Everything Everywhere All of the Same
March 25, 2023 11:30 AM   Subscribe

The age of average by Alex Murrell
posted by chavenet (38 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
There are trends in everything, film at 11.
posted by grumpybear69 at 11:47 AM on March 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

This piece, too, is part of a long line of “everything looks the same” articles.

Enjoy how people choose to follow one another’s fashions!
posted by migurski at 11:59 AM on March 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

ordinary people
posted by philip-random at 12:11 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Haha, I’ve built all those cities in Lego. I just moved out of my office so im currently staring down into a giant box of them.

Shanghai looks just like Sydney? WTAF?
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Yeah, overstated, but beautifully packaged :)
posted by Peach at 12:14 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

I've stayed in that AirBNB, visited that coffee shop more than once. I have a white car and a white electric toothbrush.

I may be part of the problem.
posted by box at 12:16 PM on March 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

Oh and the generic SUV image from social media is here too! If you rescale and grayscale and blank out the wheels they’re all the same! Insight!
posted by The Monster at the End of this Thread at 12:20 PM on March 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

There is comfort in familiarity, but my dear ones and I do appreciate adventure, so we also visit places like Meow Wolf and the Mansion/Museum on O Street, and that influences our personal style and spaces. Some places like Meow Wolf appreciate that sensory overload is a possibility and have quiet/low-stim spaces built in. The places where we are most dramatic with expression are personal. We moved to a place that is a decent community without a community association because we didn’t want to be held to some else’s aesthetic, however our pink/purple self-built shed is largely visible only to us. When we travel and are subject to other aesthetics, trends and tastes, it’s part of what we accept.

The article is really focused on the average, and that’s okay, but it takes a lot of energy, capital, and capacity (in all of its forms) to be comfortably different. The global Covid experience has diminished that a bit and hate is no longer restrained, so fatigue, low reserves, and fear also influence people into going with the flow.
posted by childofTethys at 12:22 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Re paint for cars: someone explained to me (correctly? incorrectly? I do not know) that the reason we have so few options for car colors these days has something to do with trying to make the painting process less environmentally awful. There's less wastage with fewer colors, I think?
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

I realized that I sit here in a classic Philadelphia brick row house, among many, many streets full of classic Philadelphia brick row houses, because everything everyone built during a certain period in Philadelphia was a classic Philadelphia row house, down to the corner bar buildings at every other corner.
posted by Peach at 12:23 PM on March 25, 2023 [8 favorites]

it does feel sometimes like we're seeing the high schoolization of the planet (conform or else!); certainly when I pay attention to what all the so-called normal people are up to. But then I reflect on the smothering conformity of a decade like the 1970s (when I did all my teen years) and I just don't see an equivalent in the teens of today. They're pursuing way more options. Maybe they're all kept in check by their various "tribes" but at least they have tribes. Back in my day, it was basically Dazed and Confused everywhere all the time ... at least until punk came along.
posted by philip-random at 12:27 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Roger Penrose complains about the physics manifestation of this in The Road to Reality.

He says that when he used to travel, he would find physics departments working on a wide variety of problems with significantly different approaches and even different philosophies, but now (2004) everyone is working on the same things in the same ways.

Which were notably not his thing. He did run into one student who was using his work as a basis for research, but that person became disillusioned or was tired of being poor or something, and became an accountant or a quant, maybe.
posted by jamjam at 12:42 PM on March 25, 2023 [5 favorites]

What I've noticed is that everything, culturally, is better, but it's all tonally similar. (I mean, not literally all, but.) It was really about ten years ago that I found that I was going into the new, heavily curated independent bookstores in town and coming away, often, without a book - always without the book I'd hoped to find. I'd look at the books, almost all very recent, and I'd notice that they were all books I'd probably fairly enjoy reading, they all looked pretty good and almost all of them were full of laudable sentiments that I agree with - but nothing would grab me, I wouldn't feel like I MUST read this book right now. And of course, if I wanted anything that was not current and also not a bestseller of the past few years, it would never be on the shelf.

This is really not how I used to relate to bookstores, or even how I relate to the SF bookstore or the one very large used bookstore remaining - when I go there, I find books I'm excited about, have no trouble buying something and generally start reading it when I get home.

On average, books are a lot better than they were and their covers are more attractive, but on average they are so average. I attribute this to the consolidation and focus-grouping of the publishing industry.

And I mean, there are good books out there, there are unique books out there, it's not like nothing good is being published - but it really sticks out to me, as someone who loves books and often loves bookstores, that the way books are ordered and stocked has changed for the blander. (I used to order books for a small store, too, so I have some familiarity with how things actually get onto the shelf; I'm not just totally making this up.)
posted by Frowner at 12:46 PM on March 25, 2023 [17 favorites]

There is an interesting discussion going on here about the merits of the article (I agree with some of it, but not all), but I just want to point out that the section on swear words in self help books left out the canonical example. (Samuel L. Jackson audiobook)
posted by TedW at 12:58 PM on March 25, 2023 [3 favorites]

Two of the photos in the five-over-one example are literally the same photo (top left; bottom center left). And so much of the criticism repeated itself that I kind of lost focus around that point and kind of skimmed. Was I supposed to lose focus? Was that the point?
posted by fedward at 12:59 PM on March 25, 2023 [7 favorites]

Metafilter: Was I supposed to lose focus? Was that the point?
posted by Kibbutz at 1:26 PM on March 25, 2023 [8 favorites]

That might be my first alt text.
posted by fedward at 1:29 PM on March 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

What I find interesting is that more and more construction in the US is looking like Khrushchevka. My assumption was that they are all being built as cheaply as possible and mass produced on the same scale as they were in the old Soviet bloc. And like in the Soviet countries people are happy to get them because they can't afford anything better and at least they are new construction and not run down yet.
posted by Jane the Brown at 1:57 PM on March 25, 2023 [4 favorites]

5-over-1 is the industry term for some of this construction. The fire risk is real: we had one that burned twice in our neighborhood while it was being put up and plenty more elsewhere in the town (mostly suspected arson). Once constructed they’re great, though: quickly built, high density housing that makes neighborhood amenities like food or transit more viable almost overnight. They’re also no less “rooted in time and place” than older buildings, it just so happens that they’re here and now and so harder to perceive as such.

The original article author seems to sort-of get the incentives that cause convergent aesthetic evolution when they mention the wind tunnel effect on car design, but they’re oblivious to the same pressures that acted on past decisions like new assembly line construction. Today’s quaint old buildings with character reflect contemporary innovations like cheap steam-powered sandstone cutting or the invention of the scroll saw.

Khrushchevka are fantastic btw: they’re a bit overbuilt and can tolerate owner modifications like new rooms, new finishes, or enclosed balconies.
posted by migurski at 2:22 PM on March 25, 2023 [6 favorites]

I actually appreciated the article, especially a lot of the quotes and linked articles within. While sure there are trends always have been, I do think our never-as-corporatized-or-conglomerated-as-it-is-now world might actually, ya know, show the symptoms of said corporatization.
posted by wellifyouinsist at 2:40 PM on March 25, 2023 [2 favorites]

Dude, these interior AirBNB photos are self-selecting for people showing what they _think_ other people -- or at least most other people -- want. They are not people's personal bedrooms or bathrooms. And I don't see anybody else's homemade storage couch -- and I haven't put up any photos of mine, or my color block / accent lines paint jobs.
posted by amtho at 2:51 PM on March 25, 2023 [5 favorites]

A delicious antidote to this article and the general blase, bland, beige trendiness of all this hipster styling is to do an image search for maximalisim. Feast upon a whole weird world of wild, brilliant and unique color, and enjoy.

Sometimes I think rich people, mostly rich white people, are just terrified of color.
posted by birdsongster at 6:10 PM on March 25, 2023 [8 favorites]

I thought we lived in the age of ceaselessly proliferating microaesthetics
posted by Gerald Bostock at 9:30 PM on March 25, 2023 [1 favorite]

Things used to be a lot more cool and now they're not. Nothing is original, except for this thought.
posted by Halloween Jack at 11:14 PM on March 25, 2023 [9 favorites]

this happened to poetry too, which is really sad.
posted by graywyvern at 5:40 AM on March 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

The song Little Boxes was released 60 years ago and gets stuck in my head every time I drive past one of those apartment buildings. ♫ Little boxes made of ticky-tacky...
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 8:43 AM on March 26, 2023 [3 favorites]

One of the reasons I moved to San Francisco in ‘92 was the proliferation of outright weirdness there, stores that featured things you never saw before, galleries with art that said “look at me,” bookstores filled with books to discover and read, music that required you to listen as it was both new and different, and the parade of people here crossing every known boundary of fashion. Just walking anywhere in this city, you would encounter something you’ve never seen before, walking was full of surprises and rewards. Two days ago I was walking through downtown on my way to one of the few remaining bookstores here, City Lights, and I suddenly realized, deep down, that it was all fading away into a beige haze of mediocrity. The beautiful weirdness of San Francisco is gone.
posted by njohnson23 at 9:56 AM on March 26, 2023 [2 favorites]

In the nineties and early 2000s, the neighborhood near the UMN had, among other things, three good used bookstores, a huge comics and gaming store, three interesting independent coffee shops, two vintage and used clothing stores and a bunch of small independent restaurants, plus mere blocks away was a fantastic revival house movie theater You could literally just sort of mooch around the neighborhood and amuse yourself by browsing books and comics and getting a cup of coffee if you had nothing to do on a weekend afternoon or evening. There was a record store there, too, but the city had, at the time, so many good record stores that I seldom went in since it was pretty ordinary.

All that is gone now. Is it replaced by, like, cool stuff that the students of today enjoy that I don't? Not unless "small but not micro Target" is your idea of an exciting venue. Everything except one coffee shop had closed long before the pandemic, and that coffee shop closed in 2021. There's a bunch of expensive but low-quality "luxury" student highrises, the Target, some chains and - the only remotely bright spot - several good home-style Chinese restaurants since more Chinese students have been coming to the UMN in recent years. Unless you want to go out to eat, there's nothing to do. There's a Starbucks, but not a particularly pleasant one - people do study there, but it's not exactly a hang-out spot.

On the other bank of the river, the last few independent businesses hang on by the skin of their teeth, but the university wants to devour them too and turn them into more highrises. That neighborhood used to have one of the cities' finest theater companies, but they got turfed out because the landlord wanted to build condos, but then the deal fell through and the building is sitting mostly empty.

When people are all "oh young people just sit around looking at the internet all the time, why they no go out and meet people and dance and hook up and do young people things", well, they don't do that stuff because there isn't anywhere to do it. And that's part of the beige-ification of culture. The only businesses that can open have chain/restaurant/investor money behind them and have been focused grouped to death and gamed out to extract the maximum value for the minimum inputs, and every formerly unclaimed space has lofts on it or else it's a homeless encampment or fenced off so it doesn't become a homeless encampment.

We've let our cities become intensely corporatized/militarized/surveilled sites of extraction, and that's why there's nothing left except Best Quality Extruded Product.
posted by Frowner at 11:59 AM on March 26, 2023 [11 favorites]

yes and no.
seek and ye shall find.
but what about race and gender and music and podcasters and youtubers and art and ???
all of which are fantastically diverse right now.
posted by danjo at 2:34 PM on March 26, 2023

This piece was written by… a marketing strategist.
posted by rrrrrrrrrt at 3:13 PM on March 26, 2023

I have a white car but through nonaction it has weathered to an uneven heather mix and is covered in wisteria blossoms.
posted by a humble nudibranch at 4:13 PM on March 26, 2023 [3 favorites]

From the article
"we’re fully in the era of whatever this is. Whitewashed, quasi-modern, vaguely farmhouse-esque, definitely McMansion. We have reached, in a way, peak color and formal neutrality to the point where even the concept of style has no teeth. ...
This is where things are heading: artifice on top of artifice on top of artifice. It’s cheap, it’s easy. But something about it feels like a violation"
posted by Barbara Spitzer at 6:50 PM on March 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

I've been noticing this a lot lately. I mean, I've felt like things were becoming more alike all over the place for a long time, but it feels like either we've reached peak sameness and everything and everyone has actually evolved to be mostly identical, or those running the Matrix are just getting lazy about generating our environment.

Unfortunately, the reality is we've done this to ourselves. Social media has driven the concept of the 'Instagram Face' to the point that the only way to be noticed is to look exactly like every other person. Cross-ownership of car companies and having all decisions made via focus groups of identical people with Instagram Faces have pushed every car to look identical and in every way that matters, to actually be identical under their thin plastic skin. We can't afford to buy one in any colour other than black, white or silver because the resale value tanks and modern environmentally-friendly ( a relative term in this case) materials means it's not financially viable to re-spray a car ever.

Houses all look identical because we've all got too lazy to actually think about the house we want and we just pick it out of a book that contains six identical houses. We were looking through sone display homes a couple of weeks ago, looking for ideas for our bathroom renovation. We walked out of one of them and, across the street, was a row of houses purchased from the display village. Although each of the houses was handsome enough in its own right, they were all so similar in colour and form that they blended into one another and it was hard to tell where one started and the next finished. It was horrifying.

Music all sounds the same, even. To my old and therefore unreliable ears, I can hardly tell one modern song or artist from the other. There are definitely some great new songs being released, but most are synthesized, copy-and-paste crap.

Everything is boring that man makes. The only way you will ever see any colour worth seeing these days is to get away from people and into nature. Best Quality Extruded Product indeed - it's what everything is made of!
posted by dg at 10:12 PM on March 26, 2023 [1 favorite]

The AirBnB example makes me think about how there are a lot of house interiors that seem generic and bland, and the reason for that is resale value. People don't seem to want to buy any houses with character nowadays - those listings get shared on house-shaming accounts.

When people are all "oh young people just sit around looking at the internet all the time, why they no go out and meet people and dance and hook up and do young people things", well, they don't do that stuff because there isn't anywhere to do it.

What I see a lot are young people wanting to make those spaces, but without the business acumen or resources to actually do things like start a cafe. They just think "oh I'll crowdfund some money" and that's it. Or you have situations like Dashcon where a group of mostly well meaning young people try to start a convention, with no understanding of how big a project that is, and end up (unintentionally or not) scamming people out of their money.

Like I said, they're mostly well meaning! They identified a gap and they want to fill it! (Though a lot of times that gap is actually filled in some way, but because it doesn't show up in a vague Google search, it's assume to not exist.) But it's not like there are a ton of business loans for young people. Incubators and accelerators tend to want tech-based businesses that are VC-friendly. There's not a lot of mentorship or support available - and really, when so many of these spaces closed due to the pandemic, who's left?
posted by creatrixtiara at 8:41 PM on March 27, 2023

there are a lot of house interiors that seem generic and bland, and the reason for that is resale value.
Yep - if you ask any real estate agent about how to present your home for sale, one thing they'll tell you is to remove everything that is personal to aid people in imagining this being their home because people are apparently unable to imagine how their wedding photo will look on that wall where yours currently hangs.
posted by dg at 9:03 PM on March 27, 2023

Funnily enough, I just listened to a podcast today that touched on why all apartment buildings look the same. I was all excited to make the connection to this meme here but in the conclusion the hosts did exactly that. The answer is basically legislation, fire codes, and construction materials, just like cars.

It's way more interesting to me why uniformity emerges than a banal admonishment to "zag" as though nobody had thought of it. This article's conclusion -- "when every industry has converged on its own singular style, bold brands and courageous companies have the chance to chart a different course...When the world zigs. Zag." -- is already well known to the affected businesses, under terms like product differentiation*. In fact, the title of the podcast, and much of the conversation, explores why, knowing that families exist and there is demand for it, why so few apartment buildings offer 3 or 4 bedroom dwellings. Its treated as a niche, even though the group is too big to be contained by such a small term. So you'd think someone would step in to fill it. And one of the guests really wishes they could!

But a world in which every bedroom requires two egresses, they all need windows and that constrains the floorplan. A world in which apartments are only zoned in noisy highway adjacent spaces constrains wall thickness and material. Minimum parking spaces further pushes you towards the Texas Donut.

But the article misses the key step, which is involves thinking through why we have two egress rules, why we use stick frame construction, and what alternative solutions to these problems exist. Thats what it takes to "Zag."
posted by pwnguin at 2:39 PM on March 29, 2023

Minimum parking spaces further pushes you towards the Texas Donut.
On first looking at that layout, I thought it was a great idea, allowing for plenty of parking with minimum loss of 'useful' space, particularly outside walls where windows can be placed. It also means parking can be relatively close to homes, perhaps increasing safety.

But then I read the article and was particularly struck with the 'one owner vs many owners' concept and decided it was perhaps not universally great. I do like the idea in an environment where space is constrained and where height isn't limited, but love the idea of a city growing much more organically. The 'many owners' things can be achieved through strata title, but there's something different about owning only what is inside the walls of your home vs owning the whole thing and being able to paint it whatever colour you like and plant trees without having to get the permission of 500 other people first.

An alternative that allows more outside walls, so more windows so more natural light and air are buildings where the centre is open (don't know what it's called), with an open 'courtyard' in the centre. It removes the problem of how to make liveable space when you can't access outside walls. You see a lot of this is office buildings in Canberra, Australia, due to plenty of space, strict height limits and a focus on making buildings less reliant of artificial light and HVAC. Many of these buildings are wonderful spaces to work in, full of light and air with views of some sort all around. This does require a much greater footprint, though, so isn't so practical in closely-packed cities. It also contributes to Canberra being a difficult place to walk around, because everything is so far apart. They seem to be building more 'traditional' office blocks there now, perhaps as a result of empty space in the centre of the city being less common and a desire for developers to make more money at the expense of the people inhabiting dark, windowless work environments.
posted by dg at 4:21 PM on March 29, 2023

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