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The discussion we had on Tuesday reminded me this morning of a quote from Stolterman & Nelson in The Design Way:
“We are lame gods in the service of prosthetic gods.”
The word “prosthetic” was, I think, carefully chosen. According to the dictionary, a prosthesis is, “A device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.” It’s an approximation, at best, of an organic limb or organ.
We closed class by establishing that Kieślowski used formalistic techniques to approximate the inarticulate felt experience of longing, and that this formalistic approximation was analogous to what we do as designers.
In the same way Kieślowski at best could only approximate that inarticulate felt experience, we can only approximate how people will react to and use our designs. Because of our education and experience we can make a pretty damn good guess, but a guess is the best we can hope for.
Technology is a means by which we can create prosthetics for our bodies and minds. We can remember things better, communicate over greater distances, and access information more readily than ever before in human history. But in the same way a prosthetic arm can’t communicate a sense of touch, our technology only can increase our abilities so much.
The best we can hope for is an approximation: there are a million to-do list mobile apps, but I still manage to forget to post on this blog; I can FaceTime with Hillary in Philadelphia, but it can never compare to sitting across a dinner table from her; I can look up Nelson Mandela’s birthday with Wikipedia in an instance, but the same article could also describe Mr. Mandela as the spawn of Cthulhu. I think this relates heavily to several of Dennis’ posts from earlier in the semester regarding the danger/necessity of normative thinking in design practice.
We build prosthetics, supplements, substitutes, extensions…but nothing more. But my question is: Why not? Why can’t we do better than that? Is it a human shortcoming? Is our technology not “advanced” enough?
The philosophical version of that question could be this: If we could easily manipulate the very fabric of our reality, would we then be able to design the ‘perfect’ prosthesis? What do you think?
I’ve really struggled with choosing something to write about for the final paper. I tried a collection/survey approach with my prewriting as practice for the type of paper I thought I wanted to write later in the semester. The prewriting was a total botch job, and I’ve been in a holding pattern since then. Thankfully, Jeff’s diagram in class today helped me put the pieces together of something else that’s been floating around my mind for a while. This paper might be a chance to dig into it further.
I’d like to make the claim that digital learning applications, services, and technologies represent the means to begin thinking about new ways to approach education at all levels. I cite Khan Academy, Duolingo, Wikipedia, & Glerb as examples. These are also the interactions/designs I’m interested in exploring in my paper – specifically, their educational components (more obvious in Khan, Duolingo, & Glerb than Wikipedia, perhaps).
Based on my survey of these designs, I’d use the paper to propose one possible “new way” to think about education. While I’m sure my thinking will evolve once I’ve done a more careful analysis of the designs, my existing knowledge of this space suggests that I may be able to reference the same Monroe Beardsley quote Jeff shared in Foundations, and that served as early inspiration in my Capstone problem framing:
“We must be careful not to lose sight of our main purpose, which is not primarily to increase our knowledge of the arts, but to improve our thinking about them.”
I think digital learning tools may give us the means to restructure the role brick and mortar schools and universities play in education. How can we use the very different but equally valuable strengths of modern technology and physical classrooms in concert to improve education?
Some readings I’d leverage off the top of my head: Bardzell IC paper, the recent Barnard reading, perhaps ‘Cinema as Skin & Touch’, probably Carroll, and probably the Design Way.
I’m having trouble focusing my thinking, but I also only put all this together myself a few hours ago. What do you think? How can I scope down the discourse I’ll need to work through? What frameworks of analysis might you recommend to help understand the value, educational or otherwise, of a design within the scope I’ve defined here? Is this a bad idea for a paper?
I was reading Erik’s blog and saw his review of Nigel Cross’ “Design Thinking”. Erik’s critique would have fit right into our class discussion, he is quite impartial.
What I found most interesting was Nigel Cross’ rebuttal! He talks about what the publishers wanted and what he thought of Erik’s post.