Unboxing a city
My name is Linda. I write a bi-weekly newsletter about computer science, childhood and culture - and there are 9465 of you listening. If you enjoy this issue, please share it with anyone you think may find it useful. This edition is done in paid partnership with MyHelsinki, my hometown, which I’m very excited to get to (virtually) share with you.
Ever since the pandemic started, the world shrunk. My life was contained in a few square kilometers up and down the coastline of Helsinki. Home, and especially the homescreen, became the primary way the world got mediated to me.
Sometime last spring I started to play the YouTube channel lofi hip hop radio. In it, an anime girl does her homework and gentle hip hop plays on an endless loop. There is a cat on the windowsill, a pair of scissors on the forefront. Sometimes it’s day, sometimes it’s night. She keeps studying, focused and at peace.
At any time, there is up to 50 000 co-listeners present and a lively discussion is happening in the chat. There are listeners from all over the world, asking for homework advice, recommendations for something to cook and sharing pandemic stories.
Browsing the YouTube channel feels like visiting a tiny city, sharing a space with strangers.
What does visiting a city mean? Before the pandemic, the answer was quite straightforward. You went somewhere, experienced something, maybe formed a memory, came back.
Now, it’s different. I can’t invite you to visit Helsinki, but I can offer a shared presence around a few of the core ideas of what I think make Helsinki a special place. And they all fit in a box.
So, let’s take a look!
(And the best part? When you can’t come to Helsinki, the city will ship out free Helsinki boxes for ten lucky ones! Sign up here, the form is open for another week.)
During the last year, the city has been looking for the different freedoms of Helsinki - freedom to love, freedom for balance, safety, growth and so forth.
For me, the biggest freedom in Helsinki is the freedom to be boring. It’s the everyday experience of quality, whether it’s our daycare system, clean streets, or double-glazed windows and never having to think about them again. The bedrock and lichen and open sea. Reasonable working hours with plenty of paid vacation. 5 hours to Shanghai, 7 hours to New York. The freedom to be of the world, but not always in it.
Not all of Helsinki is like this - given the diversity of the city there is surely something for everyone - but much of it is. Small and quiet, soft and situated. A homescreen to help you focus.
In computer science, a linked list is a linear collection of data elements whose order is not given by their physical placement in memory. But here it is a selection of things I’ve been reading lately.
If studying together can happen by gathering around a YouTube channel, visiting a city can probably too. My perfect virtual Helsinki day would look something like this:
Start by baking cinnamon buns and making a cup of strong coffee. The Swedes coined fika - but our pastries have the best names (these are called Korvapuusti, a slap on the ear!). More funny translations here.
MyHelsinki has put together a list of virtual visits to the Helsinki sights. If you find yourself already in Finland, check out these self-directed sculpture trails by HAM Helsinki (the bambi is my favourite!)
Put your woolly socks on and play some Sibelius by Pekka Kuusisto and the Helsinki Philharmonic Orchestra. Or, keep silent, the Finnish way.