I’ve added a book, “Speculative Everything” to our drive that surveys the field of speculative design — a practice that envisions the way the world could or should be and designs products for that futurist or utopian context. It’s not assigned reading, but it might of interest to many of you.
In a similar genre allow me to share one of my favorite art projects. The Moon Goose Colony by Agnes Meyer Brandeis begins with a fantastical tale from a 17th century novel describing how space travel was made possible by harnessing migratory geese on their way to the moon. In a twist, Meyer Brandeis builds a charming work around the premise that this found text describes a factual occurrence. She assumes that, in the 17th century, geese actually migrated to the moon. The logic continues that because geese today clearly don’t migrate to the moon, something must have happened to make them stop. So over several months Meyer Brandeis endeavors to (re)train a flock of geese to rediscover their “natural” migratory pattern as part of a weirdly scientific performance. Meyer Brandeis suspends her audience between fact and fiction.
Something I forgot to mention in class: It is totally OK with me if people want to collaborate on the big projects. You can submit work in pairs or in threes, though not more. Some rules regarding collaboration: everything needs to be jointly authored. It is NOT OK to “divide and conquer” by divvying up the work so each student can more comfortably work alone. Work that is submitted as a group needs to have been made as a group. To accommodate the coding “optional” nature of this class, I will tolerate not everyone having written the code. But, if a group has students who want to code and others who don’t: everyone still needs to be present while the code is written and every member of the team needs to understand what the code is doing.
During our last class' break one student thoughtfully pointed out that our policy discussions weren't really group conversations but actually a series of one on one dialogues. Students were taking turns addressing me instead of speaking to each other. I believe that pattern of behavior (wanted or not) was a byproduct of our class' hierarchical structure that placed your teacher in a position of authority.
In his recent “Tower and the Square”, the eminent historian, Niall Ferguson, recounts Western history since the invention of the printing press as a conflict between disruptive social networks and competing hierarchies vying to (re-)establish social order. Ferguson describes how hierarchies and social networks both facilite the flow of information. The difference is that formal hierarchies direct information towards a governing individual or elite.
You could see that structure playing out in our first day of class. Students addressed policy suggestions directly to me. I then recorded the incoming information into our Google Doc. We adopted a similar dynamic on our first Skype as well when each student took turns to explain their experiences and goals, mostly for my benefit.
Centralizing information, isn't inherently a bad thing; it's just limiting. During my MFA I learned as much from my classmates as I did from my teachers. Still, I won't pretend that our class hierarchy will spontaneously give way to collective information sharing. It will require mindful design to nurture a parallel social network between students. Slack is a step in the right direction. But I notice that no one is using it yet. We need to break the ice.