Colin Wright - On Mobile Lifestyle, Open Source and Asymmetrical Publishing
Colin Wright sans cloths. Photo couresty of ColinWright
Firstly, I would like to thank you for the opportunity of this interview as well as sharing your fascinating story and experiences with my readers. Secondly, I would like to give an introduction and back story for those who are unfamiliar with your work and lifestyle.
On the website Exilelifestyle you talk about your motivations behind the decision to live a mobile, minimalist and sustainable lifestyle. You cite one of your key motivations for these choices being a passion for sustainability. Your experiments with this passion take the form of leading a less resource intense life while also experimenting with creating streamlined business revenue streams that lead to fewer diminishing returns. Also mentioned is your lifestyle experiment in Minimalism, where you talk about “streamlining and refocusing your resources on the things you’re most passionate about."
You are also a self-described humanist, without slapping a label on you, a technology enthusiast who prefers slow, socially integrated travel. I would add that you appear to be a kind of new age wild west venture entrepreneur, seeking to push the envelope of modern business models and socially conscious business practices.
A favorite quote of mine from your site regarding sustainability is this, “I see this as a major opportunity – not something to be afraid of – and I think that people (and businesses) who embrace this change sooner rather than later will be much better off in the end than those who fight the inevitable in order to maintain the status quo.”. Would you like to like to speak on this point in regards to your decision to live a low impact life of continuous and sustainable travel?
I've been a low-impact kind of individual for a long time, but it hasn't always crossed over into my personal life. I focused on sustainable design practices when I was doing design work full-time, and though that kind of thing helped, I wasn't seeing the benefits personally, and it was hard to justify telling clients they needed to use reclaimed wood in their store signage before going home to my apartment filled to the brim with computers I ever used and space I never set foot in.
As a result, when I had the chance to shake thing up a little over 3 years ago, I did, and I made a conscious effort to work what I had learned about sustainability into my personal practices, as well. Minimalism is a huge part of that, as simply consuming less does more for best-practices than buying a whole lot of eco-friendly goods. Consumption is consumption, and lessening that — even a little bit — is a step in the right direction.
Of course, I think sustainability is important for businesses, as well. It's important to have a business that's sustainable in terms of keeping overhead low and making more money than it costs to run, and one that is sustainable in terms of my wanting to continue running it, rather than it draining every ounce of energy and minute of time I have. It's also important that the business adhere to the practices I now hold dear on a personal level, lest I find myself involved in an endeavor that I can't morally justify.
As for sustainable travel, unfortunately there are few replacements for flying at this point, but when on the road it makes sense to use mass transit when possible, to buy local, and to support businesses with practices you agree with. It doesn't take long to educate yourself on a basic level, and if everyone is just a little more conscientious about what they buy, we'll be in a much better spot in terms of product/service quality, but also as a healthy global economy.
Since you are keen on the idea of sustainability, would you mind speaking on the connections, if any, between your message of embracing sustainable practices rather than maintaining the status quo and this related line from your site “If we want to continue to enjoy a high standard of living, we’re going to need to make some changes.” What connections do you see between the difficulties maintaining the status quo and making the necessary changes needed to enjoy our current standards of living?
Unfortunately, the status quo we've come to enjoy — and defend with great prejudice in some instances — is not sustainable with the resources and technology we have today. People don't like to hear that, because it means you're going to tell them they're wrong, when in reality, they're just doing what they've been told is right. Can't blame a person for that.
Thankfully, we can get ourselves back up to whatever standard we like, we just need to invest some time, resources, and energy into more sustainable means of production. It seems like everyone wants to draw the line in the sand: on this side, you get to burn all the oil you want until it runs out, and until then, we'll load you up with Big Macs and SUVs and all the big screen TVs you can possibly watch. On the other side, you have energy trickling in from the sun and wind and water and you'll have to subsist on locally grown foods and wear hemp and change your name to 'Moonflower.'
This is a false choice. In reality, some people will move toward a more local lifestyle (in terms of food and raw materials, at least), while others will embrace the lifestyle technology offers and use it to bring an abundance of resources and energy — all infinitely renewable — to the masses. I'm no hippy, and I'm not an idealist. To think that we can't enjoy abundance using different technologies than we use now is the result of either a severe lack of imagination or other interests (mostly oil and coal lobbyists and PR people, and the politicians they own).
Of course, this kind of switch up is the perfect opportunity to try out other lifestyles, as well. I lived in excessive abundance for a while, and now I enjoy the space in between both extremes: I own a lot less stuff, but what I own is nice. Well made. Expensive. It's a good balance to have, but I'm not going to force it on anyone. It would be nice if people would wise up and realize that no one is going to take away their Big Macs so they can stop being afraid of the future and invest more funds in solar energy.
You demonstrate how to walk the walk and not just talk the talk. You do talk a little bit about your experiences streamlining your possessions first down to 70 things, then down to a paltry 50 items. How useful have you found this exercise in focusing your energies to where they are truly needed, enabling you to find those tools which provide the most utility for you?
It was an amazingly liberating experiment, and the experiment continues, though I don't count the items I own anymore.
For a while it was fun, and a big mind-bending moment to realize I owned so little. I do realize, however, that it's an extreme case, and most people would not be happy owning as little as I do. I might not be, either, if I was settled in one place instead of traveling. What I own makes sense for me and what I do now. Everyone will have their own sweet spot.
That being said, getting rid of stuff — trashing or giving away a lot of the clutter in one's life — is an excellent way to gauge what's really important. Being able to focus, truly focus, on just the handful or dozen things that you really care about is a great gift to give yourself. It's easy to say, well, I'll just ignore that stuff, but I might need it so I'll keep it in the closet or in storage. It's not the same, it's really not. Only owning what you really need causes you to stop and think, do I need this enough to buy it? Even better, having limited space to work with (like a carry-on bag) makes you focus even more. Is this worth enough to me that I want to lug it around Asia? THAT'S a great way to figure out just how much you need that waffle iron or extra laptop.
Taking a rather substantial leap of assumption I want to ask you about your thoughts on the explosive open source movement in information, software and human systems that we find ourselves in the midst of right now. You have a post on Exilelisfestyle termed I Build where you describe your inherent need and drive to be a creator and not only a consumer. With the unrivaled open nature of the internet, growth of online social sharing, along with the exponential rise of content creators in the form of, bloggers, videographers and software developers do you see this leading to a new direction for the social fabric that we live in?
Absolutely, though I think it will look different to different people.
For people like me who feel the need to create all the time, all the doors and windows have been opened, and new ones we didn't know were there are now unlocked. It's truly exciting to see our workloads lessened and our capabilities increased with every new tech announcement and passing day.
For people who consume more than they produce directly (in terms of media, products, etc), it will looks like some kind of strange explosion, where the ground shakes a bit and no one is certain what qualifies as 'good' or 'high-quality' for a while. Take a look at this like the Ouya and you'll see what I'm talking about. It's less-powerful than some people's phones, but it's innovative because it breaks old models and opens new doors.
Will some gamers scoff and say the graphics aren't up to snuff? Yes. The standards in gaming for a long time have been (for some, at least) better, more realistic graphics. Cram a larger array of chips in that thing and make it sing. New parties are coming along and saying they're going to do better with less. It's an interesting though that may or may not be true, but that's why things will be confused for a while. New standards = new perceptions.
As someone who has run an online community called Most Interesting Person in the Room, dedicated to unapologetically intellectual conversation, a publisher of several e-books on topics such as branding and networking, where do you see this shift or movement going? Is there any validity in the argument that like all systems, inherently there are gatekeepers, which are ultimately in control of the direction the system takes and the conversations that are allowed?
Yes. And I think new gatekeepers arise all the time. The nice thing about being alive and conscious in a moment where things are in flux is that there are fewer established gatekeepers with any power, and that means you have the chance to do something really, truly amazing without the traditional hurdles in your way.
That's how it is in gaming right now. And in publishing. And in product design. And in the business world as a whole.
Most people see change and worry that it will be worse than before. The fact is that this is always a possibility, but if you are part of that change, you'll have a say in what the next step looks like. If you don't get a heady feeling knowing that, then you aren't seeing change as an opportunity the way you should be.
You are currently building up your publishing community and company Asymmetrical, breaking new ground by building a “community that embraces new technologies, methods, and ideas to help writers and other creative types reach an audience.” as you state on your website. It seems, as with your other projects I have come across, that this is a well structured and focused endeavor, which you are extraordinarily passionate about. Where are you and your other team members hoping to take this collaboration?
There's many directions Asymmetrical could go, but the main focus at the moment is to get a thriving community of publishers working in different genres and media together and talking. From there we hope to leverage our experience and resources to elevate the quality of our own work as well as some other authors/bloggers/podcasters/journalists/educators whose work we like.
The entire project is kind of a riff on the traditional publishing house model, but we're inverting it a bit. We're giving away a whole lot of our time and resources. That's something all four of us do anyway, though, so it's more like we're formalizing that desire to improve the overall status of the publishing industry. On top of that, we're investing in other people, hoping to get work that we this is amazing out to more people, and in the process making a bit of a profit ourselves. Will it work? We're not sure. The numbers work on paper, but like any battle plan, they always work until the first shot is fired.
This model has a lot of potential, though, because it doesn't really compete with anyone else: it actually helps most other platforms and companies involved in the same space, so rather than being a threat, we're an asset to everyone.