Kids used to ask each other: If a tree falls in a forest and no one hears, does it make a sound? Now there’s a microphone in every tree and a loudspeaker on every branch, not to mention the video cameras, and we’ve entered the condition that David Foster Wallace called Total Noise: “the tsunami of available fact, context, and perspective.”
This week was a watershed for Total Noise. When terrible things happen, people naturally reach out for information, which used to mean turning on the television. The rewards (and I use the word in its Pavlovian sense) can be visceral and immediate, if you want to see more bombs explode or towers fall, and plenty of us do. But others are learning not to do that.
You can get your cable news secondhand, via Twitter or the blogs, which is a little like using a mirror to avoid gazing upon the Gorgon directly.
We need to get smarter about the vectors of time and information flow. We know what the hurry is, of course. It is devoutly felt at CNN and Fox News that prestige or viewership or both depend on being the first, even if only by seconds, to announce practically anything. They continue to believe this, even though no one remembers which of them was first to announce erroneously that the Supreme Court had overturned the Affordable Care Act—rushing to botch a fact that had been officially released to the entire infosphere and would soon be universally available to everyone. “We gave our viewers the news as it happened,” Fox said smugly later that day.
It starts to feel as though we’re Pavlov’s dogs—subjects in a vast experiment in operant conditioning. The craving for information leads to behaviors that are alternately rewarded and punished. If instantaneity is what we want, television cannot compete with cyberspace. Nor does the hive mind wait for officialdom.
We’re starting to sense what may happen when everything is seen and everyone is connected. Bits of intelligence amid the din; and new forms of banality. Within hours of his death, the world could examine the videos Tamerlan Tsarnaev watched in his YouTube account and, on his Amazon wish list, some books he wanted.
The art of asking
For the past couple of weeks, I have been working on my thesis user journeys. Having done these before in group projects I was fairly confident of getting together the resources and shooting quickly.
However, I was in for a surprise. Not only was it hard asking for help from actors outside the class, it was also not something I was good at- Asking I realized is an art. I expected friends and acquaintances to drop all they were doing and be invested in my work without really giving them any incentive. Luckily my friend, Anita who works as a production assistant at R/GA told me a simple rule:
“There are three kinds of incentives - Money, the promise of a great time and friendship; to ask for investment in something as time consuming as video, you have to be able to provide one or more of these.”
and I was providing neither. She also sent me this great talk by Amanda Palmer, it is not only relevant in the context of asking, but also in the context of the public presentations we are soon going to make. It comes from her heart and so you want to listen, to what she has to say and what she has to ask. Brilliant.
Some quotes from the user testing:
“It sounds like a secret”
“I get the message in the bottle idea”
“It feels precious, so i’m more thoughtful of what I say into it”
“I like that I learnt something I wasn’t looking to learn”
“I would like some insignia of the previous recorder”
“Does this stay only between Alex and me?”
“I’m just going to be brutally honest ok?”
“I wish I could leave it in my house for myself- kind of like an audio photograph, and then many years later listen to it”
“There is something intensely personal about this experience”
“Oh, I love the lo-fi sound, cause history always has and always will sound like this”
Stopping, thinking and remembering: New conversations in tech
Over the past year, I have tried to articulate better every single day, my viewpoint that is embedded and at the core of not just my thesis but also my approach to design. Having not been comfortable with the tag of “designer as a problem solver” or “an artist” I have often found myself stuck somewhere in the middle, not really being able to clearly define this viewpoint.
However, since the final presentations are merely a month’s distance, I am forcing myself to clarify this viewpoint, in order to get others to understand the motivations behind my process. Yesterday I came across articles by two people much more articulate than I am, expressing what I have been trying so hard to get at. In an article titled Machines of Laughter and Forgetting, Evgeny Morozov writes:
“Alas, most designers, following Wilde, think of technologies as nothing more than mechanical slaves that must maximize efficiency. But some are realizing that technologies don’t have to be just trivial problem-solvers: they can also be subversive troublemakers, making us question our habits and received ideas…
..While devices-as-problem-solvers seek to avoid friction, devices-as-troublemakers seek to create an “aesthetic of friction” that engages users in new ways. Will such extra seconds of thought — nay, contemplation — slow down civilization? They well might. But who said that stopping to catch a breath on our way to the abyss is not a sensible strategy?”
“The new connected is to be disconnected. Deadspots are the new hotspots.
Moving toward is moving away, and hence, the notion of density and progress has changed. It’s our job to pause, coordinate, and design opportunities for chance”
Reading these emerging thoughts in tech, not only gave me a sense of validation but also motivated me to continue trying to clarify, frame, articulate and express my outlook at the role of technology in design.
The first step in prototyping, is finding the right container.
Looking back, looking ahead: thesis stream of consciousness
Its Friday morning, and I sit here to describe my thoughts for my thesis, not for anyone else, but just for me. So that I have things clear in my head and then i can proceed to structure my presentation.
It is this new way of interaction that is my thesis.
Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You’ll feel like you’re losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.
~ Emma Coats in Pixar’s 22 rules of storytelling
Current state of thesis.
Birds, like poems, should not mean, but be.
Flying books & talking cities: A look at design futures
“A picture may be a thousand words, but a soundscape is worth a thousand pictures.”
What happens when there is a headphone jack in your hardcover book? ”Bound by a thread” by Sana Rao exhibited at the MoMa today, is a critical look at a designers role in authoring everyday experiences with objects.
The pieces designed by her are deeply immersive in the way they bring forth, what it means to be designing experiences for all our senses.
Today in thesis class we were asked to do futurescaping of our own and write a press release for our final thesis exhibit.
A very refreshing dreamy-eyed approach to thesis thinking.