Something I always forget about summertime is just how much time you have to think and reflect. I’ve got so many things on my mind right now that aren’t fully formed, but I need to get them out somehow. Ergo, the mess that is this post. But let’s start with the basics: an update!
So far, this summer has been great. Really, it’s been wonderful. A quick rundown:
First, I started working at the Stanford HCI Group last week! I’ve roped myself into two projects for the summer – hybrid digital + physical spaces and geocaching for education, both super cool and fascinating! – and have a hand in a few more. Hopefully, I’ll be able to keep these up through the school year.
Also last week: I saw Toy Story 4 and cried uncontrollably in the theater. I high-key relate to Forky (undoubtedly the star of the movie) and am prepared to watch it countless more times.
Lastly, and perhaps most incredibly, I went to SF during Pride and somehow did everything in SF but Pride. Instead, I visited my former freshman RA with a friend and made a whole daytrip about it, visiting cute pastry shop after cute coffee house and watching Big Brother to end the day. ‘Twas fun.
This weekend, I’ll be headed back up to go to the California Academy of Sciences and see the Skin exhibit that’s going on right now. Fun stuff.
Every Friday, the HCI team hosts a lunch that’s called #readingwithfriends in the Slack. The concept: a PhD student/Master’s student/post-doc/etc. picks a topic and a bit of reading ahead of the lunch, and we come prepared for food and a discussion. This past Friday, a PhD student named Ali led a talk centered around forestry, high modernism, and clickbait (he wrote a post about it on his blog, which you should definitely check out!). A sketchnote (yes, I still do ’em!) I did for the session is below.
The gist of it comes from a book, Seeing Like a State by James Scott, and how at the turn of the 18th century, people were using… interesting methods to improve their skills in estimating forest capacity for lumber. Inevitably, people take these results and methods and run with them in ways their creators could not have known; in this case, the field of scientific forestry was born, with a prominent German school of thought promoting a monoculture ecosystem that put a specific tree in rigid grid patterns.
It worked great for a while… until it didn’t. Chaos ensued at the lack of equilibrium that naturally-occurring forests achieved and maintained with their diverse flora and fauna, and people learned not to meddle with forests.
The story served as a cautionary tale about how reductive perspectives can lead to conclusions and outcomes contextually disparate from the very systems we’re trying to assess. And what’s different about that from the internet? We assess efficacy through narrow lenses like clicks and watch time, but a click does not interaction make. But because we see it and value it in that way, our reduced POV results in unintended consequences (like clickbait, truly a pest in the digital landscape).
This first session really got me thinking about the implications of the work I do as a designer of these systems. Yes, I can see through A/B testing that one button is getting more clicks than another – but what can I really definitively say about that? How do I capture what’s going through a user’s head when they first see that button, and is that thought what I want them to think?
Reductive perspectives can lead to conclusions contextually disparate from the very systems we’re trying to assess.
Unsurprisingly, we didn’t have much of an answer by the time our hour was up. People got up, threw their finished poke bowls into the trash, and continued on with their day.
When I still called myself an “aspiring writer” (around the age of 15), I was deeply involved in this writing forum called Figment. On Figment, I’d write stories – long ones, short ones, prose, free verse, sonnets, you name it – and put them all in their own books. For anything that wasn’t long enough to warrant its own book, I threw it into a miscellaneous book I called Thoughts From Everywhere. Descriptive, I know.
I still think sometimes that if I just had the attention span of anything more than a house fly, I could pull off being a writer. But alas, it wasn’t meant to be; I soon grew out of Figment, and I lost the will (and eventually, time) to write.
Fast forward: as I tidy up my portfolio and get ready for the onslaught that is job hunting, I unintentionally dipped my toes into the past when I stumbled onto my old stories and projects. It was actually my writing that got me into graphic design – first, designing book covers for my friends and strangers, then later starting an online literary magazine. In that way, I owe a lot to books and writing for guiding me to where I am today (even if my writing never got any better, I suppose).
I still think sometimes that if I just had the attention span of anything more than a house fly, I could pull off being a writer.
I miss writing (or perhaps the idea of it). I feel it in my hands whenever I open a new notebook, aching at the blank page that’s ripe with potential. I approximate it with this blog and these posts; writing from time to time is nice, but the potential to construct new worlds still lingers a bit.
I don’t really have a cogent conclusion for any of these disparate stories to impart to you, much as I don’t have a cogent conclusion for them in real life. I mean, tomorrow’s the Fourth of July, and I don’t know what I’m doing yet. Will I be watching fireworks? Headed to a BBQ? Who knows! (Sorry about that.)
But it’s nice at least to get it all out there.
Until next time,