Putting Yourself Out There

My sister convinced me to do it. Speed dating. It was over a series of texts one evening when I was, I will admit, feeling rather sorry for myself. We signed up a couple of weeks in advance, which gave me plenty of time to bounce between regret, amusement, horror, and curiosity.

Finally, I decided the only way I could reconcile my mind to the idea of speed dating, I would write a report about my experience. This is that report, a week or so after the event.

Social Stigma

There is a stigma against speed dating, much as there is against online dating. The latter’s stigma is losing steam simply because so many people spend a lot of time online in the first place; it’s how they interact with friends and family around the world. It is making more sense to people that they can find a significant other through this method.

Speed dating, I feel, continues to carry a rather heavy stigma because people are portrayed as desperate; the cattle-like shuffling as people switch from table to table, wondering if the next person will be interesting enough to carry a six minute conversation.

Why do it?

Honestly, why not? I am a young professional who keeps herself extremely busy. I’m a workaholic in most facets of my life and very accomplished because of it. The odds of me meeting someone while I’m doing one of my many activities, and them having the guts to speak to me, grows smaller all the time.

You have no idea how often people have told me, “You’re kind of intimidating.” I’ve been hearing this since the 10th grade. Rather annoying, that. So speed dating, I figured, is one way to level the playing field.

The Experience

My sister and I entered the restaurant and were led to a back area that had tables and booths lined up. We were given name tags with a number on it which designated where we should sit, and sheets of paper with numbered rows so we could take notes about the men we spoke to.

The coordinator instructed us to have fun, be open, and use the sheets of paper to remember who we spoke to. I sat down and smiled at my first interviewee.

Which really, when you think about it, that’s all speed dating is: speed interviewing. Within a minute of sitting there asking questions and answering them, I realized that I felt comfortable because this is what I do for a living. As a usability analyst, it is my job to establish a connection with my test participant as quickly as possible so that they feel comfortable critiquing the design I put before them. I’m not testing them, I’m testing the design.

Well, with speed dating, you are testing them, but in a subtle way. How are you doing today? Is this your first time doing this sort of thing? What do you like to do? What is your favorite color? What are your hobbies? What is your job? Your education?

These are factors that I ended up using to determine if this person was…

  1. Interesting
  2. Able to answer questions
  3. Socially awkward (allowing for the environment, of course)
  4. Educated
  5. Someone I would want to continue speaking with later.

I had worked a ten hour day interviewing five participants during 1.5hr sessions. I went straight from work to the event with no time for food. As such, I was still in interview mode. Which paid off quite nicely in that I wasn’t nervous at all. I was awkward, but no more than normal. I admitted this was my first time attending an event like this, and people gave me pointers.

Honestly, it was no more than a two hour extension of my work day. But I wasn’t getting paid for it. Unless you count the idea that I might have met The One that night. Not likely, but a possibility anyway.

At the end of six minutes, the coordinator rang a bell. The gentlemen picked up their coats, drinks, and clipboards and shuffled to the next table. Us women scribbled notes on our sheets of paper, marking down whether we found anyone interesting. There were nine couples there, and by Person 7, I was flagging hardcore. I pushed through, forcing myself to stay smiley and enthusiastic.

By the end, I circled two men who were interesting enough to continue the conversation. I figured I might as well… I had paid to sit there talking to people when, a year ago, I did that sort of thing for free because I was in school and exposed to new people every day. The grad student in me resented the expense even though I could afford it.

Conclusions

Speed dating is not as bad as people make it out to be. I may be thinking this because it’s my job to interview people and make connections. Or because one of my strengths is conversation. Or because I knew I’d get a story out of it, and I’m always looking for new fiction ideas.

Or maybe because my heart wasn’t really in it, but my curious nature couldn’t help but try it out. I didn’t put pressure on myself because I didn’t believe I would meet anyone super interesting. Do you know how difficult it is to be interesting in under six minutes?

And that, I believe, is why people end up distrusting speed dating… six minutes is enough time to determine if you don’t want to continue talking with someone. It’s not necessarily enough time to determine if you do. At best, after six minutes, if you’ve decided this person you’re speaking with isn’t a complete mismatch, bore, etc, all you know is just that. Nothing else.

If you’re interested in meeting people or practicing your conversation skills, try speed dating. At $30 a pop, it doesn’t hurt. But if you go in there expecting to find The One, you are putting unnecessary pressure on yourself that will ruin the experience.

In the end, the event was worth it because I was reminded that I am good at making people feel comfortable enough that they can open up to me. That I can hold a conversation with anyone. The trick, now, is to find someone I actually want to have a conversation with.

Interactions vs CHI, Oh My!

I’m in the process of absorbing everything I learned at Interactions 11 this past week, but the topic of this post is to address the surprising backlash against ACM’s SigCHI. I’m writing this post because I attended both conferences in the last year,  and feel like chatting about them.

For full disclaimer, I have a masters degree in human computer interaction design from a program that emphasizes the philosophical discourse of experience design, churning out graduates who choose to be user researchers, user experience designers, interaction designers, information architects, the list goes on. I submitted to CHI 2010 and was accepted as a work-in-progress for my masters thesis, an honor for me because I was a master’s candidate only. So I have ties with the CHI community both because of recent achievements and my background in computer engineering.

The first keynote speaker was Bill Verplank at Interactions 11, the man who caused the hoopla that set the tone for the remainder of the conference until Bruce Sterling gave his closing remarks. Verplank’s keynote was a rehash of what he usually talks about…he sketches his understanding of the system that we as designers need to understand: the relationships between people and what they think, feel, and do in the world. Search Verplank and you’ll see a youtube video that is basically the keynote he gave, but with one small difference.

In his keynote, Verplank said that he hadn’t been to CHI in years and wouldn’t recommend anyone go there anymore because the conference was rigid and outdated. Caught up in the moment, I’ll admit I laughed and maybe even cheered a little with the crowd. It wasn’t until later, where I was joking with someone, did his words sink in. He was saying CHI was the hairy old uncle that no one wanted to listen to anymore, because it had history and rules and the like.

Seems to me that an organization who has Genevieve Bell as its opening plenary, one that accepts a paper about empowering personal identity which discusses Steampunk, isn’t quite so old or hairy. I want to be Bell when I grow up. My sketchnotes on her plenary are filled with Bell-loving because she is pushing the CHI community to think about more than just computers. Cue fangirling now.

What is the point of this post? I’m trying to understand why Interactions has such a backlash against CHI. At its heart, I suspect it’s because Interactions is trying very hard not to be CHI. The whole “we’re better because we aren’t you” type thing that defined the relationship between America and the UK, historically-speaking. Interactions needs to assert its place in the conference world and unfortunately, Verplank took it in a negative direction that fed into latent culture clashes.

Here’s the thing: CHI probably isn’t a good venue for most of the people who attend Interactions, but not because CHI sucks, but because most IxDA practitioners don’t have a formal education in interaction design. It all depends on your intent.

For most IxDA practitioners, CHI isn’t going to work. Not because it sucks, but because most IxDA practitioners don’t have a formal, academic education in interaction design. They are primarily DIY and learn-as-you-go.

This is why I feel Interactions attendees won’t enjoy CHI. They aren’t used to academic presentations, which are, admittedly, often very dry. CHI presentations are content heavy; focused on methodologies, rigor, grounding their claims in user research. I think more than a couple of lightning talks at Interactions would have benefited from an academic asking the simple question of, “And why do you say that?” There were a number of claims made that had little support, except that the speaker had been chosen by the Interactions committee to speak.

The great thing about the closing remarks from Bruce Sterling was that he attended the entire conference, and had comments about all the major points made, giving tough love to everyone. He reminded everyone in the room that whether they liked it or not, they came from CHI. They would never escape CHI. Heck, in less than 20 years, they were going to be CHI. No one likes to be reminded that someday, they are going to be that hairy old uncle no one wants to listen to. People went nuts over his statements like interaction design was suffering from “user-Stockholm syndrome.” What does that mean? What can he mean?

I’m not sure either. The fact is, CHI and Interactions both bring beneficial thoughts to the world. It just depends whether you prefer a more academic- or industry-minded approach.

/end Reflection

Giving Thanks from 2010

This has been an interesting year. One that I feel I should document by giving thanks. I think of these events daily, so don’t think this is simply because Thanksgiving is tomorrow. I dislike that idea as much as only telling our loved ones of our affection on Valentine’s Day. Rather, this is a convenient time for me to reflect. So here goes.

January

I was notified that my work-in-progress paper was accepted for CHI 2010. This is a big deal, you guys. My adviser, Shaowen Bardzell, told me I was the only masters candidate to be accepted at my school, and the only other paper accepted was a 4th year PhD student. She told me to stop freaking about the future and accept the fact that I have represented myself and the school well. I am very thankful I have women like Shaowen Bardzell in my life for being an exemplar of a professional woman, yet approachable and willing to force perspective into view.

I began interviewing Steampunks of all sorts about how and why they became involved in the culture. I’m so thankful that nine people took time out of their busy schedules to speak with me to inform my thesis and help me realize who I am as well: A Maker.

February

I presented a sample of my work to the IST Conference at my grad school, Indiana University – Bloomington, and even though I broke all the presentation rules taught to the IST students, I got really positive reviews. Funny story: when walking past some professors I heard one of them talk about how symmetrical I was. I took this as a compliment, thinking he was talking about my presentation logic and flow. No indeed. He was talking about my genetics. He thought I was an attractive young lady and that the symmetry of my face played a part in that. I am thankful for the awkward stories that make me laugh when I think about them later.

My red glasses broke around this time and I bought a new set from Zenni Optical. I am so thankful that the internet makes it possible for me to afford new glasses at a steep, steep discount.

We began ramping up the Super Secret Meetings for our Super Secret Project for the professors. I am thankful that I found like-minded, assertive people like Chad, Lynn, Dane, Lorelei, and Yujia to help organize an entire cohort of people to make an amazingly heartfelt series of books for our professors.

Have I mentioned how thankful I am that I had a roommate like Lynn who could make me laugh with the ridiculous things she found on the internet? I’m going through old emails and am just cracking up. I should make a book of all the crazy stuff she finds. Just brilliant.

March

I am thankful I got to be a part of Shaowen receiving the teacher of the year award, and her first keynote at the local Women in Computing awards banquet. I had nothing to do with the selection, but I was happy to support her, especially after how she supported me with my thesis and doubts and suspicions I wasn’t nearly as smart as everyone had duped themselves into believing.

I am thankful for my friend Heiko (who I called “Teddy”), for following through with his promise to give me hugs whenever he saw me. That simple kindness got me through some tough times in graduate school.

I am thankful for my friend Matt who continued the role of older brother to me while I was figuring out some existential-crises-type moments.

I am thankful to Yvonne Lopez, who worked with me and the CHI admittance board to make it so I was able to afford to go to CHI, especially since I was a work-in-progress paper. I sent her a thank you note because I knew it couldn’t have been easy for her. She found my roommate, Lynn, at CHI just to tell her that my little note had made her year. I am thankful for the little things.

April

I am thankful that the professor books arrived and looked as gorgeous as we hoped. All of that work paid off, and I’m so happy that even with the slight hiccups that come with a group of passionate designers who come together, we were able to make an amazing product.

I am thankful my academic crush Daniel Fallman answered my email about the Bricoleur as an inspiration for my Maker conceptualization. It’s very gratifying when a known academic engages you intellectually.

I am thankful that even though it didn’t work out with PinPoint Logic, I made contacts with awesome people that I am able to keep up with through Twitter. I love meeting creative people.

I am thankful the room was standing-room-only for my capstone presentation. So many people who I never expected to come see my talk came, and if I hadn’t been about to present, I probably would have cried from the love I felt in that room.

May

I am thankful Allison allowed me to crash at her place while I tried to see all of my friends’ capstone presentations. I had no place to live in between my lease went up and the day I actually moved home.

I am thankful that my parents welcomed me into their home after I was unable to find a job right out of graduate school. Not only that, but they encouraged me to find a local swing club again, knowing that I needed to stay active to keep my spirits up.

I am thankful that Brandon put my name in the hat for my current job. HCI kids gotta stick together, and I am glad he thought of me.

I am thankful I have enough financial wherewithal to save enough to buy a used DSLR as a graduation present. I still love it.

June

I went to the motherland, Nigeria, with my entire nuclear family. Two weeks of international travel with little sleep, little actual food, and more experiences than I can attempt to describe. I am thankful for the opportunity to gain insight to my father through his culture. I am thankful my family was able to afford the journey, that we got there and back without any illness, and more. An experience of the lifetime.

I’m thankful when I sent out my masters thesis to the Steampunks I interviewed, they were very supportive of my work. I was so worried of disappointing or misrepresenting them!

July

I’m thankful Adrienne moved to Columbus so I could have a friend in town who I just really jive with. We are what my mother would describe as “fast friends.”

I’m thankful to have the opportunity that I do at my current occupation. I felt welcomed by my new co-workers and two generations of HCI folk. It was like coming home.

August

I’m thankful I took a risk and went to the local Swing Columbus dance. How I had gone months without dancing… I have no idea. I’m thankful an academic wanted to use my sketchnotes to illustrate his point in an edition of Interactions (even though later my sketchnotes were not chosen for whatever reason). I’m thankful I have lived 25 years.

September

I am thankful that my car broke down, forcing me to re-evaluate the importance of writing to me. Turns out writing is incredibly important to me. So much so, that I start up a Kickstarter to gather support so I can publish my second book. I am thankful for the support I received, monetary and otherwise. No one can attempt such a venture alone.

October

I am so very thankful that the Kickstarter project went through, but most importantly, I am thankful that I was able to prove to myself that I could write a solid book in four months, have it edited, do the interior and exterior layout, etc. I am thankful that I have a network of people who enabled me to do it on my own. I am thankful that I was able to have a successful book launch thanks to the help of Sugar Inc Cupcakes and Tea. I am thankful I met Ava and had the opportunity to build two websites for an amazing tea connoisseur.

I am thankful for the HCI Alumni weekend. I met amazing alumni and current students, one who has become such a dear friend. I am thankful to have such a new dear friend in my life.

November

I am thankful that I have remembered to be thankful. Because there are times I do, but don’t give myself credit for all that I do. And sometimes I don’t, and allow myself to be low. I am thankful that I have highs and lows, good times and bad, that life has complexity which keeps me guessing. I am thankful to you for having the patience to read this entire thing, if you have indeed.