August 2008

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Context Collapse

First of all, I didn’t realize that Michael Wesch had a blog. Now that I’ve found it, I have a lot of back-reading to do.

But here’s a recent post on the subject of Context, as it relates to web-cams and YouTube-like expression. Digital Ethnography — Context Collapse

The problem is not lack of context. It is context collapse: an infinite number of contexts collapsing upon one another into that single moment of recording. The images, actions, and words captured by the lens at any moment can be transported to anywhere on the planet and preserved (the performer must assume) for all time. The little glass lens becomes the gateway to a blackhole sucking all of time and space – virtually all possible contexts – in upon itself.

By the way, I’m working on a talk on context for IDEA Conference. Are you registered yet?

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IDEA 2008 is shaping up to be quite a conference, in spite of my involvement. In terms of speakers, it’s looking great: David Armano writes the influential Logic + Emotion blog — one of the few voices online that understands the complexity of merging Marketing & Advertising with User Experience Design; Bill DeRouchey is one of the smartest people writing and thinking about the future of Interaction Design; visual-thinking sensei Dave Gray is the founder of XPLANE, a company whose blog I started reading religiously back in 1999, when my career as a Web Design person was really taking off; and Jason Fried, author of the provocative design manifesto Getting Real.

That’s just scratching the surface. They’re going to have in-the-trenches expert speakers from places like Maya, IDEO, The New York Times, 37 Signals, and more. In addition, I hear Jesse James Garrett will be doing an in-person presentation of Aurora.

It’s happening October 7-8, 2008; early registration is still in effect for another week or so, until August 17!

There’s been a lot of writing here and there about social networks and privacy, but I especially like how this professor from (one of my alma-maters) UNCG puts it in this article from the Washington Post:

“It’s the postmodern nightmare — to have all of your selves collide,” says Rebecca G. Adams, a sociologist at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro who edits Personal Relationships, the journal of the International Association for Relationship Research. … “If you really welcome all of your friends from all of the different aspects of your life and they interact with each other and communicate in ways that everyone can read,” Adams says, “you get held accountable for the person you are in all of these groups, instead of just one of them.”

It’s a pretty smart article. I also liked the phrase “participatory surveillance” for describing what happens socially online.

I just saw that the BBC tv documentary series based on Stuart Brand’s “How Buildings Learn” has been posted on Google Video. Huzzah!

It’s been a while since I read the book, so I watched a bit of the first episode, and it kicked up a thought or two about the language we use for design. Brand makes a sharp distinction between architecture that’s all about making a “statement” — a stylistic gesture — and architecture that serves the needs of a building’s inhabitants. (Arguably a somewhat artificial distinction, but a useful one nonetheless. For the record, Joshua Prince Ramus made a similar distinction at IASummit07.)

The modernist “statements” Brand shows us are certainly experiences — and were designed to be ‘experienced’ in the sense of any hermetic work of ‘difficult’ art. But it’s harder to say they were designed to be inhabited. On the other hand, he’s talking about something more than mere “use” as well. Maybe, for me at least, the word “use” has a temporary or disposable shade of meaning?

It struck me that saying a design is to be “inhabited” makes me think about different values & priorities than if I a design is to be “used” or “experienced.”

I’m not arguing for or against any of these words in general. I just found the thought intriguing… and I wonder just how much difference it makes how we talk about what we’re making, not only to our clients but to one another and ourselves.

Has anyone else found that how you talk about your work affects the work? The way you see it? The way others respond to it?