Picking a project

When I listen to presentations here at the school of computer science I see a lot of excited faces, hear descriptions of how ‘cool’ things are and listen to a lot of talk about progress, innovation and breakthroughs.

My work is very different. Anger is mostly on my face as it is a strong driving force, it is not cool but sensible and rather than driving things forward I throw spanners into the work of others.

How did I end up here? Why is my work so different from what others do? What was my decision to turn away from making nice things and my turn towards criticism? I have already pointed out that anger was a driving force behind my project. I personally felt so strongly that I could not turn away from this problem that I saw. Others often take this way out. Many papers I read have a last paragraph like this: “There are privacy / ethical questions surrounding out work, but they are not the scope of our project.” Fair enough. Not every developer can think about all aspects of their work, many of which are clearly outside of what they can influence. If we stopped all research because it may have some negative effects we would never get anything done.

But where does this discussion take place? I am concerned that these technologies are made is used as an argument that they can be and should be used. Clearly it would not have been made if there were concerns? I felt a need to fill this gap and be a voice that questions this self-fulfilling prophecy.

But this is the first time I have done this. All my former projects are of the first type. I turned to the fun projects, the colourful ones, the ones were I could make something. I can see the appeal of this. Which is one of the reasons why there is a lack of critical engagement. It is not cool, not progress, it is mean. It questions others. It is hard to keep motivated.

I resolved this by turning towards critical design and both its creative but also its optimistic focus. Design presents alternatives. It not only questions, it also creates. But I will need to be careful and read up on how I can stay critically while undertaking this project. How I can avoid being seduced by the bright and colourful that design proposes.


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