Simple, but True

I love the blog Knock Off Wood because it shows me how to build furniture comparable to Crate & Barrel, etc. Ana, the blogger, said the most simple thing today that seems to be the central point of my thesis, as yet.

When you buy something, it comes with a price. When you build something, it comes with a story.

Kind of brilliant, right?

Purposeful Artifact Analysis

I am still dragging my heels on artifact analysis. I suspect this is because I decided the best topics for my artifact analysis only recently. You see, there is a lot of Steampunk artifacts out there. Too many to categorize, as shown by my  experiment, Rate My Steampunk!, where I asked people to rate the artifacts I posted.

While preparing for my IST Conference presentation, however, I was speaking to Ben about the difficulties of showing exactly what I mean about how people appropriate to fit their personal identity, or what they would like to portray about their personal identity. During this conversation, it struck me that I should be comparing artifacts that have the same starting point, but end up looking very different depending on the person. How better to showcase the way appropriations can signify personal identity, than to do a direct comparison of the decisions people make when making something their own?

Therefore, my artifact analysis will focus on a particular subset for explicit comparison/contrast. I’m excited. This will be fun!

Light-bulb Moments

Things have been pretty hectic around here, but somehow I still manage to make progress on my capstone. I love having conversations with the people in my program because the most interesting points come up.

Creativity isn’t consistent

I had lunch with Chad Camara one day, and we got into this conversation about creativity. He mentioned that even though we are both creative, he sees our creativity as being very different. Mainly, that mine is extremely personal. I write stories that reflect some deep belief or question that I have. I paint, draw, dance, sing, sketchnote, and create objects from clay.

I write this because it seems that my intrinsically personal creativity is a huge part of my self-perception and identity. If I can’t be creative, I feel lost. In the same way, if I can’t appropriate something into my world so that it feels personal to me, I don’t care about it. So that’s food for thought.

Getting push-back

I had a design session with my roommate, Lynn, and she had the brilliant idea of looking at how people look at objects. She made the point that I see everything as a potential building material to make something else… which she simply doesn’t do.

Nov 5, 2009: Lynn Dombrowski suggests that I do a design exercise where I take people to Goodwill, etc, and ask people what they would do with the objects they find. Will they see built/”finished” materials as components of new projects?

It has since occurred to me that not only do I learn from what they choose, but also what they don’t choose. As in, what do I see as building materials, and why don’t they see them that way?

Nov 8, 2009: Rachel Bolton asks me questions that stump me, only because all my information is stuffed somewhere in an inaccessible part of my brain. Her questions, however, start a subtle thought-chain which eventually lead me to my light bulb moment.

  1. What makes the steampunk appropriation unique… what are the
    specific implications for HCI?
  2. What makes the creative/identity rewards of appropriation
    (specifically steampunk?) different from other identity-forming
    endeavors like sports?  Is it the process, the materials, the people
    that are attracted to it?

Because I find I have difficulty answering these questions, I begin to wonder if it’s so smart to be studying steampunk in the first place. I love the topic, I find it fascinating, but really, what does it mean for HCI? I asked for push-back from Rachel, and she gave it to me, and I had no answer. Sigh.

Class Exercise

On Tuesday, Nov 10, we were required to bring our sketches in for discussion in small groups. Because I’m doing a research capstone, I was a bit stumped. I’m not sketching, at least not in the visual sense. So I brought in my pseudo-affinity diagram, pictured below.

Poster of Themes and Questions

So I threw it up on the wall with all the other sketches.

Sketching Exercise

Sketching Exercise

During this exercise, we had groups of four-to-five students. We walked to our different sketches and discussed the purpose of them, etc. My group was awesome with feedback. CJ Page admitted that he doesn’t appropriate anything at all, which just boggles my mind. I appropriate almost everything that comes into my life, in some form or another. It’s my way of engaging with the world. Which struck me as a worrying point while CJ spoke.

Light-bulb moment

That night after capstone, I climbed into bed with a frown. Something was off, I realized, in how I was approaching this entire research project. It wasn’t until about eleven at night that I had my epiphany.

You see, I had a dream about capstone. Specifically, a dream in which I realized my case study group (steampunks) don’t have to be my target user group. At first, I stayed in bed, repeating that mantra to myself: “Case study doesn’t equal target user.” I quickly became paranoid that I would forget the epiphany by morning’s light. So I grabbed my whiteboard markers and attacked my unsuspecting whiteboard for about two hours.

Sketching Exercise

I’m feeling pretty good about this direction. I feel like I have an idea of how I can apply the literature and my own experiences, compare them to the experiences of people who don’t do such things, and see what we can learn. Now if I could only find the time… and get some sleep!

How I Found Steampunk

I don’t remember when I first heard about steampunk. I feel like it was a couple of years ago, when I was heavily embroiled in historical research for my novel. I was looking for exemplars for book covers, and potential artists to design mine. I stumbled upon a Deviant Art profile, I remember that much for sure. I quite literally geeked out about the clothing the actors wore in the photos, and the wonderful framing. I thought they were reenactors, a là The American Civil War or something similar. But the clothing was incorrect for my assumed time period to explain the photos, so I began to read the descriptions. “Steampunks” it declared. I was hooked.

But even though I was hooked, I didn’t really pursue it. It wasn’t my focus at the time. I was looking for people to provide inspiration for a book cover, nothing more. So I put it aside and continued on my merry way.

The Three Sisters, it seems, had other plans for me.

Weren’t you going to do something with nurses?

This past summer, I began some preliminary research for my capstone. I wanted to do something with nurses and technology… something that bridged the gap so that nurses could spend more time with the patient, and less time fiddling with a beeping computer. The topic was interesting. It was important. It didn’t spark my passion. So I thought perhaps it was about the nurses’ relationship with their technology. Maybe I could help them like the technology they’re forced to use by their administration. But how to do that?

Appropriation. I thought if I could help the nurses appropriate their technology, then maybe that would ease the pain of learning a new system. Reading about appropriation was far more interesting than about nurses, and there were more papers available to read, anyway. I began to wonder what sort of exemplars I could grab to showcase unique appropriations.

From mere exemplars to central focus

It was about this time that Dane wrote a post that sparked my interest. The comments to that post consisted of us joking that we would take over the world using a fleet of zeppelins, with our brass goggles gleaming in the sunlight and our scarves flowing “majestically,” I think was the word I used, as we floated toward triumph. This was the first time I thought, “Wouldn’t it be fun if I dressed up as steampunk for Halloween?”

With images of brass and wood machinery, steam and goggles, lace and grommets, all swirling in my head, somehow, in the raging mind storm, the word “appropriation!” burst through. I distinctly remember saying to my laptop, “Oh. Steampunk! Duh.”

Getting serious about having fun

Thus began my hunt. I went to Wikipedia to find a general definition. I searched the web for images of technology and clothing. I found blogs to follow and an independent magazine to buy. I embraced the visual aesthetic and used it to inspire my works for ceramics. In class, people joked about my wearing steampunk for my capstone presentation, and I joked along with them.

But it isn’t a joke anymore. Somewhere along the way, I realized I could pull it off. Not only can I probably pull off a steampunk costume, but I already have most of the components hanging innocently in my closet. I have enough exemplars from searching Flickr groups to know the general look. I have the artistic skills to potentially make a pair of cheap safety goggles look steampunkish. I even have a preliminary sketch (above). I’m really excited. I love art projects, they make me feel creative, and engaged with my materials.

Getting systematic

When I mentioned to Shaowen that I’m planning on going steampunk for Halloween, thinking it would be another way to experience steampunk, she told me that was a valid form of research. This was great, because I thought it was just something fun. Sweet! She mentioned autoethnography, and that it’s like ethnography, but using the self as a participant as a part of the study. Where ethnography tries to bring the viewpoint of the “native” into focus, and represent that experience faithfully, autoethnography assumes that the observer cannot be impartial, and that these partial observations are as valid as the impartial ethnographer’s observations.

Shaowen wants me to be very systematic in how I go about reflecting as an autoethnographer. To be honest, though, I felt uncomfortable jumping in headfirst like that. She wanted me to say what sort of information I’m going to gather, when, and why; what do I hope to learn? I felt like I couldn’t do that without having  a better understanding of autoethnography… so tonight I read two papers* that inspired me so much, that I sketched a page of notes, began to get a feel for the sort of information I want to gather/look for, and began writing this post.

Why do you always write at night?

That is such a good question. It’s plagued me since I was young. Most of my best ideas, for fiction anyway, come at 2 AM. I am both excited for and dreading the moment when that begins for capstone, because I will never get a solid night’s sleep again, and I am already exhausted. I should be asleep… I was in bed two hours ago! Yet here I am at midnight, feverishly writing while my bloodshot eyes manage to stay open.

Anyway, as I continue my (perhaps) more formal research, my next step for the autoethnography is to list out a couple different categories of data I want to collect, why I want to collect them, and what information I hope to learn from them. I’ll begin to formally document my iterations on my Halloween costume, and continue blogging. I’m still looking for my definition of appropriation, with the added question of why is this so important to me.

So much to do, so little time, way too much fun.

* Duncan’s Autoethnography: Critical Appreciation of an Emerging Art, and Spry’s Performing Ethnography: An Embodied Methodological Praxis

Be Water, My Friend

I love quotes, because I’m a word nerd and love a deft turn-of-phrase. I invite you to enjoy this quote from Bruce Lee for design inspiration.

“Empty your mind. Be formless, shapeless—like water.

Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup. You put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle; you put it into a teapot, it becomes the teapot.

Now water can flow, or it can crash!

Be water, my friend.”