Tag: Design

If I Could Talk to the Algorithm

In the film Doctor Dolittle (1967), the title character yearns to “Talk to the Animals,” as the song goes, to understand their mysterious and often vexing ways. It is interesting to observe a similar impulse to understand and communicate with algorithms, given their current forms of implementation. Recent research shows that intense frustration often emerges from algorithmically driven processes that create hurtful identity characterizations. Our current technological landscape is thus frequently embroiled in “algorithmic dramas” (Zietz 2016), in which algorithms are seen and felt as powerful and influential, but inscrutable. Algorithms, or rather the complex processes that deploy them, are entities that we surely cannot “talk to,” although we might wish to admonish those who create or implement them in everyday life. A key dynamic of the “algorithmic drama” involves yearning to understand just how algorithms work given their impact on people. Yet, accessing the inner workings of algorithms is difficult for numerous reasons (Dourish 2016), including how to talk to, or even about, them. (read more...)

Uncovering Ethnography in Creative Practice Research with Machines

This blog post comes out of a discussion with Ritwik Banerji about the ‘hidden’ role of ethnography in the work involved in creating new experimental systems for music improvisation. Ritwik put it to me that “it seems that a lot of work … involves a kind of ‘implied ethnography’ – that is, it’s clear that the author/designer has lots of personal experience with the domain they’re designing for, and yet the technical documentation of such systems makes scant mention of it.” This was a welcome invitation to reflect on my past practice since I had once been a student of social anthropology and am now, as an associate professor 25 years on, re-engaging with ethnography as a methodology. Have I been implicitly using ethnography all along, and could/should this component have been more explicit in the presentation of my work in an academic context? I will begin with some scene setting. (read more...)

Powerpoint Karaoke, a Ph.D. Version

“You win the lottery! You are a millionaire! You never have to work again in life.” This was the first card I drew in the weird little game of Ph.D. life that Quinn Georgic and I designed. I had no idea who wrote it. Everyone was giggling when I read it out loud and started making up the story: “I don’t need to worry about anything, so I started grad school.” The other group was far less fortunate. The card they drew was “You or your partner are pregnant.” (read more...)

Urban Acupuncture Design Theory: Researching New Development Practices in South Africa

Sometimes it only takes a “spark,” a “simple, focused intervention,” a “single stroke of genius,” or “the single prick of a needle” to release the flows and create new energies. This is the defining assumption of “urban acupuncture,” an urban design theory that has become very popular among socially engaged architects and urban planners in recent years. Urban acupuncture borrows from traditional Chinese medicine to analogously think about, and also treat, the existing urban fabric as a living body with flows and blockages, wounds, and pain. (read more...)

“Doing Being a Latina,” or Performing Identities Through a Computer Voice

This is a comment on Meryl Alper’s book “Giving Voice” which explores the topic of enacting an identity (e.g. a Latina girl) through a speech synthesizer or pre-recorded utterances of one’s “voice donor.” The ability to communicate is often taken-for-granted and imperceptible, despite being vital to everyday life. It defines our social performances as family members, professionals, and neighbors. Moreover, institutions as well as identities need to be “talked into being” (Heritage and Clayman, 2010). Although in many mundane situations we get by with meaningful bodily gestures (Goodwin, 1986) such as nodding, shaking the head, waving, and pointing, other interactions require us to use complex language processing skills and muscular control over the vocal organs and hands. (read more...)

Architecture as a Justice-Accessing Technology in Postwar Guatemala

Editor’s note: This is the first post in an ongoing series called “The Spectrum of Research and Practice in Guatemalan Science Studies.” On an early January morning in 2015 a group of lawyers from the Guatemalan NGO Mujeres Transformando el Mundo (Women Transforming the World), social workers, and human rights activists drove me and Megan Eardley (both of us PhD Candidates in Architecture History and Theory at Princeton University) through the department of Alta Vera Paz to reach the small village of Sepur Zarco. We were invited as architecture specialists after training under Eyal Weizman, who was a Global Scholar at Princeton University at that time. Weizman is the founder of Forensic Architecture, a research agency that uses the tools of architecture to conduct advanced spatial and media investigations in human rights violation cases. Traveling through what we thought would be a jungle, we encountered a landscape that was incredibly uniform, with vast cash crop fields of African Palm dominating our path. Although this image has become preponderant in the Global South, flex crops are just the last iteration of a long history of indigenous land dispossession and, in the case of Sepur, crimes against humanity by military forces. It is precisely in noting these changes in the landscape that altered forest patterns and absent villages can become tangible evidence of coordinated war interventions. (read more...)

Dark Patterns, or Shades of Grey?

Auto-playing videos. Bottomless social media newsfeeds. Accentuated “I consent” buttons. The internet may appear as a Choose Your Own Adventure, but some pathways and actions are more enticing than others. Persuasion has become part of the online furniture and is largely by design; central to the architecture of user experience (UX) is the use of behavioral and social psychology to make particular aspects of digital products or services engaging and easy to use. (read more...)

Video Games, Mental Health, and the Complicated Nature of Playing

He melted into the shadows, pressing the ‘E’ key on his keyboard, activating his stealth skill, allowing his form to vanish into the grass around him and making him invisible to his prey. A short distance away, in the dense forest tree line, a group of adventurers waited for the established sign: a flare! That flare marked that the cloaked figure had achieved his task of poisoning the nearby camp’s healing pool, a vital resource in this war against their enemy.  For many of these participants, video games are mechanisms that bring them together digitally, often forming a bond that lasts for many years. The scene above is familiar to many, including myself. In fact, the spirit of gaming is something I have lived since I was young. Perhaps it was my early involvement in video games that guided me to consider them as a professional. As a mental health professional with a background in anthropology, I have long been interested in the intersection of video games and mental health. Over the past 15 years, my interest has been framed by my clinical experiences as a therapist. As part of my wider conversation about video games and mental health, I hold a weekly online forum about mental health depictions in video games and then mental health among gamers. While games are often demonized for their association with addiction and violence, I find that some of the things that help link video games to negative associations also have the opportunity to help address some people’s social and mental health concerns. (read more...)