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Thesis Abstract (version 0.4)

Written by on 3rd October 2011 in "Official" Papers, Thoughts with Leave a comment

We live in a computational world with increasingly blurry lines between our physical and virtual lives. Our modern world is more orderly, more systematic, and more governed by algorithms than ever before. As technology gets pumped out faster and faster, ubiquitous networked computing pervades everything from our built environment to our front pockets. What effect does this have on our lives? Technologists often rush forward, in the name of progress, without looking back to reflect upon the effects (or missed opportunities) in their wake. Focusing on the “how” instead of the “why” these new pioneers develop faster and better ways of systemizing, quantifying, and tagging the world. Are we in turn becoming more modular and predictable like the very machines we rely on?

Within these new systems, what becomes of the role of the human? Where is the space for a diversity of human intervention, improvisation, and interpretation? As algorithmic thinking becomes an increasingly valuable skill, we must create space for capricious thinking to flourish as well. Let’s remember to humanize technology instead of just technologizing humans. Jonathan Harris’ work as a computer scientist, storyteller, and artist, has also revolved around this idea. He reasons, “people’s behavior is largely influenced by the context in which they live…When we design spaces (real or virtual), we need to take responsibility for the types of behavior those spaces are likely to encourage.”(1) What type of behaviors do the engineers and accountants of our current spaces, both real and virtual, value? In addition to these behaviors, what type of cultural identities and ideologies are promoted through the technologies we’ve welcomed into our every day lives?

It seems many of our spaces and technologies are built by people who value unquestioned logic, depersonalized consumption and cerebral objectivity. On the other hand, I value questionable hunches, personalized creation, and emotional subjectivity. With these values in mind, I want to mash up our everyday spaces and technologies as a way to create alternative uses for them, challenging arbitrary systems of so-called technological and cultural progress. I want to hack together our existing real and virtual worlds as way to explore (and exploit) the absurd assumptions that both hold these worlds together and keep them apart. For instance, I am especially interested in the space between work and play. The idea of work was once confined to the tangible real world, while play was allowed to exist in the intangible imaginary realm. Now that much of our work occurs within an increasingly virtual world, I am interested in exploring opportunities to incorporate play into our everyday interactions with technology at work. At the same time I’m interested in what aspects of working can be elevated to the status of play, and how that can alter our view of what it means to work. By encouraging the co-existence of creative free play in both our digital and physical lives, I am hoping to create new spaces of possibility for others to build upon. Other themes I’m interested in exploring include our notions of physical & virtual communities, high & low tech, and public & private property. Starting points include: combining playful games & banal applications, handicrafts & handheld computing, and the environments where we encounter these systems & each other.

I bring to the conversation my skills (in design, illustration, animation, and making) as tools for generating discussion about our everyday relationship with technology. Hopefully as the ecosystem of my experiments evolve, new ideas about progress will emerge to serve as “an alternative to the programmed myth that there is only one future on the flat graph that goes up and to the right.”(2) And perhaps in the process of exploring these experiments, I can create a scaffolding to empower and inspire a diverse group people to take control of their own experiences and relationships with technology.

1 Jonathan Harris . World Building in a Crazy World . World Builders.” Web. 26 Sept. 2011.

2 Julian Bleecker. “Design Fiction: A short essay on design, science, fact and fiction.” PDF file.


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