I've had this on my computer for some weeks. Now that I've had some time to think, I'm less grumpy. But still mildly upset.
I had a difficult time at CHI this year – I am doing research that’s more directly tied to products right now, and felt disconnected from the other researchers there. Or rather – felt disconnected from the researchers doing the kind of work I’m not doing any more. If you know what I mean.
So I felt mildly discontented, which is easy at CHI. Along with stimulating and disseminating really thoughtful stuff, the academic publishing industry also creates a lot of fake rigor: work that sounds legit but is actually half-baked. Not that half-bakery is always a problem - one reason the ivory tower exists is to engender madly inventive and wildly unprofitable ideas and sustain them long enough to excite the rest of the world. It’s the dull, plodding half-bakery of HCI that annoys me – the three-day lab trials that apparently all use the same twelve undergrads, the humorless analyses of common online interactions that conclude by confirming the obvious, the hastily-written up observations of the author’s co-workers at summer jobs.
I’m grumpy and feeling alienated. And I know it. But hasty publishing doesn’t do the projects any favors – no matter how good the citations look on the authors’ resumes.
I did have a good time at Michele’s workshop. It was interesting to see people’s favorite design methods/obsessions mapped to a city I’m beginning to know well.
And the most fascinating moments of the entire week came at the end, with Michel Waisvisz from STEIM on electronic music, gestural interfaces, and the makeable world:
This instrument is like an oracle – it feeds me surprises and allows me to respond
Simple interfaces allow for mastery
You do not own the product you cannot build
Which brings me, unsurprisingly, to poetry. On my way around the city, doing my part to help a friend drop off 2500 matchbooks for an art project, I went into a bookstore and saw this final word from William Blake on the power (and frustration) of working with computers:
I must Create a System or be enslav'd by another Man's.