While going over the readings for this week, there were a few passages in the Reynold’s introduction for The Great Gatsby that really stuck out to me. Although the book takes place in 1922 and this reading in 1993 (guys, that was 20 years ago?!) some of the concepts matched up well with some from HCI and the technological culture of today.

I want to share a few of these with you and my thoughts, just for fun and maybe for some discussion:

Technological Eras

“This is a novel of glancing but pinpoint details, shards of recognition gradually pieced together into a mosaic of American modernity. What makes the novel modern and therefore not Victorian is its alert receptivity to a culture that had first begun to emerge around the time of Fitzgerald’s birth (1896) and had established itself in the 1910s and 1920s. Fitzgerald was born into the America of the horse, gaslight and railroad, but by 1925 the world was made of electricity, cars and telephones. Think about all the things we see in the novel, how new they were in 1925 (‘new’ is one of Gatsby’s favourite words) and how perceptively noted these details are. The 1920s were a decade of great technological innovation and circulation, when many of the inventions of the previous &my years &ally achieved a common currency in American society: electricity, especially electric lighting; cars; telephones; the movies and photography.” [pg vii]

When I was in grade school, computers weren’t really a thing. Around 3rd grade, computer class became a thing.  I learned what Netscape was, Hyperstudio, and most importantly, Oregon Trail. Eventually, my dad bought our family a personal computer where I dabbled in some KidPix, SkiFree, and Tetris. By junior high, I was grounded about every other week for tying up the phone line while hanging out on AOL. Yikes.

My youngest sister is 10 years old. When I was her age, my dad had a cell phone that was about the size of a brick, made calls, and thats it. Today, my sister does all her homework through online websites, invites me to Google Hangouts, has an iPod touch, and sends me text messages (constantly). I don’t think she’d know what a busy signal on a phone sounds like.

In the last 20 years, the amount of time since this was written, I’d say that we’ve go through the same sort of transition  The “technological innovation and circulation” that’s occurred has made a new sort of digitally connected currency. I wonder if there are any novels that show us in this digital age? or how we’ll look on this era in 75 years.

Maybe this clip from Portlandia?:

Some critics are just full of it

“Fitzgerald’s carelessness about facts and empirical knowledge is well known: he frequently wrote about France when his knowledge of French was poor; his spelling (in French and English) was execrable.” [pg. ix]

Something about this passage made me think of critics in general. We trust (some) people when they present us with tidbits of information that come across as facts or expert judgements. But how many people are full of it when they critique things. I know I have friends who just like to “showboat” and critique things when they have no idea what they are talking about. Eventually we might catch on, and roll our eyes when that person starts, but how often do we believe someone who just comes across as knowledgeable and as though they have the background and authority to give a proper critique, when really, they have no idea and aren’t informed enough to make expert critiques.

For example, my brother use to work as a barista (he still refers to the position as a “bro-rista”, but that’s neither hear-nor-there). He hates coffee. I think he’s only had it once or twice but can’t stand the taste of it. Customers would ask him questions about the different blends and their tastes. Having never tried any of the blends, he had no idea but he would rattle off a bunch of informed sounding information about each of the blends. He might have heard a little bit from co-workers or customers, but not enough to talk about the difference between two blends for an extended amount of time. Yet, I’ve seen him do this – and pretty much everyone takes his recommendation.

So, even those who look like they are in a place to expertly critique something (such as working in a coffee shop) who can tell if they truly can or not?

Methods of communication might change but the problems don’t

“But the novel’s catalogue of elusive and fractured phone conversations poignantly and ironically suggest that even in an age when communication is supposedly getting easier, misunderstanding proliferates.” [pg. x]

Who hasn’t had a misunderstanding because of text-based communication? We can now send a message to anyone in the world. It’s so easy to send a text, or an email, or skype someone. Yet the same issue from the 1920s still continues. Tone can’t be conveyed as easily, sarcasm gets lost, the person on the other end of my conversation can’t tell that I’m pounding the keys in frustration, dropped calls…

As designers we can try and account for some of these issues and maybe part of that is understanding the past?

Technology allows us to become advertisements for our true selves.

“And when Daisy finally makes her love for Gatsby explicit, in a confession that is overheard and understood by Tom Buchanan, she doesn’t tell Gatsby that she loves him, rather she comments on his appearance. ‘You always look so cool’ (p. 75). For Daisy, a man is the shirt he wears. And in a further emphasis of her utter superficiality, she then says, ‘You resemble the advertisement of the man. . . You know the advertisement of the man – ‘ (p. 76).” [pg xiii]

When I read this, I couldn’t think about work done on things such as online identity. Online you can present the image of yourself that you want to be. We filter ourselves and post Facebook statuses that show the best side of us, or the one that makes us most likable  Our LinkedIn profiles show all the great things we are, but don’t talk about our weaknesses in a real way. Online we can be the advertisement of the [wo]man we want to be.

My own research deals with emotional coping through online communies. I recently did a study with online support groups for divorced/divorcing individuals. When it comes to really personal experiences, people can try and frame themselves in a way that helps them get the responses that will help them at that time. For example, going through divorce will bring out feelings of grief, and often individuals will mourn the loss of a relationship by going through various emotions. Additionally, they are going through an identity change and are leaving the role of a spouse for a new role. During this time some indivudals seek support from those who have experienced similar situations  At times one might need reassurance, validation for their feelings/actions, or advice. To get the support they need at that time, the might frame their story a particular way that shows them as a victim or blameless. However, they are free to leave out details that might get them criticized. Online communities allow us to pick and choose the context others will see, which can change a lot in terms of how you’re perceived.

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