This year I’ll be going to CHI 2018 as a student volunteer and to attend the workshop HCI Outdoors: Understanding Human-Computer Interaction in the Outdoors. Very much looking forward to connecting with the HCI outdoors community for a new research project!
A Walk in the Woods: Gear and Infrastructure in the Outdoors (position paper PDF)
In this position paper, we describe an initial research activity, a short walk in the woods, to position our interest in HCI and the outdoors. We present three preliminary reflections from our hike on relationships with gear and infrastructure that enable meaningful outdoor experiences. These include parallels between packing gear and preparing devices, contrasting notions within bodily comfort and brand allegiance, and safety bubbles enabled by actual or expected infrastructures.
This past Monday I attended an event at Fab Lab London organized by RSA The Great Recovery on Pushing the Bounds of Materials and Information: Tracking and Tracing in a Circular Economy. Though the event was advertised as a workshop, it unfolded as a speaker series as the majority of the day was devoted to a range of practitioners working within the overarching theme. The morning began with Tomas Diez of Fab Lab Barcelona, who in addition to presenting a variety of relevant works with a focus on the open source Smart Citizen project, gave a presentation on societal transformations throughout the different industrial ages and highlighted the shift of consumers to producers in contemporary society. Next up was Alan Dukinfield of S2S Lifecylce Solutions, during which he and his colleague provided an insight into the technical installation, usage, barriers and potential futures of a RFID material tracking system in a commercial context. After lunch we took a turn into textiles, hearing from Rien Otto from Dutch aWEARness, and Dr Kate Goldsworthy and Miriam Ribul from Chelsea College of Arts and TED (Textile Environmental Design). The former focused on current practices of their own Circular Content Management System from a larger industry perspective and introduced new textile sorting technologies used by others. The latter focused on the designer’s role and the importance of their understanding of the potential implications regarding material choices and design decisions. In addition, Miriam presented an interesting research project investigating the potential of individual textiles fibers embedded with dynamic information. The day wrapped up with a short introduction into setting up and gathering data from the Smart Citizen kit.
Thoughts & Reflections:
While I was very impressed with the range of speakers regarding the circular economy, I wish there would have been significantly more time devoted to ‘workshopping’ – whether in the form of smaller group brainstorms or specifically diving deeper into the Smart Citizen kit. I say this not only because of my innate urge to get hands-on, but also because consistent questions emerged regarding the barriers of long term behaviour change, acceptance and implementation of these new processes, practices and technologies within society and systems. I felt these obstacles were begging to be explored. For example, in regards to the Smart Citizen kits, Diez discussed the challenges of engaging communities to sustain the use of the sensors, including creation of trust around the sensors and their data. Within tracking technologies, interesting points regarding disruptive human behaviours were raised, like the innocuous act of removing a clothing label from one’s own garment inaccurately deeming the end of a product’s lifecycle. At a more systemic level, I would have loved to learn more and brainstorm around the implementation of the UK’s PAS 141, a process management specification for the re-use of used and waste electrical and electronic equipment.
That all being said, I’m assuming they realized as well the difficulty of fitting in a wealth of content plus a formal workshop in a single day. Hence, a followup event once again at Fab Lab London with a much more hands-on focus.
Leaving Notes & Quotes:
- Diez – “Access to tools… to make tools… to make cities smarter.”
- Dukinfield – “Intelligent Product: A product whose information content is permanently bound to its material content and which is able to influence decisions made about it.”
- Goldsworthy – “Products as systems… impacts beyond the objects we design.”
Not really having any idea what I was signing up for, on Tuesday I attended the Sustainable Futures breakfast salon at the Somerset House by Editorial Intelligence as part of the Inside/Out Festival. The morning included three brief introductions by a guest panel comprised of Jim Haywood, Sandy Black and Olivia Knight followed by casual questions and discussion.
As my recent thesis incorporated similar themes regarding sustainability, consumerism and the individual vs the collective’s relationship with energy – I’m quite critical on the topic. That being said, I found Haywood’s and Black’s perspectives rather trite. While obviously an extremely knowledgable sustainability consultant, Haywood presented a wealth of environmental statistics and projections that I believe alienate the individual from personal action due to the unintentional cross-over into environmental scare tactics. I’m personally against scare tactics for their growing overuse and potential desensitization to the topic, as well as their portrayal of this ‘larger than life’ problem in which it becomes too easy for an individual to view it as a global issue in which that can’t have an impact. Don’t get me wrong, climate change IS a very large global issue, I’m just being critical on how we inspire and instigate behaviour change and collective action. On the other hand, Haywood’s concluding analogy was strong and on point – wish he would’ve played it through his entire talk. He compared sustainability to climbing Mount Everest:
- Take the first step up the mountain, beginning with individual action
- Rope in the other climbers, to summit the mountain is a join initiative
- Scale the mountain, but be sure to enjoy the view and see that its worth it.
Professor Sandy Blank spoke from a fashion perspective, bringing a specific vantage point rooted in the dichotomy between fashion as an embedded cultural construct and its complex lifecycle problems. She highlighted the competing paradigms of aspirational (think Oscar gowns) verses FastCheapNow (think Primark), and how a growing shift toward the latter is resulting in shocking amounts of textiles waste. I could be wrong, but I don’t remember her mentioning all the other environmentally unfriendly practices embedded within the entire fashion supply chain (disclaimer: strict time restrictions on the talks), and felt she shifted a bit too strongly towards defending the positives of fashion – enabling self-confidence, social communication, etc. While these are valuable points, and myself as a fashion advocate believe in, I was left waiting for a disruptive solution. Maybe its me, missing the purpose of these talks, because they definitely lead to valuable discussions, but perhaps I keep naively awaiting an effortless answer…
…which was given by the third speaker, Olivia Knight. And it made my day. Knight is the founder of Patchwork Present, a website where friends and family can contribute to the one gift you really want, rather than buying you 25 you don’t want. She is the first to mention that collaborative gift giving isn’t a new idea, she just made it digital and easy. While I find Knight’s business innovative for disrupting an timeless tradition (gift-giving) by both modernizing and making universally accessible an existing solution (collaborative consumption), hearing her clearly articulated thoughts on consumption made me want to run up and give her a double high-five. She began with the tension between want and waste, highlighting our human nature to need or covet things. And we do need stuff, but “we don’t want to feel bad wanting.” Unfortunately though, we often consume what we don’t need and show our love for another by buying even more things we don’t need. Patchwork Present addresses the latter by facilitating collaborative consumption of the things, or thing, you really do want. Through this smarter consumerism, want is in turn celebrated, while I believe also taking an actionable step forward towards a more sustainable future.
Needless to say, I was impressed with Knight, and though perhaps critical on the morning as a whole, overall enjoyed the diverse perspectives and discussions.
As part of my thesis research, I am both reading about and interviewing people who live ‘off grid.’ Off Grid is implies not being connected to a grid, usually the national electrical grid, but often also refers to living in a fully self-sufficient manner without reliance on any public utilities. While some off grid homesteaders have graciously been in touch with me, I also recently watched the great documentary ‘No Impact Man’ about a New York City family who goes off grid in the city for a year.
As the trailer indicates, the documentary has a bit of a classic American reality show feel to it, but still provided me with some interesting research insights around the concept of sacrificing. Later in the documentary, Colin, the protagonist, says, “It’s not about using as little as possible, but getting what I need in a sustainable way.” I found this particularly interesting because most people associate living sustainably with sacrificing certain needs or desires. In contrast, after talking with off grid homesteaders, its apparent that with enough time and energy (pun intended!), it is in fact possible to maintain a high standard of living. Though, closer to the end of the documentary, a friend of the lead characters, calls them out for other ‘unethical’ activities (highly subjective). This raises the question of making present or future sustainable choices now to compensate for negative environmental impacts in the past. Naively, most people don’t realize that even if all human CO2 emissions were to seize today, the impacts of climate change would still be felt for centuries. Needlesstosay, I was very pleased to see a bit of the hidden hypocrisy called out. Don’t get me wrong though, I thoroughly enjoyed and gratefully appreciate the message of the documentary!
For further curiosity, you can also read my initial brief.