true and a good point. When I was a teenager I worked in a grocery store in my Canadian hometown (population 55,000 at the time), and there was one sad shelf with a paltry selection of what was labelled "International" food items, and the grand total of non-Italian "ethnic" restaurants was one lousy Chinese buffet. Nowadays you can go to any grocery store in town and they'll have a decent selection of ingredients for non-North American dishes and there are - off the top of my head - Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Thai and Mexican restaurants (somehow the lousy Chinese buffet is still there).
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:02 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


I prefer a house laden in fabrics and drowning in kitsch, so I look forward to the backlash against Scandinavian minimalist straight lines.

I've achieved this aesthetic experience by the simple expedient of furnishing a home with stuff my grandparents used to own.
posted by brennen at 4:04 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


I've said this before on the blue, but a big reason why every cafe, restaurant, DIY-decorated loft looks the same is because this aesthetic is cheap as fuck. Anyone who has ever built out a commercial space (or renovated a loft apartment) knows this. What was interesting to me after I built out my own work studio was how I started to notice how every restaurant and cafe I went into had cut the same corners I had in the same way, even though I hadn't consulted the International Millenial Hipster Design Manual. Amazing how fast dry wall fixtures and shit adds up! So you strip your formerly industrial building to it's bones, hang some Edison bulbs, and screw something table height to a big piece of wood, and call it a day. Boom, you just started your own business or decorated your apartment without having to pull out a credit card.

Is this AirBnb's fault or is it because of the global economic post-industrial shit show? If there's no more manufacturing, you can't compete with formula retail who have global supply chains, and no one in your town is hiring what do you do? You make your own job by opening up an overpriced boutique/hipster pickle shop on a shoestring budget and the only way to differentiate is play up your localness and go for the high end of the market. Same with Airbnb, you redecorate your place to attract the kind of people who pay $9 for toast at a 'hipster' cafe.

This aesthetic is driven almost entirely by the economics of starting a small business in the current economy.
posted by bradbane at 4:13 PM on August 4, 2016 [37 favorites]


To be fair, once we 3D printers turn into matter replicators and things turn The Diamond Age shaped, we're not gonna have a great time with the ornate neo-Victoriana/Imperial Chinese/Imperial Japanese/whatever's going on in Hindustan aesthetics that will dominate the respective phyles of the world. Especially since those aesthetics also come with social structures.
posted by Apocryphon at 4:19 PM on August 4, 2016 [5 favorites]


Oh look a Scott Alexander link

But “western medicine” is just medicine that works. It happens to be western because the West had a technological head start, and so discovered most of the medicine that works first. But there’s nothing culturally western about it

Not really though; western cultural values are woven through what is researched, how care is given, the actual details of policies, etc. Western medicine is not just bare facts of science. Read the acting and prepared dialogue that people with chronic pain have to go through to get treatment from skeptical doctors, pay attention to the industrial nature of it, the sexism.. There is western culture, western values, western medicine.

Yep, Scott Alexander still dumb & wrong about everything.
posted by nom de poop at 4:31 PM on August 4, 2016 [11 favorites]


Isn't there a thing like this with restaurants, too? Like how Applebees and Chiles and TGIFridays all have the same sort of decor with all the random photos that MIGHT be of the owners friends or regular customers but are actually mass produced someplace specifically for this kind of restaurant decor? I admit to hardly ever going to any of these places, but on the rare occasions I've been in one I've thought "oh, this is just like that other place".

It's also possible that this is just what is en vogue right now, and if we wait 10 years, a different kind of coffee house or Air BnB or whatever will have come into vogue and all these places right now will seem passé.

Really, the only sort of businesses that remain the same across the world all the time are mexican restaurants and fast food joints. Well, and Chiles/Applebees/etc.
posted by hippybear at 5:01 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I avoid noticing this by being too poor to go anywhere.
posted by Pope Guilty at 5:05 PM on August 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


This aesthetic is driven almost entirely by the economics of starting a small business in the current economy.

At the same time -- why these cheap things and not other cheap things, like the sort of "mismatched thriftpunk" aesthetic you'd find in a lot of second-wave cafes? And why a "formerly industrial" building, as opposed to a regular building already zoned for business, like the first floor of a mixed-use building, or one of those concrete strip mall blocks you might expect to find an office or an H&R Block in, or etc.? I mean definitely I believe there are constraints that make this kinda thing more likely, but those constraints are also shaped by notions about what neighborhoods are hip, land-use patterns in gentrifying neighborhoods in places like SF and NYC, etc.
posted by en forme de poire at 5:28 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


If you're going by crowdsourced review sites, you're going to end up at places that are predictable, inoffensive, and probably reasonably sanitary. That's about it.

There will probably be a handful of places that are so outstanding that they get good user reviews based on quality alone, but for the most part, crowdsourced reviews average out to "inoffensive," taking into account the service, the food (or whatever), and the decor. That is just the inoffensive, generic decor of the moment. Places that look different from that are going to get dinged for it on review sites.

Apart from Yelp at least being a straight up extortion scam, the reviewers are all unreliable narrators. You have to average them out, filter the cranks who didn't like the proprietor's eyebrows or who tried to go there when it was closed, ignore the shills, and then rely on a bunch of strangers to find something that offends the smallest percentage of their clientele.

You are pretty unlikely to find anything actually interesting or uniquely local using average user reviews, but it doesn't mean they don't exist.
posted by ernielundquist at 5:33 PM on August 4, 2016 [3 favorites]


Whatever happened to "let's walk down the street and see what we find"?

I don't think I've ever used Yelp or anything like that once to find a place. I've used Google Maps to see what might be near the hotel I'm staying at, but I've never used a review site. I look for some area that has a bunch of stuff listed, aim for there, and then walk around and pick something that piques my interest.

I've always had good experiences.... Am I doing the 21st Century wrong?
posted by hippybear at 5:41 PM on August 4, 2016 [7 favorites]


"I go to the fancy grocery store for Swedish delicacies" appears on the other side of the economic divide as "we have Aldi's, home of 90% terrible products and terrifying produce"

Aldi Süd in Germany is vastly better than its incarnation as Aldi in the US. I was totally unprepared for that. The aesthetic is exactly the same; bad light, pallets with boxes on them in the middle, freezer/cooler cases on the wall, shelves grudgingly provided for things that reject reason by not being packaged in boxes. Random stuff everywhere (cookies and curling irons on pallets next to each other). But, and its a big one, all of the stuff is super good in Germany. The produce is amazing, great salads, rolls, whatever.

I walked into one, and was like "Fucking Aldi," then I had a roll for breakfast and I felt really dumb. I think there is an interesting cultural study to be done on the difference in approach to the US market by Aldi Süd and Aldi Nord. It seems like Süd translated the format of the stores perfectly, while compromising the quality of the products to compete in the general race to the bottom that characterises the American food market. Nord inverted this by inventing an entirely new format for its stores (Trader Joes), but maintained a high level of quality in terms of food (and higher prices!).

I think fundamentally it comes down the cost of making decisions. Going with the flow is going to generally be cheaper than bucking the trend. Sometimes there is some room for innovation, but people have to have a lot of motivation to make the jump to something new. As the world becomes a single global society, many flows that one might have gone with are merging into one that one can go with. It doesn't mean its the right one, its just the one that people ended up flowing with most easily.
posted by ethansr at 5:46 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


But Holiday Inn, they were (and perhaps still are) so consistently laid out

One of the things, perhaps the final straw, that got The Who banned from Holiday Inn worldwide was, Keith Moon discovered that their rooms had a false floor about 8 inches above a concrete subfloor, and, with a special Holiday Inn tool, one could disassemble the entire thing. He obtained such a tool, how, I don't know, got rid of all the furniture somehow, the balcony or the bathroom I guess, pulled up the carpet, disassembled the floor and stashed that, then called the desk to complain about the room. When the guy they sent stepped in, he at least sprained his ankle when the floor wasn't where he put his foot down, and, for all I know, he broke it.
posted by thelonius at 5:53 PM on August 4, 2016 [8 favorites]


To be honest, that's a real asshole move on Keith Moon's part.
posted by hippybear at 5:55 PM on August 4, 2016 [15 favorites]


Fucking Edison bulbs, man. Can we at least get an aesthetic that's actually life-cycle cheap?
posted by anthill at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


That was from a time where "asshole moves" were as trendy as buying a Williamsburg condo and renting it out on AirBNB to technokiddies from Austin attending DevOps Summit.

(I keed! I keed! For real Keith Moon was kind of a dick)
posted by Annika Cicada at 6:07 PM on August 4, 2016


Agreed - think about being a person both capable of wanting to do that and actually doing it. That would probably not be a one-off type of behaviour.
posted by thelonius at 6:29 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


"Worldwide, approximately 208 million copies of the (IKEA) catalogue were printed in fiscal year 2013, more than double the number of Bibles expected to be printed in the same period."

-https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IKEA_Catalogue
posted by sebastienbailard at 6:52 PM on August 4, 2016


If I were to check into a hotel room and find an iKEA catalog in the bedstand drawer instead of a Gideon Bible, I'd be pretty thrilled.
posted by hippybear at 6:58 PM on August 4, 2016 [17 favorites]


Last year I stayed in 8 different airbnbs for work and started getting pretty salty about this very issue. You can really tell the ones where no one lives there, and they all have the same cheap-but-not-the-cheapest Ikea furniture, white walls, fake wood floors, and abstract paintings from overstock.com.

Oh, and I swear every single one had the exact same exact green stripey shower curtain. Every one.
posted by lunasol at 7:10 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


California, Uber Alles
posted by eustatic at 7:16 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm actually still a little squicked out by the idea of AirBnB. I don't even like staying with family or friends when I travel, I'm not sure how I'd feel about sleeping in some random stranger's guest room. Maybe I'm just old but I'm generally happy staying in a hotel room with my own shower.
posted by octothorpe at 7:19 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


the same raw wood tables, exposed brick, and hanging Edison bulbs.

better this than the prefab vinyl canvas signs with bon mots like "live laugh love" and "dance like no one is watching"
posted by entropicamericana at 7:35 PM on August 4, 2016 [22 favorites]


Nowadays you can go to any grocery store in town and they'll have a decent selection of ingredients for non-North American dishes

Growing up in the Southwest people used to tell horror stories of visiting the East and "there were no taco shops!" I still remember someone telling me 35 or so years ago that they went into a grocery store back East and asked where the tortillas were and the person working there didn't know that they were talking about. We were horrified. What did they eat?

for the most part, crowdsourced reviews average out to "inoffensive," taking into account the service, the food (or whatever), and the decor.

Am I doing the 21st Century wrong?

I told a variation of this before, but going out to eat with my nephew I had to smack him down because he was flabbergasted that I said we were going to eat at a restaurant we'd never been to, and I didn't even care what Yelp said about it. His mind was blown.
posted by bongo_x at 7:46 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


California, Uber Alles.

My kid is doing yoga at school now - turns out, Jello was right about a lot of things.
posted by ryanshepard at 7:47 PM on August 4, 2016 [1 favorite]


Charlemagne wore silk underwear. The same damn style silk underwear worn by Tang De Zong. Stupid scrolls spreading across the continent homogenizing styles.
posted by wobumingbai at 8:55 PM on August 4, 2016 [2 favorites]


"...Before Sand Hill, there was Madison Avenue, there was Burbank"

Is this a Disney reference? Or Laugh-in? Hell, not being cool was the whole reason for Laugh-in having that "Beautiful Downtown Burbank" joke..

Or is some super cool Burbank neighborhood in 19th century Paris or something?
posted by sideshow at 9:10 PM on August 4, 2016


I think the Cereal Hong Kong City Guide is a really good example of this. There is so much food unique to Hong Kong, but nearly everything they recommend is a hipster-yuppie joint you could find in any major US city. Even the Chinese restaurants on the list are "inspired" by cha chaan teng - but there isn't a single actual straight-up cha chaan teng on the list. They list four different coffee shops, but where's the HK-style milk tea? There's a "artisan bakery", but not a pineapple bun or egg tart in sight.

But don't get me wrong - these restaurants are just as much a part of HK as the congee shops; the insularity comes from the fact that the list is exclusively made up of these kinds of restaurants. If I lived in HK, my friends and I might visit these cafes all the time, because we're people with multivaried tastes and internet connections. The flipside of this is when people complain a place isn't exotic enough for their expectations. I once saw someone bemoan that a Taiwanese cafe in Toronto, which was all exposed brick and Edison bulbs etc., wasn't as "authentic" as the cheap dumpling place down the street, Chinatown was turning generic etc. etc. but really, that's what cafes in Taiwan today actually look like. If they'd paid attention to the menu and knew something about food in Asia, they would have found that it served very much an Asian take on "Western" food (which is pretty distinct from the "fusion" styles that originate from here). Like, sorry the rest of the world did not freeze in time so you could go feel like an ~adventurous traveller~.
posted by airmail at 10:02 PM on August 4, 2016 [16 favorites]


This thread makes me nostalgic for the decade when we were all tearing our hair and wringing our hands over McDonald's in Paris and Moscow.

I mean, it's the same diatribe, but at least back then our despair over globalization felt fresh and new. It didn't have the stale feeling of a warmed-over day-old french fries.

Everything gets old. Even our hatred of the present.
posted by happyroach at 10:25 PM on August 4, 2016 [6 favorites]


i just want to second everything airmail said.
posted by cendawanita at 12:55 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


I've definitely seen and felt this effect in the last couple of years. We went to Budapest last year (coming from Edinburgh in the UK) and the flat we stayed in was very IKEA in its furnishings. It was in a rambling old Austro-Hungarian building from a century or more ago, but inside you could have been anywhere. We also did a lot of Yelp-based dining for the first few days, but ended up in lots of really bland coffee shops and tourist pubs.

Then we put away our phones and tried just wandering about. We ended up getting one of the best steaks I've ever had from a super-random place by the Danube where the walls inside were green felt(?) and where the manager spent a good hour chatting to my partner about vaping (it's semi-legal in Hungary, so there's a big hobbyist scene of people who make their own liquids and vapourisers). It was great. And not an Edison bulb in sight.

It made me realise that a lot of the things I enjoyed about travel when I was younger (pre-smartphone and easy internet access everywhere) was the serendipity of it. You might have a guidebook that was, minimum, a year out of date (since it took 9-12 months from updating the book to publishing it). But a lot of time was just spent wandering about to see what you could find. The best part is you can replicate that by just switching your phone off. Sure, you might end up somewhere that sucks a little, but a trip full of nothing but perfectly cooked identikit burgers and exposed brickwork is deeply boring.
posted by Happy Dave at 4:04 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


if you long for the authenticity of beige drywall, drop ceilings, industrial carpet and fluorescent lights, please come to where i live for you will find it a veritable wonderland of businesses keepin' it real
posted by entropicamericana at 4:18 AM on August 5, 2016 [11 favorites]


Schwarzmann seems a bit unfair to the app; he's basically asking it to find him more places like the ones he already liked, and when it does exactly that he complains that they're all the same. It's an app, dude. What do you expect from it, puckish empathetic quirkiness?
posted by Segundus at 5:02 AM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


Really? We have Aldi where I live (and its German friend, Lidl) and the products are just fine.

Well, inner city grocery stores (and city stores generally, to a lesser degree - even the yuppie grocery isn't quite as well-stocked as a suburban one from the same chain) tend to have worst stuff - that's where the produce companies know they can dump anything that's getting a little old, etc.

What always strikes me at Aldi, though, is just how low-quality everything is - the produce isn't rotted or anything, but it's older, less flavorful and more blah even than the inner city Cub produce I get down the street. The baked or baked/frozen goods - also pretty bad. The cheese ranges from bland but adequate to extremely bland and flat-tasting. (Note that my source of comparison is not ExpensiveFoodLand but the Cub down the street.) I am nervous of the eggs and have never bought them. I've had to throw away some canned and bottled stuff because it was just so disgusting-tasting that since I had the alternative, I preferred not to choke it down.

But of course, that's because it's so cheap - I don't really blame Aldi on that score. And I assume that inferior, pesticide-rotted vegetables are better for your health than no vegetables at all.

At the Cub, most people are not especially well-off but at Aldi everyone is broke. Broke but striving - people are there precisely for the huge bags of low-grade produce and the simulacra of wholesome baked goods. It makes me angry, actually, because everyone should have so much better, and because middle class Americans never even see all this.
posted by Frowner at 5:16 AM on August 5, 2016 [2 favorites]


1.

Mom is the LatAm "Head of Design and Construction" for Big Multinational Company™. In a nutshell, she rents, designs and oversees construction of office spaces, warehouses and all manner of support and contingency sites.

If you look closely, the main skill in her job is being very fluent on the Big Multinational Company's many compliance policies (not just the ones that facilitate getting the job done, but also security, tech, HR) and being able to fit or negotiate chapter demands with those compliance rules. Office spaces don't need to look exactly the same across the globe but they share a common fingerprint which is much, much larger than the untrained eye would guess.

I guess from being her son and having been raised to appreciate and distinguish between schools, decades and movements in buildings' façades (and sharing the love for travel), I kind of fell into this dynamic where I automatically look for some very strictly controlled venues (none more so than McDonald's and Starbucks) and venue categories (parks, retail banks, drugstores) and in the difference from their platonic ideal I can get a great sense of how strict zoning and construction rules are in a given city, and even infer some of the city's personality.

Ever notice how the average Manhattan McDonald's is much more sober and unimposing compared to Bronx? Or how certain cities (Paris and Amsterdam come to mind) look and feel like an organic thing, uninterrupted by big chains and with an even spacing between important stores?

Are spaces becoming increasingly homogeneous across the (urban Western) world? Sure. Massive distinction between interior and exterior spaces, but sure. On the one hand, best practices and a globalized aesthetic are ever more prevalent (and increasingly being required from the start of a new project). But this is a messy cultural phenomenon, not a controlled chemical one: any attempt of homogenization produces subtle culture clashes, which express themselves as slight differences from the norm, and you can read a lot of local culture in those small deviations.

2.

Italo Calvino, "Continuous Cities II," from Invisible Cities (1972):
If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city’s name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages,signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard andspoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically,looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels.

Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave.

"You can resume your flight whenever you like," they said to me, "but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes."
posted by rufb at 5:50 AM on August 5, 2016 [13 favorites]


Punk house is my favourite music genre.
posted by acb at 7:17 AM on August 5, 2016 [5 favorites]


Is this a Disney reference? Or Laugh-in? Hell, not being cool was the whole reason for Laugh-in having that "Beautiful Downtown Burbank" joke..

"Billed as the "Media Capital of the World" and only a few miles northeast of Hollywood, numerous media and entertainment companies are headquartered or have significant production facilities in Burbank, including The Walt Disney Company, Warner Bros. Entertainment, ABC Studios, Freeform, Marvel Studios, Nickelodeon, NBC, Cartoon Network, and Insomniac Games."

Plus, the Animaniacs were based there, so.
posted by Apocryphon at 11:11 AM on August 5, 2016


I've said this before on the blue, but a big reason why every cafe, restaurant, DIY-decorated loft looks the same is because this aesthetic is cheap as fuck.

This.

After trying to open a place in Seattle, I've become super interested in buildouts. Anything that is even vaguely interesting is almost certainly backed by a truckload of money. We really wanted to have a unique interesting feel to our place, but when we budgeted, the black hole of rent pretty much took that off the table.

It's depressing because it basically means that anything that doesn't have the Ikea aesthetic has a 'my friend owns a designer boutique because her grandfather invented post-its' aesthetic.
posted by lumpenprole at 11:26 AM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


We talk about alpha and beta diversity of species; alpha diversity is the species richness at a local scale and beta diversity the difference between localities. Overall or gamma diversity is a combination of both these things, although there's disagreement over the best scale to measure 'local' at and the best way to combine alpha and beta.

It's possible to increase the alpha diversity everywhere, short term, by introducing species from elsewhere. If the *same* species are introduced in all localities, beta diversity drops, maybe enough to reduce overall diversity. If some of those species outcompete local minor species, you can also lose alpha diversity in the medium term. This is worrying for practical as well as aesthetic reasons because local variety is from *long-term* adaptation to local conditions, very possibly filtered through a bunch of crashes, and it could be unpleasant or dangerous to live through a whole set of crashes as we re-adapt to local conditions.
posted by clew at 12:18 PM on August 5, 2016 [4 favorites]


why a "formerly industrial" building, as opposed to a regular building already zoned for business, like the first floor of a mixed-use building, or one of those concrete strip mall blocks you might expect to find an office or an H&R Block in, or etc.?

This was exactly my point. Because the larger economic context is the de-industrialization of the west and globalization of markets, so if you want to start a small, local biz today and you aren't opening a HR Block-esque formula retail chain or a generic office your options are limited to the skeletons of the former industry that used to be in your town and whatever you can hobble together out of "upcycled" materials and whatever was on sale at Home Depot that week.

A brewery just opened in my hood and their build out is very Ikea-ish, the place is entirely constructed out of bare plywood with geometric patterns drilled into it and corrugated metal roofing. Looks great, very industrial and put together in a thoughtful designer way, but my reaction to that was "man that looks good considering how cheap that was to put together".
posted by bradbane at 12:55 PM on August 5, 2016 [1 favorite]


The flipside of this is when people complain a place isn't exotic enough for their expectations. ... Like, sorry the rest of the world did not freeze in time so you could go feel like an ~adventurous traveller~.

Amen. The traveller has the responsibility to find places they enjoy. You don't get to impose your expectations on a locale! Grar.

To brag a bit, I spent a few days trekking around Macau with an ex. She located a local hole-in-the-wall eatery where you get to grill your own frogs' legs. This remains one of the top 2 or 3 memorable meals of my life. (I also stumbled across a statue of fucking Matteo Ricci, which was another high point.)

The travelling dictums I derive are: when travelling, don't be an Orientalist shit, lose the superiority, make a bunch of friends wherever you are and let them take the lead.
posted by iffthen at 12:30 AM on August 6, 2016


Feel the need to jump in here and support Aldi. I live near one in a gentrifying urban neighborhood and while it retains the typical German Aldi aesthetic, the goods are quite varied. There's rubbish food to be sure, but there's also a huge amount of quality organic food, at very reasonable prices. Also there are always excellent European imports, especially cheeses and chocolate. I buy all my organic soy milk from Aldi, all our organic Italian pasta, etc. it's great for many staple items (and much less nasty than the Cub down the street, no less.) ours is usually full of East African immigrants, students from the university, and white couples stocking up on organic staples because they figured out it was a better deal than shopping at whole foods. It's quite the American melting pot. We like it a lot.
posted by EricGjerde at 5:15 AM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


The Aldi's around here are fine too. It's not Whole Foods, but it's not supposed to be. There are plenty of those types around here. We call it the Ikea of food.
posted by bongo_x at 9:55 AM on August 6, 2016


Off to read the article, but as phone cameras/digital experience-documentation services began to really thrive, it seemed to me like people were paying more and more attention to how a place/food/servers *looked* and less to more nebulous, less visual qualities. And they'd complain about it!

Several years ago I started using review aggregation sites as a way to simultaneously find interesting places and avoid the kind of people who don't like places that aren't just like every other place they go. I just look for a negative review of a place I know I like and look at other places that person has reviewed negatively.
posted by aspersioncast at 1:35 PM on August 6, 2016


Also on the Aldi derail IME Aldi's are completely different from state to state, to the point that it does not even seem like the same store. Someone more motivated than I should look up the corporate model; are they some weird franchise in the US?
posted by aspersioncast at 1:36 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


Aldi's are so different from state to state that they're completely invisible here in WA.
posted by hippybear at 2:08 PM on August 6, 2016


why these cheap things and not other cheap things

Oh yeah, next time you go into a hipster-y modern coffee shop or whatever look around at how much stuff is made out of 3/4" pipe fittings. The legos of late capitalism.
posted by bradbane at 2:18 PM on August 6, 2016 [3 favorites]


20 years ago I was decorating my house in this style and made various pieces of furniture that I still have and love. It kind of sucks that it's so "business casual" now, but it's also part of that weird slowing of our style and culture that 20 years later it's still hip.
posted by bongo_x at 5:06 PM on August 6, 2016 [2 favorites]


Honestly I am currently making a bunch of bar tops and bookcases out of steel pipe and reclaimed wood, so I probably shouldn't judge.
posted by aspersioncast at 7:26 PM on August 6, 2016


god forbid that there should be any risk to the perfection of the prepackaged experience.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5oF1Rd5kis4
posted by Beholder at 9:24 PM on August 6, 2016 [1 favorite]


I really like this Tumblr essay on how bland and just sort of there even major Silicon Valley companies have made their architecture. "Public architecture requires an owner committed to a place. The companies of Silicon Valley so far lack either the capital, the desire, the continuity, or the vision to do anything but propagate a default light industrial anti-style," he says, and I have to say that weedguy420boner makes a fairly compelling argument.
posted by Copronymus at 5:33 PM on August 8, 2016




The Death of Flair: As Friday's Goes Minimalist, What Happens to the Antiques?
That’s right, Friday’s, the once-popular singles bars and burger joints found in the parking lots of many a suburban mall. In March 2016, the famously clutter-filled chain introduced the first prototype for its spartan new design concept in Corpus Christi, Texas. The most startling aspect of this otherwise inoffensive space is the complete lack of Friday’s characteristic kitsch. No tin signs or pedal cars adorn the walls; there’s no dark wood or Tiffany-style lamps; there are no chipper red-and-white stripes to be found anywhere.

If you live or work in San Francisco, as I do, this bare, open look has become as cliché and unremarkable as Teslas and luxury condos. The new Millennial-approved restaurant aesthetic, which Friday’s is attempting to replicate in Corpus Christi, has become the beige-linen wall covering of choice, papering over the scruffier textures of the city’s quirky saloons, galleries, bookstores, and mom-and-pop shops. Suddenly, everything is “nice,” and the steep prices, which well-paid techies can easily afford, are guaranteed to keep the riffraff out.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 7:29 AM on August 15, 2016 [2 favorites]


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