Great design combines a strong artistic vision with the fulfillment of a real-world need. Thomas Heatherwick, the builder behind the Vessel, exemplifies great design. The first time I saw the Vessel, I was biking along the West Side Highway and saw this wonderful staircase being built. Two things went through my head at the same time: “This staircase would be amazing to climb” and “There’s no way that I’ll be able to climb it because it’s going to be part of some new building.” When I learned that this was going to be an interactive sculpture that you can walk through, I had another two thoughts: “This is so amazing! I’m going to be able to climb those stairs!” and “What kind of person would spend $200 million on a bunch of stairs?!”
When I was in college, David Foster Wallace (DFW as he was affectionately referred to) was a literary powerhouse. He was the author that all of the literature fanatics loved to read (or at least said that they loved to read). He wrote books like the thousand-page tour-de-force Infinite Jest that were too long and complicated for science geeks like me. DFW gave exactly one talk about his philosophy on life, addressing the graduating class of Kenyan College in 2005. The talk was titled This is Water.
After he died, that speech became a holy relic to the worshippers of DFW. But how do you take that speech and make it into something more, both as a homage to DFW and a way of preserving and extending the insights of the author? You create a book.
I loved the speech and was curious about how it could be transformed into a book. The speech is only 25 minutes long, so it needed to be something special. When I was in college, there was a room in the library for special books called The Art of the Book. It displayed books for their craft and construction, not just their content. The book This Is Water: Some Thoughts, Delivered on a Significant Occasion, about Living a Compassionate Life reminds me of the books in that room. It is a beautiful little volume with DFW’s speech split up over pages, complementing the cadence to the author’s writing.
I’m always looking to better capture the special moments of my kids growing up. While having an iPhone in my pocket at all times lets me document these experiences, I feel like I’m not capturing the essence of those moments. I started thinking that technology was part of the problem, and if technology was causing the problem, more technology won’t fix it.