I’m really excited about an introductory HCI course I’m developing (with some amazing collaborators) for the spring semester. For the last week or so, I’ve been working with several practicing designers to establish a set of core skills interns and/or entry-level designers ought to know in order to succeed in the workplace. Their comments and insights have been interesting to read, inspiring to think about, and generative of a much stronger course design than if I had worked independently. I’m appreciative of their help, and I look forward to sharing this collaborative approach with the students in my section. Onward!
James Baldwin is a wonderful writer. I’m working my way slowly through The Fire Next Time, and the following passage just punched me in the chest:
Here was the South Side – a million in captivity – stretching from this doorstep as far as the eye could see. Ands they didn’t even read; depressed populations don’t have the time or energy to spare. The affluent populations, which should have been their help, didn’t, as far as could be discovered, read, either – they merely bought books and devoured them, but not in order to learn: in order to learn new attitudes. (Baldwin, 1993 p. 61)
Never have I ever felt so nailed by a critique. Have I ever really read to learn? Or has it always been to learn new attitudes? What’s the difference between learning [x] and learning a new attitude? What sorts of books is Baldwin talking about? And how does Baldwin distinguish between learning and learning new attitudes?
This last question seems to me to be a consequential one, and I would love to know how Baldwin makes the distinction (and if he is on record explaining it anywhere, I would love to read/watch.. so please leave a comment if you know).
I quoted from the First Vintage International Edition of the book, published in 1993.
One of the challenges that I find myself coming up against every now and again has to do with which interests to pursue and which to abandon. Looking up at the whiteboard near my desk I see the following list of papers that are in various stages of completion:
- scientific theories
- most read/most cited theory
- interactivity clutter
- big questions
- knowledge claims
All of these papers (and some that aren’t listed) are really interesting and important. But there are other topics that are interesting and important to me too: curiosity, memory, particle physics, isaac newton and richard feynman, innovation, asking questions, non-fiction narrative, and research. Each of these is a huge topic. And they’re all interesting. And I don’t want to abandon any of them. But some are more important personally or professionally than others.
So, what to do?
In addition to reading books, chapters, articles, etc. that are relevant to the six papers listed above I decided to start reading at least two other nonfiction books on topics of interest and a work of fiction. I started a few weeks ago with these books: Moonwalking with Einstein, Curious, and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.
So far I’ve spent 60-90mins per day (between pomodoros, during meals, or at the end of the day) indulging extracurricular interests, which as it turns out has been something of a boon to my research and writing. I’ve been seeing new connections and opportunities within existing content and experiencing increased motivation and moments of sudden inspiration.
In Being Human: Human-computer Interaction in the Year 2020, Harper, Rodden, Rogers, and Sellen remind us that, “With the uptake of calculators, educationalists became concerned that students’ ability to perform mental arithmetic were disappearing.”
Then, they ask, “In 2020, what other kinds of basic skills might go?” Could reading be next? Critical thinking? Concentration in general?
Let’s take it one step further: What’s at stake if those other basic skills go?
In The End of Education, Neil Postman, arguing against “provid[ing students] with more practical, vocational skills” describes one goal of a public education as “the making of adaptable, curious, open, questioning people…”
Postman’s description of part of public education’s purpose is spot on, and I think it illustrates what’s at stake when those other basic skills go.
How can a person (let alone a society) cultivate adaptability, curiosity, openness and open-mindedness, and critical inquiry skills if we outsource so much of the bedrock for these abilities to technology?