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me and you and everyone we know

Transient

I recently came across this speech from Sumana Harihareswara, an exec at the Wikimedia Foundation, about how user experience (UX) is, at is heart, a social justice issue. It's great, particularly for techies, because (hey, EMPATHY) it puts it in very tech-friendly terms:

Let's look at what it takes to do user experience work. You have to look at your service from the point of view of someone who knows a lot less than you, and see where they're coming from. You have to imagine the reasons why they want what they want. Seeing that causation, seeing the connection between what someone's doing now and all the causation that went before it, is empathy. It's a little like reverse engineering; you're trying to unlock the DRM that's stopping them from getting what they need. Which is a really cool hack, actually.

We need to to exercise a disciplined empathy. It's an empathy that includes qualitative thinking, like interviews and watching people use stuff to see where the snags are, and quantitative thinking, like A/B testing and heatmaps.

But the tech industry is pretty crappy at empathy. And I'm speaking from my experience here - I know library tech is its own field - but in my experience of our industry, we just drop the ball on empathy and hospitality, a lot.

This issue is SO IMPORTANT, for the ICT4D community in particular. I feel like I'm beating my head against a wall sometimes when I write about empathy, because it's hard to say anything new when it feels like nothing ever changes.

But - and here, of course, I can add my own experience to the mix - she's right. Because empathy is hard. If you have not spent a lot of time with Burmese refugees who have literally never seen a computer before, it's hard to imagine what their user experience might be like. Not impossible, but certainly not intuitive. And yet the experience is the gate; it's the X in "If X, then Y." Which means that if we want to use technology - any kind of technology, from radio to broadband - to give people more options and choices in their lives, we have to get imagining. We don't really have a choice.

(Side note: if you are at all interested in technology and its potential, particularly from this angle, I really can't recommend enough that you subscribe to Sumana's blog. I learned about it from Brendan, the King of the Internet, who never updates his own blog anymore but is also worth following on Twitter for the same kind of content and much, much more.)

 

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many gods

Well. Where was I?

First of all, boringly, I'm still sick - not as overtly anymore, but enough that I take a lot of naps and still wake up feeling bushed. My failure to recover completely probably has something to do with the fact that, in addition to my freelance work, I've also started working part time at a charter school near my house. Miss Eason's immune system used to be made of Teflon, but apparently times have changed, although children have not.

Nonetheless, a few notes and recommendations.

  • My general concern about sites like A Mighty Girl is that they will a) take themselves too seriously, b) ultimately contain nothing but girl power slogans without substance, or c) preach to the choir. I think what alleviated my fears with this particular site was seeing its book collection, which is FILLED with my childhood favorites (Dicey's Song! The BFG! Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself, otherwise known as the most underrated Judy Blume book of all time!). These are not stories written expressly to empower girls; they are written as though the starring role of interesting and smart and imperfect young women is totally normal. Because it is, in real life. That seems to be the site's overall perspective. And I like it.
  • "No one believes that O Brother, Where Art Thou taught you five valuable lessons about engineering": the Awl on what you should *not* write about on Medium. (Or a variety of other platforms, for that matter.)
  • And, despite what I just wrote, a rather interesting article on employment, one that happens to be hosted on the Medium platform. I like what he says w/r/t understanding how to make yourself useful for employers, particularly after some of the Billfold interviews I've conducted. The article itself also lacks the sense of self-aggrandizement that I've come to expect from pieces on this topic, which is refreshing. 

And there's one more thing I'd like to recommend, but it requires a bit more explanation. I've learned a lot over the course of a week and a half with sixth graders, including: why eleven-year-olds think Hinduism is a good religion (no need to limit yourself to just one god, if you were wondering); which historical sites and events are featured in Assassin's Creed;* and new insights into male youth hairstyles (cuts like the fade - and, dare I say it, even the flat-top - appear to be making a comeback). I've gotten to see an entire class, in response to one student's answer of "I don't know," yell "YET!" in unison. I'm not going to front, I've even gotten some hugs.

HOWEVER, the greatest thing by far that I've seen is this video that my friend Clark showed to her ELA class. It's an excerpt from a hip hop song cycle by Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of In the Heights. That song cycle is called The Hamilton Mixtape. As in Alexander Hamilton.

I love this because it circles back to the core beliefs I hold for all of my work, namely that you have to go to people (audiences, children) where they are, and that well-crafted communications allow us to find the elements of an idea that resonate with others. I know everyone's laughing here at the idea that A. Ham is hip hop, but you can see how seriously Miranda is taking this, and he should: nothing he's saying is wrong, and he's exploring this personality in a way that helps us gain a new perspective on the man. Whether you're on a stage or in a classroom or designing a user-centered, mass-market health education program for a country with high morbidity indicators, isn't that what we all want to do?

 

*I have mixed feelings about this.

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some recommendations

Because I have GOT to close these tabs, and I need a break from the other thing that I'm doing. I have to post this now so that I can go hang out with my dog, who is looking at me plaintively because no one else is home and I'm not playing with him.  

  • More on how the Internet is irrevocably and terrifyingly changing human behavior.  Particularly interesting read in conjunction with this Wired article about gangs and social media usage and the coverage of al-Shabab's usage of Twitter. Neither of the latter articles goes into the actual impact of these technologies on behavioral choices to my satisfaction (though the Wired one touches on it), but this is still such a new area that I suppose it's excusable.*
  • This article on the impact of outside factors on crack addiction manages to be counterintuitive and totally logical at the same time. On the one hand: crack is wack, and also there are a million well-publicized examples of seemingly fine lives totally derailed by addiction. On the other, though, of course a person's environment has an influence on whether or not they want and need a distraction, even if that distraction is pipe-based. I think there's a lot to explore w/r/t what factors actually prevent this sort of behavior - I wonder if they're not as obvious as they look.
  • Finally, if you haven't jumped out a window yet, Hook Theory provides a fun way to look at how songs are related from a music theory perspective.

*File under "Sentences That Will Be Quaint." 


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