3_Trends_Vol.7: Marie Dollé: Soul Interfaces, Chief Energy Officers + Lifelong Learning


3_TRENDS is an interview series with experts who have their ear to culture, identifying the overlooked ripples turning into swells.

Marie Dollé (MD) works for a public investment bank in France managing the business development of a platform connecting start-ups and investors in Europe and Africa. Prior, for close to a decade, she worked at Kantar. Quadrilingual, she’s also a professor of digital marketing and regularly publishes her newsletter In Bed With Social.

MK: Marie, what’s on your mind?

Soul Interfaces

MD: If Netflix’s biggest competition is our sleep, then Zoom’s biggest competition is our mental health. Yes, back-to-back virtual meetings are stressful and draining, and still lack that human feeling we’re all craving in what seems like a never-ending pandemic. But this fatigue isn’t only about online meetings, it’s larger. We are witnessing the rise of more and more multisensory digital experiences that focus on being intensely empathetic. It’s something French poet Alphonse de Lamartine questioned in his time and setting:

"Inanimate objects, do you therefore have a soul attached to our soul and the strength to love?”

Today, looking at digital interfaces, the answer could be yes.

I have been obsessed with different signals like the ASMR craze (The r/ASMR subreddit has grown +20% in 2020) or its variations like lo-fi and dreampop music (the r/Dreampop subreddit, up from 11K in August 2020 to 107K in June 2021). There is an opportunity to develop these audio vibes in a more profound and intimate way.

Recently, a Twitter friend pointed me to a YouTube channel called Nemo’s Dreamscapes (286k subscribers, almost $2,000/month from Patreon contributors) that does soundscapes. The pitch? “Oldies playing in the next room,” kind of like transporting you to when you were a kid in bed and your parents or grandparents were listening to their music next door while thunder and rain was pouring. If you want to experience this, here is my favorite. It’s soothing, comforting and very intimate.

We will probably witness the rise of “soul designers” bringing a more human feel to our interfaces.

To some extent, this is actually already happening. For example, Krista Kim specializes in what she calls meditative design and healing atmospheres. In her words,

"Meditation can be integrated into our daily lives through art, architecture, design and fashion. My vision is of a future based on the individual practice of meditation which extends to all aspects of our daily lives. I draw inspiration from Japanese art, architecture and Zen design.”

She recently brought this vision to life in the digital world by selling the world's first digital NFT house for $500K. Mars House is a digital 3D file that can be experienced in virtual reality and is a true virtual haven where the lighting and spaces have been designed to bring relaxation and bliss.

MK: I see Soul Interfaces driven by a myriad of things: 1. craves for comfort (a sweet, soothing whisper in your ear), 2. excitement for escapism (novel pretending to be someone or somewhere else — timelines included), and 3. requests for relation (empathy, interaction and softness even from a heartless motherboard.)

It’s interesting how so many of these examples are auditory-based, which I’d argue is more of an intimate input than visual cues.

Separate but similar to Nemo’s Dreamscapes, I’m reminded of Vaporwave — the internet-created genre of modernizing 80’s and 90’s elevator smooth jazz — a constructed time-machine to experience a moment one’s never experienced before. (See also Mallsoft or Future Funk.) Manufactured nostalgia. An attempt to synthetically soothe.

As author Grafton Tanner wrote for Zine,

“You can be nostalgic for something you didn’t live through. Nostalgia can show up by seeing a representation of something that is so different than the reality that you live in. There’s something about having a window into an alternative reality.”

Knowing today’s exact moment likely won’t be looked back upon with neither longing nor lust, we’re hungry for our own nostalgia. Memory is moot. Tech can clearly unlock artificial recollections.

Chief Energy Officers

MD: The future of work after COVID-19 is a raging topic. It is, for instance, quite obvious that remote work will continue, primarily in hybrid forms. Why? Because there is plenty of proof that remote work can increase productivity, efficiency and boost well-being, if done right.

In other words, remote work puts the spotlight on what truly matters — performance.

With this in mind, what’s next?

Answer: Reconsidering our 9-to-5 work patterns and looking into our circadian rhythms — the internal clock that shapes our energy levels — to set the best work schedules.

According to the consultancy The Energy Project, we have focused too much on time, which is a finite resource, while energy can be boosted and renewed. They strongly believe that leaders should be “Chief Energy Officers,” helping people move rhythmically between spending energy and renewing it across four dimensions: physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. For managers looking to improve their employees' performance, this could mean looking into circadian rhythms for undertaking important tasks. It also means acknowledging that some people might be more efficient at different times of the day and therefore, we can be doing the right work, at the right time.

MK: I was recently asked how I manage time, and I remain satisfied with my twist answer, “I don’t manage time... I manage my energy.” (There’s a whole HBR piece on this.)

It’s important to recognize not all time is created equally, or rather, felt evenly. For example, 15 minutes of book reading hits differently at 11:30 AM than at 11:30 PM. Fifteen minutes is contextual. So when people block time for work, they overlook how they may feel in that moment.

My take is, if you’re feeling it at 6:30 PM at the end of the day, so be it, keep trucking. That’s not a knock on work-life-balance. That’s listening to your body. So when you’re in a slump a few days later and X must get completed, rather than having to push yourself through it, it’s already been accomplished. Rest then.

As this performance approach is increasingly acknowledged in workplaces, we have to avoid the “hack” label. This isn’t an exploitation of our weakness, this is merely leveraging our body’s natural strengths.

Lifelong Learning

MD: Learning is undergoing major changes. As the social philosopher Eric Hoffer observed:

"In times of radical change, it is the learners who inherit the future. Educated people generally find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists."

In other words, it has never been so important to keep on learning. If the best practices remain the same, like making sure that information is properly “chunked” in memory before moving on, or using recall and smart, spaced repetition, one of the biggest challenges, in my opinion, is creating an “Embedded Learning Experience.” An experience so seamless, and so much a part of our daily lives that we soon won't even realize we are learning.

Confucius said: "Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life," which we could translate today to say,

"Make your learning a part of your daily life and you won't need to learn anymore."

There’s already a growing market. Just look at Chrome. I noticed that there are many extensions which replace ads with art or educational material: Inforness, Add-Art, Addendum or Hijack Social. Toucan is another extension that allows you to learn a new language “without even trying.”

MK: This could be one of the most optimistic trends discussed in the series thus far, but I also can’t help but examine the motives.

The figure and the ground have been reversed in education. Originally, public education was meant to merely expose the lower classes to literature and the arts. Society couldn’t function without all able to read, write and make informed decisions on behalf of the collective.

However today, there’s been a reversal. Education, now closely tied — no, synonymous — with employment, has become a means to an end. Higher education is the mere ticket. As a result, syllabi are redrafted and classes are “taught for the test.” No longer is it education for education sake, but education for employment, salary and opportunity sake.

Fair, this not every single educational experience, but Coursera and LinkedIn Learning certainly have an air to them. In my view, MasterClass is on the other-hand of the spectrum.

Are we learning because we need to, or because we want to? Can we pull those two apart anymore? Or have we ever been able to?

I have no hot take, but I wonder what drives someone to replace web ads with vocab words. Is this pure, irrelevant interest in expanding ones linguistic competency, or does one frame this as just another “learning hack” and opportunity to “level-up?”

Fruitless learning feels as scarce as fruitless hobbies nowadays. Both so, so meaningful in the light of hyper-productivity and our hustle-culture.

Play for play sake. And learn for learn sake.

When was the last time you did anything purposelessly?