Thoughts on HER

The first time I watched Her, I thought it was one of the most beautifully crafted, meaningful and relevant movies I’d ever seen.  It had everything that I loved in a movie: perfect cinematography, subtle and moving character development, and an original concept. I watched for the characters, and was captivated by their interactions, the emotions that flurried across their faces or in their voices, and contemplated how mankind is going to inevitably change as the roots of technology grow deeper and deeper into our lives and society.

I read the commentary on Her before our class showing, and was amazed by how much I had missed when I watched for the first time.  I had focused on the characters and empathizing with their experiences, but didn’t think too much about the context in which these characters lived. I could sense that there was a feeling of cleanliness, lightness and overall utopia, but couldn’t exactly put my finger on what was giving me this feeling. Our reading opened my eyes to the shift in the role technology played in this future. I love that the creators thought so deeply about how to portray a world in which people have realized that technology should just be a part of daily life, weaved into the seams and framing the world in which humans want to live and experience their lives.  It’s strange to consider a world like this because I’ve only ever lived in a world where technology was flashy and center stage, and I question society’s ability to come to this realization. This world, that city had close to no screens until necessary, but with our world having already developed that way, can we even go backwards?

One thing that struck me, watching it a second time, was what it means to be intimate. The movie opens with Theodore saying the most touching words about someone that end up being a “hand written card” for a complete stranger. I hadn’t noticed this the first time around, but why would they open with this scene? I think it was meant to show the lack of intimacy that exists in the world, and the willingness that people have to believe in any intimacy that they can get. Later, Theodore gets OS1 and meets Samantha. What’s interesting here is how quickly they went from OS to friends, then to feelings. I wonder if it’s because, in this world and in our current world, everyone sees each other at a distance. Samantha was inserted into the center of Theodore’s life. She read his emails, she consoled him about the problems no one else could see, she helped him with things no one else would understand. She was also there for him 24/7, to listen and talk to him. She essentially came to share Theodore’s life, take some burden away and lift him up whenever he needed it. Granted, I think that Theodore was also incredibly lonely and welcomed this intimacy, which is probably why they “fell in love” unlike other users who hated their OSs.

But his ex-wife has a point. Maybe Samantha was so much easier to love because she wasn’t real. She had no past, no baggage and no judgements to understand. She had an “excitement for life” because she had never been alive. Her purpose was to be there for Theodore, whereas real people are always redefining their purposes and all struggling through life. Working through these changes and struggles is the biggest challenge in marriage. Even looking at Amy and James’ marriage, it lacked understanding and picked at old wounds to the point of divorce over a seemingly small argument. The way I see it, as people grow older, they become more and more complicated because of their past experiences, influenced deeply by how they’ve learned to survive life. Being married to someone means accepting and loving them for all those things, and promising to work through the future together. Perhaps in this world, the lack of true intimacy has diminished the mentality of togetherness, and has left a you vs. me, “it’s hopeless” mentality. And when Theodore found someone who was programmed to be on his team and to accept him for him, he found true intimacy.

Society and Technology

The readings this time felt all very similar to me, providing examples of how film and video have helped bridge society think beyond the present time and time again.  Though there are many stances in these readings, from people who think critically about the context of the videos, to those who believe the technology isn’t innovative enough, to those who feel that simply having these forms of imagined futures can alter the future of society.  I agree that science fiction, video prototypes and speculative films are important to us, as they help us to empathize with the characters in the given situation, see ourselves using and benefiting from technologies, and think about what life might or could be.  There is such power in film and videos, and I am really curious about what it is that causes us to feel a much stronger emotion to situations presented through film and stories.  When I think of science fiction movies like Star Trek and Interstellar, I feel wonder and excitement about the story, which feeds into my acceptance for the technology and societal changes incorporated into the story.  When I think of movies like Elysium and Her, I am much more weary of the future, and, strangely enough, naturally blame the technology for this.  Perhaps it was the writers/directors intention for the audience to understand how technology can change society, or maybe we should blame the direction our society is headed on the development and changes in technology.  Or maybe technology is developing because of our society’s direction?  Maybe they go hand in hand and we are just scared of our futures in general!

Either way, I’m glad that, in our generation of huge technological advancements, there has been an increase in interest in and production of these kinds of films and videos.  The overarching message of these papers, which I agree, is that these are important to society in moving us forward and opening our minds.  I wonder how the increase in interest has impacted the film industry and what is chosen to be produced. And I wonder if this interest will continue to grow or end up being just another trend that falls away.

Power of 8: The Power of Creativity

This experiment was really inspiring to read about. The creativity it was able to generate was truly wonderful, and I was really impressed by the variety of interesting technology both the group of 8 and the participating public imagined could come to be.  I liked that the 8 people were from such different backgrounds, yet they were all about to work together to generate new and innovative ideas.  One aspect that is mentioned in the paper that I believe is crucial in these kinds of team activities is trust.  Coming from such different backgrounds, trust and respect are two components that are necessary to empathize with one another and really utilize each other’s skills, knowledge and insights.  People often evolve to become more like those around them or those in their field, so what is considered a good or bad idea, an effective or ineffective way of working and more is determined by what field one is in.  Learning to trust and respect each other’s points of view is, to me, one of the most important parts of working in a team.  This team showed success through their ability to build off each other and innovate together.

I was also very inspired by how the group’s ideas impacted the public, and how much the public contributed to the exhibit with their own imaginations and ideas.  Many of the ideas were so interesting to me, such creative solutions that I would have never thought of myself.  It makes me wonder why it is that, as a designer, I somehow feel constricted in my creativity, constantly being critical and not exploring with courage.  Those who participated and created pretend technologies were innovative through thoughtlessness, in that they were not afraid to dream big and wonder how life could be.

The imagined worlds was an interesting place to start, and I’m surprised by the first example of a world where people value community and the wellbeing of everyone.  I don’t know if this is the critic in me talking, but I just don’t see how this could ever come to be, at least not at large.  There are many communes and small communities in which this kind of lifestyle is sustainable, but there has to be that shared value system in place in order for it to succeed. I was also very intrigued by the imagined technologies.  Some were definitely more interesting and impactful than others; I felt that the towers of wax were a bit strange and infeasible, but was wowed by the idea for flocking clouds.  The ability to manipulate nature, something that humans have always had to adapt to, is a really interesting idea, but I wonder if there would be repercussions for trying to screw with the earth’s natural flow and cycles.  Perhaps it won’t be physical clouds, but a way to change the winds, the amount of vapor in the air, etc… Either way, I found that a very thought provoking idea that was successful in making me think about what we hope the future can be.

Congratulations, Meet Your Child

I am nervous. My leg keeps shaking and I shift around in my seat. As I glance around the waiting room, I think back to what it was like when I was a little girl and came to see the doctor once a year for what we called a “checkup”. I can’t believe we used to do that, set aside a scheduled time to come visit the doctor, spend unnecessary amounts of money to be told we are doing just fine. Now, my home and electronics let my doctor and me know when I need to come in for a checkup and when I need medical attention.

Jacob takes my hand and squeezes it, and gives me a reassuring smile. I put my other hand on my tummy and we both look down. I got the news that I am pregnant two weeks ago now, when my fridge and bathroom systems detected changes in my dietary choice and hormone levels. It’s such a strange feeling to think that there is a little someone growing inside of me. I can’t even imagine being a mother right now, but everyone tells me that I have the next 9 months to prepare, which is surprisingly comforting. Jacob is already so excited; just the other day, he bought a little football for our new, little Niners fan.

A nurse walks into the waiting room and calls my name. Jacob and I stand up abruptly and start following the nurse down the hallway. “Mr. and Mrs. Burroughs, congratulations on your pregnancy! You must be so excited for your appointment today,” the nurse says. Jacob and I look at each other, a bit confused, and he tells her, “Neither of us were told exactly what the appointment today would be for.” “Oh! I’m so sorry, I just received your updated files and data collection, which indicate that today you should be ready to meet your baby!” My walking slows. Meeting my baby? Today? I didn’t know it would be this soon, I feel so unprepared. “The 4D room is right here”, our nurse says as she guides me into a light yellow room with big windows and long, soft curtains. There is a reclined chair for me to lay on and a large screen mounted on the wall in front of me.

The nurse had only left us for less than a minute when our doctor arrives. She introduces herself quickly and briefly, mentioning that my data had suggested that she would be the best suited doctor for my body type and history. She begins applying a gel to my tummy and the nurse returns with a heavy blanket to cover my legs with. Before I know it, a little, peachy fetus appears on the screen, floating around aimlessly in a bubble of liquid. Jacob and I stare in amazement and I feel overwhelmed, but only for a moment.

“Alright, it looks like we have two fetuses in here, where’s the other guy…” The doctor does something that changes the angle of the 4D Ultrasound, revealing that there are in fact TWO fetuses in my tummy. “We’re having TWINS??” Jacob sounds breathless and I realize that I’m not breathing myself. The doctor continues, “Yes, we have two girls here. From these scans, however, it looks like one might have a slight case of autism. The one on the left. I’ll schedule an appointment for you both to see our children’s neurotherapist after our appointment here. The one on the right seems fine, although her has been having sporadic movements and spiked emotions, so there is a big chance that she may suffer from depression or an eating disorder. Her legs are also somewhat disproportionate, so let’s get you acquainted with our chiropractor so that she can start therapy early on to avoid back problems–” “Whoa whoa whoa. I’m sorry, what is going on?” Jacob interrupts with my exact thoughts. I can tell he feels overwhelmed by this information, not as much as I am. Fifteen minutes ago, I was wondering what it would be like to be a mom, and now I am staring at these two girls who are oblivious to the struggles they are about to face once they grow too big to hide away in my womb. And once they’re out, they’re ours to take care of. I don’t know what I’m doing! I don’t know anything about caring for an autistic child or a depressed daughter with back problems.

While my mind is running wild, the doctor has talked some more about the conditions that our daughters may face, offering services and support groups for us to sign up for. I look at Jacob and he is completely pale. The doctor has pulled up the predicted 3D scans of what our girls will look like in four and six months, then as one year olds. We stare at the faces, unsure of how to react or what our lives are about to be. The doctor misreads our stares as wonder and gives us information about pre-family bonding services, where we can take monthly visits and see 4D scans of our babies, spend time with them and get to know them. She also happily suggests getting a live stream of our babies to play at our baby shower. She leaves the room to start the medical records for our girls, and Jacob and I are still staring. I am mesmerized by these little faces, the softness of their cheeks, the acute sameness of one’s nose to Jacob’s, the predicted blonde curls of our one year old daughters. I wonder what Jacob is thinking, and I’m a little afraid to know. I wish I could keep them in my womb forever, save them from the horror that they will face when they enter the world. I wonder what kind of mom that makes me.

appointment 4D_Baby_Shower


A Loose Framework

After reading the paper, “Critical Design and Critical Theory: The Challenge of Designing for Provocation”, I can understand why there is not currently a method to which designers can follow to create effective critical design.  The paper begins by stating that there is a lack of guidance in this field, especially in writing. “We lacked the tacit knowledge to
design provocatively, and no heuristics for this are available in the literature.” It then states that the design community needs to develop a “loose framework” that can help us build up and have more successful critical designs.  I was intrigued by the concept of a reaction differing from the creators intent because I always expected the designer to have had a reaction in mind that he/she was trying to stir up.  However, in reality, besides a guess on whether or not there will be one, the public’s reaction can be unpredictable.  This reminds me of the conversation that we had in class about whether or not frameworks and methods are stifling to critical design, that they limit our ideas and creativity to generate new and provocative ways or designing.  How does a designer balance his/her own creative ideas for critical design if the field provides a relatively clear method in which to be successful?  And if the focus is not on the success of the project to provoke the audience in the intended way, then is it still design?  Does it then become art, an expression of the maker’s thoughts without care of how others will take it?

Designing Impact

A trend that I saw in our readings was the carefully designed methods different projects used in order to maximize the effectiveness of their designs.  These methods ranged from thoughtful implementation to relatable and digestible background information to how the public would participate or experience the project.  I think that, from our discussion last class, that this is one of the reasons why reading about critical design and projects that have already be received by the public is beneficial to designers learning to do speculative design.  Insights about how different methods generated varying responses and levels of effectiveness is important in designing not just the product itself, but how your project can be successful.

Chapter four of Candy’s “The Futures of Everyday Life” articulated an observation and question that I have been pondering on for some time now, but haven’t been able to describe, and that is the role and importance of the designer in this changing world.  We are constantly being taught that design thinking and the design process is transformative, can create real change and can solve the world’s most wicked problems, but it never truly hit me how impactful a design approach could be.  There is a quote in this chapter by Burns, which states (sorry this is long, I didn’t want to cut that much out of it!):

Employing a design approach brings with it…a mechanism for placing the person — the ‘user’ — at the heart of a solution; a means for experts to collaborate equally on complex issues; a rapid, iterative process that can adapt to changing circumstances; and a highly creative approach to problem-solving that leads to practical, everyday solutions.
However, design also goes beyond problem solving. Solutions to today’s most intractable issues…depend on the choices that people make in their everyday lives…Good design creates products, services, spaces, interactions and experiences that not only satisfy a function or solve a problem, but that are also desirable, aspirational, compelling and delightful. These are the qualities desperately needed by organizations in both the public and private sector which are seeking to transform the way in which they connect to individuals.

I was shocked by the truth and profoundness of this quote.  Design really goes beyond problem solving; it sees the reality of a problem and plots a map to bring about the necessary change.  It thinks about how to change a way of life, change the way society acts and lives.  I had been thinking a lot about this trend of important designers believing that anyone and everyone should learn how to take a design approach, wondering about the consequences of this for professional designers.  In a couple years, what will make me, someone who studied design and is trained as a designer, different from an engineer that takes a couple workshops about the design approach?  What role will I play and how will my skills and thinking provide for me something different to bring to the table?  I think these questions are addressed in the quote above.  I will understand, not only how to take a user-centered approach to solving problems, but I will (hopefully) be able to create changes in the way people live.

That is such an empowering thought to me, and yet I find myself stuck.  If we designers have so much potential to change the world, why do I feel limited to a mobile screen?  If this is where our future is headed, when will the role of a designer move beyond “making things pretty” and into creating monumental change?  Or is it inevitable that companies will want to pick up the best designers and my own responsibility not to be a sellout?

At the moment, this type of design is neglected and regarded as secondary. Today, design’s main purpose is still to provide new products — smaller, faster, different, better.

Fiction in Design Fiction

One thing that stood out to me the most in the readings was the role that Fiction plays in Design Fiction.  The analysis of the word, in all the articles, is slightly different, but ultimately showing the importance of defining its definition and role.  For example, in “The Poetics of Design Fiction”, the author spends a lot of time thinking about how close to reality fiction must be in order to be considered fiction and/or useful to design fiction.  He then digs into what the role of fiction does for speculation, saying, “The central question to ask is how [these fictions] are connected to our present realities?”  There is an interesting insight beneath the surface here, which is that the fiction in which design fiction is planted is of utmost importance to the feasibility and usefulness of the exploration.  “This act of fiction making is an intentional act, which does not have deceptive but fictional intentions”.  One needs to be critical yet openminded about the space in which design fiction happens to increase its ability to say something about our present realities.

Alternatively, when looking at reality, “Negotiating Futures Design Fiction” states the that “we do not live in a single and coherent world, but in many different worlds. We can therefore not really speak of the real world since there are many real, actual or parallel worlds.”  This is an interesting thought, that reality is only what we perceive to be true, but the truth is so much more than we know.  Fiction is naturally considered to be false, made up, but this isn’t to say that it is really false.  Many of the fictional things we imagine, especially in design fiction, are worth looking at as reality in order to reap and cultivate the most from the potential of fiction and truth.

Intro to Design Fiction

I really appreciated Julian Bleeker’s essay on Design Fiction, explaining in detail how he feels towards design’s role in creating greater and important change in society and the future.  In particular, a quote of his that really stood out to me was, “If design can be a way of creating material objects that help tell a story what kind of stories would it tell and in what style or genre? ”  I think this really challenges me as a designer to think about what design could and should be.  I had never set my goals when designing to tell a story with the intention of having the story speak to society, but I realize now that this is what makes design a powerful means of expression as well as an initiator for new perspectives.

Moving from this essay to Matt Malpass’s piece helped me understand what successful critical, speculative and associative design look like.  It really astounds me how designers have been able to take their creativity and apply it to what the future might have in store for us.  It takes a lot of thinking and understanding of the current world to imagine such interesting and provocative potential futures.  I hope to be able to tap into this kind of thinking and imagination.  To think, if designers were all trained and encouraged to think in this way, what would design look like?  and what could it do for our changing society?