Dear Charming Thoughtful Reader,

An Oubliette, so I’m told by the word panel on the wall of the museum comes from oublier, the French for ‘to forget’. The Oubliette is a particularly harsh form of punishment where a prisoner is left to die, rather than be efficiently executed by noose or guillotine.  Death without food or water would come within a few days - but it could take as long as two weeks to die if you could find a way to drink condensation and cave water.


An extreme, unforgettable image.


Although ‘forget’ is somewhere in the etymology of the Oubliette, that you have someone starving to death at the bottom of your building would be anything else but forgettable for the jailer; the continuous stench of rotting flesh and mounting sewage would be an instant reminder each time you entered the caves. I imagine a slow and painful death also wouldn’t be silent, the cries bouncing and echoing around the passage of caves, transmitting the images of pain from the prisoner to the jailer.

At Nottingham’s Galleries of Justice the Oubliette runs vertically, and as far as I understand this is the style of the Oubliette - imagine a deep bulbous vase shape set into the floor of a cave. You can see down to the bottom of the Oubliette through a small hatch with metal bars.

The Oubliette is positioned below a cave with a ceiling high enough in which it is possible to walk around unobstructed. This central cave leads back to a network of tunnels that eventually lead upstairs to the main court room. This central cave is also well-finished by comparison with all rubble removed. It looks like it has had part of it smoothed away by water rather than chipped away by hand; this kind of interior style choice makes the cave ever so slightly more pleasant than either the Oubliette cave below or the other prison cave that runs horizontally passage-like from the central cave further into the rock.

The horizontal cave runs for five meters or so until its low roof forms a curved dome shape down to the floor. An entirely different sense is gained from the horizontal cave: the weight of the roof feels like it is straining on the shallow slope of the walls. Rubble and debris from the cave's creation still linger in the corner, giving the whole thing an unsteady look.

The Oubliette probably gives the sense of being trapped down (you can’t actually gain access to it at the moment, so I’m assuming), the other horizontal cave gives the sense of being held back. Perhaps the difference in the amount of potential energy an object has in these positions - to the side or below - makes a difference to the prisoners’ status. If an object has to move laterally less energy is needed as it doesn’t work so hard against gravity. The status of a prisoner might be informed by this position of potential energy; a prisoner likely to do a lot of damage physically or psychologically is held down in an Oubliette or in solitary confinement, i.e. Charles Bronson, or Julian Assange to some extent (although not technically ’in prison’). Protesters and football fans are held back, but again not technically imprisoned - they are further up the social status than the man at the bottom of the Oubliette.

Charles Bronson is a maker of strong images that are dependent on being locked up; he is co-dependant on prison for his, for want of a better word, creativity. Recently he was said to have covered himself in butter so he couldn’t be caught by the 12 prison guards wearing riot gear that he attacked. Try and forget that image if you will.

Charles Bronson’s plain desire to be remembered is exactly counter to the role of the prison - your debt to society is paid through time away from that society, that being temporarily forgotten allows the ‘good’ people to get on with normal life uninterrupted.

The only thing that this misses is that jail is a community in and of itself, with rules structures and hierarchies. There are limited options for making strong images in jail - you can be worse than the other people in the community around you, to be harder, meaner, more brutal, these are the only images that transmit outside of jail, often these details are leaked through letters from a prisoner to a friend on the outside, acting like an unofficial press officer. The other options that are regularly present are that of the jail transvestite and paintings by notorious criminals - a subversion of the harder, meaner, more brutal theme.

I’m most interested in the sculptural possibilities of these various prison shapes and the physiological impact that these spaces can have: I am imagining an Oubliette at 45 degrees would have very subtle differences and psychological pressures to the existing ones at 90 or 180 degrees. If the horizontal cave was simply wedge shaped, narrowing to nothing, what would that feel like? Or if the vertical Oubliette had a single shaft of light, what would happen there? If there was a hole to the outside world, with a bit or work might give you enough space to escape how would that then feel?

Another potential scenario that may have swept through the jailer’s mind at some point - it wouldn’t take much for the central cave also to be turned into an accidental Oubliette with one nicely placed rock fall. At this point you’d need the help of the other prisoners to escape, and the sense of the power balance would completely changed. You’d hope not to be forgotten by your co-workers.

Other various oppressive possibilities in which the psychology of the space changes: perhaps in one such Oubliette the cave would be a smooth, hollow ring in which a prisoner is continuously chased by a machine that perfectly fills floor to ceiling.

The sense of not knowing where you are, neither room, nor passage, could heighten the drama. There could be a pitch black Oubliette that rotates 360 degrees, forcing the prisoner to constantly move, to counter the changing pitch of the cave, the potential energy/status of the prisoner would constantly change. Various 360 Oubliettes could be made so that the angle of the Oubliette is in exact proportion to the crime - petty theft at 1 degree, murder at 180 degrees.

All this is perhaps to press home that prison is a very performative, theatrical act developed by societies past to reassure the masses, protect private property, the state, the status quo, and so on.

In this prison museum, the magistrates' court is very literally above the complex of caves and prison rooms, and therefore being sent ‘down’ is exactly that - down some steps from the middle of the wood-clad court room.

Up/Heaven, Down/Hell. Up becoming good, down becoming worse.

Why would you need to starve to death when you could be hung? The only benefit is providing others with a strong image that they might also suffer the same consequence if they take the same actions. It is unmistakable image creation of an image and a direction - you’ll go down. 

One quirk of the English language which I think is worth drawing attention to here is that of putting movement and locations on things. This might be useful in a euphemistic sense - one can have a dog ‘put down’, or we can repress fears to the ‘back of our mind’; we might talk about a ‘gut instinct’ - somehow being down there makes it more honest -, or we might talk in the way of recovery after hitting ‘rock bottom’. Each example produces a more fully-formed image in our minds, making it more memorable and easier to picture.

This placing images and feelings in a physiological space forms the basis of a trick used by magicians to remember a whole deck of cards; it consists of each card being made into an equivalent image, which is made into a story. For instance if we wanted to remember a series of four cards we could say that ‘A big elephant (Ace of Spaces)'s footprint (four of Spades) holds nine lovely (nine of Hearts) Queens (Queen of heart)’. A big elephant’s footprint holds nine lovely queens, Ace of Spades, Four of Spades, Nine of Hearts, Queen of Hearts

The first is far more easy to remember as it forms a story, no matter how abstract, and it is quite conceivable that you’d remember most of that first sentence in a months time, even after just one read.

With a little practise of this mnemonic spatial placing of images can be used to remember a whole deck of cards built from things that have nothing to do with each other simply because they form a series of strong images in the mind. For seasoned card magicians, inventing this other language of images is as strong as the real language of the cards. The world record is below one minute to remember a whole deck of cards in order.

I’m intrigued as to what other combinations of spatial image associations could be made and if they could be used for more adventurous mental activities. Doing a trick to impress friends or in a competition seems like a fine way to spend your hours in prison or at home, but surely with this much possibility there must be other uses.

If I were a brave political prisoner, I’d use the time in the ‘forgetting’ chamber to remember the days before as vividly as possible - the smells, the sounds, the people, the feelings - and the next day I’d go back one further day until I’d un-forgotten days and days of my life, until I’d done my time again.

Now, without looking up the page, what cards am I holding in my hand? Don't tell me now, tell me when we next meet. 





Orginally published here:



Dear Charming Thoughtful Reader,

How to simplify email Email can be relentless, here are some ideas to squash the amount of time we spend with it. Aside from a little prep time a few relatively minor changes to the way we use emails can free up time and attention to focus on significant projects, other tasks and more creative idling. Cheap and easy to send, there is no pressure to reduce or limit the amount of emails we create. And so, into my inbox is a steady flow of nearly 40 emails a day, amounting to 14,000 tiny distractions each and every year. (Which isn't even that many emails by modern standards or your inbox, probably) With a view to cutting the emails I receive in half I am going to implement and experiment with the following eight points over the next month: Unsubscribe Reduce unnecessary reading, clicking and processing by unsubscribing from all emails where the information is readily available on social media.

Add in anything that is usually ‘marked as read’ or skim [un]read, to get your inbox to zero. Automate Any Group Lists You Have To Be On Groups (like my studio group) use the community based forums like to deliver emails to the whole group, often you get follow up emails that are simply the ‘me too’ type, as every email is effectively ‘reply all’. Put these into an automated email folder that takes the emails out of the main inbox, so you can read them when you need to, not as and when the emails come in. Send Less Emails My various experiments with social media seem to be that generally the more you put out the more interactions/interruptions you create, the more responses you elicit. The same I assume must be true of email - the more email you send the more you generate as a consequence. And so… Send Clearer Emails In a slightly counter-intuitive way sending less emails means spending slightly more time writing emails. Writing clearer emails that attempt to reduce the need for a response, often this simply requires an option.

Use the ‘if…then’ format that Tim Ferris describes in the The 4-Hour Work Week - If there is no coffee then tea without milk is fine. If the drawing room isn't free for life drawing classes, then we can use the library. The option provides an alternative sooner, rather than getting an email back with ‘The drawing room only seats four comfortably’ and the decision rolling on for another email. Where possible take decisions off email, use to schedule meetings. (This is a super easy win!). Be clearer about the purpose about the point of the email in relation to the project as a whole - are there questions that have to be asked next week that could also be asked this week? Reduce The Need For Someone To Send You An Email - Provide better, clearer information on your websites, PDF instructions, company FAQs, updating them as new questions are asked via email and in person. - Create documents that feature stock responses in a Google Document or similar online cloud based storage so they can be accessed from anywhere, and quickly copied and pasted into an email. - Make better use of the out of office feature, to shhhh emails during important projects or hours, not just when you are on holiday. Finding Out The Size Of The Problem If your going to change your email use then, it might be worth using ‘http://’ to analyse your emails from the previous month - ‘Gmail Meter’ is like a website statistics for email, (There are others out there for Outlook, etc).

Gmail Meter helps to visualise where and when all these bits of information are coming from. It might even reveal what days or hours you could be without email. It indicates what time it would be best to check your email - after an activity spike has receded when a majority of the day's emails have already been received. You can see this information in the email that Gmail Meter sends you (doh! one more email!) it has lovely charts and information with headline figures such as when you receive the highest number of emails (Mondays are the busiest for me), and your average response time (within 1 hour). These graphs reveal useful things about how you deal with email, which is useful in planning how to make changes, and being able to test the effect your changes in habits have had. It lists the biggest offenders in order - information which might be more difficult to find using just an email client alone. Twitter updates and a listing service called JISCMAIL.AC.UK are the top two of my mass email offenders followed by more necessary back and forth on big creative projects.

The first two can be deleted, as I already get notifications through the twitter apps, I can remove myself from the largely unread Jiscmail email, and the creative projects can be streamlined using the techniques above. I am testing the idea of using a Gdoc spreadsheet to plan out the next project, rather than email. Using Email Signatures Tell people when you will read emails, and when they can expect a reply. I am going to trial this - it always seems a teeny weeny bit passive aggressive, but I am going to keep the mission in mind, take one for the team on this one. Batch Receive and Batch Send Emails From a letter sent to Tim Ferris' in his Four Hour Work Week; 'automate it so your emails are sent and received at a particular times' (I haven't yet looked for how to do this on gmail). The idea being that if you batch send your emails at 7pm or 8am the next day you enforce a break in time so that email doesn't become a quick fire messaging service. I think I need to have more of a think about this one - I can see that it might make more problems than it solves, if it isn't thought through properly. Defining What Email Is 'For' My email account, is now about sending and receiving messages with individuals, not receiving marketing messages from companies and galleries, nor is it about sending silly messages (so much), or 'i'll be home at 7' type messages.

For simplicity, I will define email as ‘work’, and try and re-route fun messages through Facebook or sms text messages, so that one or the other can be turned off at the appropriate time, and I won’t receive work messages in the evening or fun messages during work. Because email is not ordered or sorted for you, it is easy to have an approach to it that isn’t ordered - using your inbox like a work checklist, and having everything from momma’s recipe for apple cake to car insurance docs to an email from Rick from security about car parking spaces, this doesn't make sense if we are trying to be effective, efficient and spend less time on email. The process of considering your inbox quickly reveals how ineffective email and apps are on their normal setting, without you applying any rules to them. Other people are thinking about email too: reflects most of what I am thinking about above - aside from no.8 - the world does not need any more acronyms. lol.




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Dear Charming Thoughtful Reader,

Recently if I have talked to anyone about Facebook – it’s not long before you are reminded that you can simply delete it. The connections on there are friends, work colleagues and family, meaning that it is more difficult to turn it off as it covers social groups for very different activities and social relations. Sure you could delete Facebook entirely, but there would be a social consequence - it removes you from loosely knit social circles and friends you have weak social ties with – these provide you with little bits of contextual information about other peoples' activities, exhibitions and so forth. Facebook provides entertainment and distraction, it is reasonably useful at filling in information about peoples' activities, it provides just enough stuff to make it worthwhile still being part of.

A better goal, if you like using Facebook, is to make sure that you are in control of your attention and that this is used on things you want, including Facebook when you want. Uncoupling yourself from Facebook isn’t as easy as email, partly because everything is bundled up together. If you unsubscribe from an email list, usually this means you won’t get more email from that organisation, you will receive less email overall. Unsubscribing from pages, groups and unfriending people on Facebook doesn’t have the same effect – it doesn’t generate less information - it gives you the same amount of information but drawn from a smaller social circle. Dave also liked Matt's Photo. Sometimes this means that you get aggregate information about someone even if you are not friends with them, but your friends are friends with them. Simply put Facebook, isn’t as easy as email to clean up, sort, and opt out of. Facebook controls how you and other people use Facebook on phones and mobile devices; you are reminded to invite people to use Messenger app who don’t use it.

If you don’t have Messenger installed on your phone the Facebook app constantly reminds you to install it, and furthermore, turning off notifications from Messenger App once installed makes Messenger remind you every time you start the app that you have the Notifications turned off. As far as I know you can't remove these messages. But, there are some things you can do to lessen the impact of Facebook, more generally: - Post less, comment less, ‘like’ less producing less content to be delivered to your network, and therefore create less ‘return’ comments, content and notifications - Change the email notifications. Settings>Notifications> Select – Only notifications about your account, security and privacy - Uncheck – Play a sound when each new notification is received - On a Mac unsubscribe from the automatic notifications. System Preferences > Notifications > Facebook > Uncheck ‘show notifications on lock screen’ - Turn off Chat so people are not reminded that you are online. Options > Turn off chat. - Delete your photos and untag yourself from other peoples’ – this lessens the chances of old photos being ‘liked’ and then recycled into peoples’ newsfeeds - Delete any dud ‘Pages’ that you manage Other ways of dealing with Facebook – go for coffee with all your Facebook friends?







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Dear Charming Thoughtful Reader,


If a commute takes 10 minutes or three hours a day we analyse it - the benefits, the pluses and minuses of the commute vs the job, the cost of fuel and the time and energy it takes to complete. Twitter also needs to be considered when thinking about the mini economy of our attention - who and what should we pay attention too, and what things are we actively engaged with that are in some small form beneficial, to us as humans not just as consumers. There is simply too much social media content for us to process and manage it effectively; Twitter like many apps and programmes are designed to be distracting as possible because more attention paid to them translates into audience and attention for advertisers.

Things that takes our attention, need more careful consideration. The underlying assumption that I am using is that work and tasks completed in uninterrupted blocks will be more productive; small distractions like new email pings can interrupt a state of flow, which can take time to rebuild. Small distractions can also build up stress as they chip away at our ability to have a clear head and to prioritise significant tasks over immediate tasks. PING. Twitter sends emails for every individual retweet, each favourite, 'what is popular in your network' and what other people you should follow. You also get the same information via the App on a smartphone. Twitter's emails add up to a lot of repetitive contact multiplying the number of emails in your inbox and the number of things you need to ignore, click, delete, manage. In the book Nudge, they describe the mobile phone and the status quo bias - our bias towards inaction.

Most people do not change the ringtone, wallpaper or any of the default settings on a mobile phone. You're likely to opt in if that is the default setting, or likely to opt out if that is the default setting. The status quo bias also extends to Twitter and Facebook, they are designed to interrupt work and leisure at all hours of the day, unless you change the settings. To be more productive we need to be the few considering and actively and opting in or out. Applications that have numbers of followers, watches, re-pins or likes also encourage a kind of default behaviour to gain more of whatever the distraction currency of the application is. Our digital social habits have been gamified, in that the number of social connections 'the score' is valued over the quality of the connections. Often we engage with little consideration for what that might mean, what number would be 'enough' followers, friends or retweets? Or who these other people are at the other end re-pinning, retweeting and sharing. We also have to opt-out of this type of behaviour if we are to gain time and attention for other things. Many people I follow are also part of my 1000+ friends on Facebook.

Am I simply duplicating connections so not to offend people? That doesn't sound like a great basis for a streamlined Twitter, er, policy. The amount of people I followed on @bruceasbestos provided more information than I could possibly use, so I decided to refine the list down to a more manageable size. I had a big cull and went from 2000 people to 400 people using about once a day, over a period of a few weeks. Manageflitter, gives you stats on other users and the order you followed them all in. It also gives you information including insights so you can easily identify people that never tweet. It also indicates spammy people you follow, which ones are duds (in terms of providing entertaining or useful information), and which you should stick with. I then unfollowed people I wasn't interested in or couldn't remember why I followed them and people who didn't follow me back. This approach seems like the path of the least resistance, and easy wins in terms of turning down the noise, without making it socially awkward. Twitter isn't email and the conversations work differently; you might follow someone only to receive information from them, not to respond to them or to market to them. My feed was so clouded that I didn't get into any ‘story’ lines as such, perhaps with following less people makes it easier to follow the narratives of each account.

I should probably take my own advice from the 'How to simplify email' letter, and unfollow anyone who posts exactly the same information on Facebook or via email (i.e most) to reduce information across the different media environments, not just the amount of information from each social sphere. Another option is to simply use Twitter to broadcast from and remove community element from it. It is easy to automate other media, apps and blogs to post to it. This seems like an O.K resolution 'à la Seth Godin 's blog - he follows 0 people and is followed by 415,000 people. Unfollowing 1500 people on Twitter lead to about 30 people or so unfollowing, some accounts were pretty quick to unfollow meaning they are probably using some monitoring software to see who unsubscribes from them.

But given the rationale of avoiding the default behaviour of ‘more please’, the number of followers that I retain after a cull isn’t important. This process of thinking about Twitter helps explicitly think about why I am on Twitter, and what the value of being on there is. Reducing the amount of people you follow on Twitter is an easy win in terms of reducing the noise and being able to process information better. It doesn’t amount to a twitter policy or an attitude yet, but it is a start.