I was in San Francisco the other day and it reminded me of the eight years I lived there after college. It also reminded me how frickin’ ugly that place is. It is grey on grey, punctuated with street people, traffic, and urine-colored light. Yeah, yeah, it has a few nice parts, mostly when you’re looking away from the city itself, toward the bay or the ocean. But in general, it’s an ugly, ugly place, especially if you’re not in one of the expensive neighborhoods.
Ooh, look at the Victorian house! I’ll admit those are interesting to look at, sort of like a hooker’s foot after a pedicure. And the Transamerica Pyramid does evoke the deep emotional connection of “Hey, it’s a tall thing.” But that’s as far as it goes, unless it rains, in which case the city is ugly and miserable at the same time.
I have many memories of San Francisco. There was the time I got mugged by a bum wielding a butcher knife and I used my hypnosis training to get away. And there was the time I got mugged by a guy with a handgun and I used hypnosis to convince him to take only two dollars. And there was the time a guy put a gun to my head and pulled the trigger just to see my reaction. (It wasn’t loaded. My reaction was “priceless.”) There was the time I came home to find my apartment door unlocked and everything valuable missing. There was the time I got robbed at gunpoint at my job in the city as a bank teller, and the other time I got robbed the same way. There was the time my car stereo got stolen, and the other time it was stolen, and the other time it was stolen. And so on.
Eventually I got a job in the beautiful East Bay town of San Ramon, at the phone company’s headquarters. I drove there before sunrise each weekday morning and spent the entire day in a grey, fabric-covered box. The only visual stimulation, if you can call it that, was middle-aged employees who weren’t entirely sure if they were alive or already in Hell. Then I’d drive home to San Francisco in bumper-to-bumper traffic.
My point is that for years I experienced a beauty-free existence. You learn to live without beauty, and you usually don’t miss it in any given moment. But I think it grinds on you over time. I assume humans are hardwired by evolution to appreciate beauty, presumably because beauty is a marker for where the food is, and where the good hiding places are, and who the healthiest mates might be.
All of this made me wonder if there’s a beauty analogy to music. Music is to the ears as beauty is to the eyes. We have iPods and other music devices to fill our ears with wonderful music. Could we invent a system to give us our daily beauty fix? It’s an untapped market.
My idea is to create a website that is nothing but a slideshow of beautiful images. Over time, a user could train the site to deliver more of the images he prefers and fewer of the ones he doesn’t. The Internet is adding more beautiful images every day, and most are available to search engines. I would assume you could automate the process of finding new images to add to the slideshow. The bad choices would be quickly deselected by users.
How much would it boost your mood if you could view high definition images of beauty for twenty minutes every day, at your computer or even your smartphone? Would it have a measurable impact on your health? I think it would.
The impact of a beauty fix might be more subtle than the immediate buzz you get from music, and I assume that’s why the idea hasn’t already become ubiquitous. We already have websites that have slideshows of cute animals, or expensive real estate, and so on. But I think the big win is mixing images from lots of different topics to keep your brain engaged. We have the notes of beauty but not the arrangements and songs.
This is the part where you tell me someone already did it.