The Narrows.

The Narrows is the thin stretch of water separating Staten Island and Brooklyn, forming a tight entrance to the Port of New York and New Jersey. Also a workable metaphor for where I'm at – I'm going to need to narrow in on an idea if I'm going to pass this threshold and make it up the river to the SVA Theater on time.

We shared super lo-fi prototypes in class by "bodystorming". I played around with how classmates perceived an opaque (actually random) selection and a selection reached through a winding and overly-complex 'algorithm'. We're faced with content and choices presided over by the wisdom of algorithms numerous times a day. One angle on improving technical literacy could be helping make the way such systems work tangible and explorable, aiding a greater critique and mastery over the systems and services around us.

This recent post was an inspiration: The Cathedral of Computation

Algorithms aren’t gods. We need not believe that they rule the world in order to admit that they influence it, sometimes profoundly. Let’s bring algorithms down to earth again. Let’s keep the computer around without fetishizing it, without bowing down to it or shrugging away its inevitable power over us, without melting everything down into it as a new name for fate

One attraction I have to this space is that the notion of algorithms has pervaded culture without an accompanying understanding. People talk about them. They are mysterious and powerful. That feels like an opportunity for intervention.

The in-class prototype didn't really push things forward for me – I didn't construct it appropriately to get the most useful feedback, but there was useful follow up discussion.

My recent quandary has centered mostly on whether to chase the 'how to nudge people into greater computational literacy?' angle or 'how to make the experience of programming more human-centered?'. These are pulling from both ends of the same problem, under the rubric of a more participatory technology culture. But being split between them is diluting my thinking and slowing me down.

I'm asking myself some tough questions:

  • What will I be most proud of?
  • What will have the greatest impact?
  • What am I best placed to tackle?
  • What will I learn?

I need to be honest about the fact that I'm not a 10,000+ hour programmer. I'm not even a 1,000+ hour programmer. What I bring is a new-found passion for the craft, design-thinking and a philosophically-inclined perspective. Are these the right components to tackle such a huge, decades-old problem?

I'm not sure.

Sometimes I think my perspective from the fringe of engineer-culture gives me freedom to question things. Sometimes I think I'm not deep enough immersed to solve problems.

For our next prototype we've been asked to consider...

  • Areas (attributes, features, part of the experience) that you have explored that need refinement.
  • Areas (attributes, features, part of the experience) that you have not yet explored.

...then to...

  • Prioritize these areas. Which are most important? Which parts can be left out?
  • What is the appropriate method for prioritized areas of focus – prototyping? research gathering? brainstorming?

Until I settle on my direction, these are hard questions to answer. In my next post I'll cover some material I came across today which is helping me hone in.