Rethinking Technology in the Context of Going On and Off the Grid by Loes Bogers

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Hi! My name is Loes, I work as a design researcher and educator in Amsterdam and have a background in critical media theory and practice. At HDSA17, the most meaningful commonality in each of the workshops was the lateral, hands-on approach to think differently about the basics of communication technology. Our thinking about technology’s entanglements with society and the self can get extremely sophisticated. But, this can also detach us from the basic things we experience and need as humans inhabiting an increasingly unstable and vulnerable world. Tinkering with the bare bones of computing and the material properties of everyday stuff has given me new ways to think in terms of signals. How do we get some information from A to B when stripped of most of the technological affordances we are accustomed to? When you are given the tools to think about which medium to send signals through, like sound waves, water, skin, cables, or light (Edible Computing workshop); or mediums that contain information, such as cells of plants (Endophytes workshop); you can’t help but relate technology back to the material lives of things, organisms, people, and other creatures. Questions quickly refocus. How to do more with less, rather than more and and more and more of conceptual sophistication, production value, ease of use?

The workshop Re-imagining Smart helped us ask what we most need smart objects for in this day and age. The workshop Build Your Own Node made us consider how we make decisions about what information to send. How would this change if we could only send a byte or two at a time? The value in the program for me was that all the activities enabled me to play around with these themes. I could indirectly reflect on them without being tempted to think in terms of solutions or better ways to do things or coming up with some innovative application. I learned new tricks, tools, and techniques to create. More importantly though, I learned the act of slowing down by building technology in a less straightforward manner. This allowed me to think the material lives of technology on a new level.


Experience of Collective Modes of Production during the Academy

I am a person who generally loves tinkering and building things and learning new skills. But because I am interested in many things, my skills and knowledge never get to the expert-level. Collective modes of knowledge production and creative production make a lot of sense to me. Collaboration is often the start and finish of how I live, learn, and work. That said, I also experience tendencies and pressures to prove myself as an individual: to prove that I can do it, that I can learn to master something, to be able to say something was my idea, to be a bit rigid about *what I came here to do*, and what my objectives are. Most of the time, though, acting on those tendencies leads me to be insecure, makes me want to control what is happening, and to be less open to connecting with and learning from other people. Not surprisingly, I often do not like how I handle things and act towards people when this is the case.

I collaborated with many different people during the academy and I think my moments of insecurity, discomfort, and frustration had to do with encountering collaborators who had a different goal or approach. For example, they wanted learn (or be taught) coding skills, where I wanted to apply the skills I already have but don’t get to use so often. Or, they wanted to reach a sophisticated conceptual stage before entering the making process, where I might enjoy picking an interesting material and just tinkering my way in without a plan. I noticed my changing moods and tried out a different attitude in each workshop to see if it would bring me different things. One day I offered to explain and teach. Another day I tried to just do what I wanted. And on other days I tried to create more space for others than myself, or I approached things reactively, just doing my thing but not trying to influence others too much. All approaches had varying results and often mixed feelings, haha! The two things I found hard to shake are that 1) I enjoy finishing things and 2) I really value leaving some of the generated knowledge behind in the form of documentation. I like the feeling of things having come to a natural end for the time being. I also felt this was disruptive to other types of processes going on with other people around me.

I made myself uncomfortable, but it raised valuable personal questions about inhabiting shared spaces of learning that I now use in my teaching practice. For example, I recently developed an interdisciplinary minor in Making as Design Research at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. It will run from February 2018. A core element in the daily activities will be students actively reflecting on their emotional states, like discomfort, frustration, and disappointment. As well, they will reflect on how their behavior might afford or limit others to do things differently in a shared and collaborative learning environment. This is to make explicit (and be graded on) what they have done to contribute to others' learning and research processes; their effects on a supportive and safe environment for everyone present (including the teachers!); to be particularly aware and communicative about their own goals and intentions; and, how they might shift throughout.

Loes Bogers ia researcher at the Visual Methodologies research group and coordinator/lecturer of the minor Makers Lab: Making as Design Research at the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences.

Published in On /& Off the Grid in 2018.