Thoughts from @dconstruct 2012

Be grateful for the beauty we see technologically today

Ben Hammersley opened with a plea to see the beauty in our everyday work as designers and architects of experience. I heard echoes of Kevin Kelly when he said that our generation is the first to actually see the real impact of Moore’s law and that we should use that understanding to make people’s lives better. Unfortunately, he says, we are ruled over by people who don’t understand that – namely, politicians. It’s rather heartening to hear the Prime Minister’s Ambassador to Tech City say that – one would hope that behind the red tape, changes are afoot. Personally I think GDS is a great example of that. Anyway, mid-way through his talk I scribbled down those two last lines from Keats’ Ode on a Grecian Urn, and I was rather gratified when those were the exact lines he ended with.

Teaching and learning new skills makes you and your society better

Jenn Lukas, who hobbled in on crutches to hold up her fractured tibia, was a cheerful bundle of enthusiasm. She reinforced the importance of enhancing one’s own knowledge at the same time as spreading what you already know. As part of the faculty at GirlDevelopIt in New York, she knows what she’s talking about. She was a veritable directory of where to go to if you’re looking to learn coding skills, like Bloc, Skillshare, Khan Academy’s Computer Science module, Code Year and even pointed us to this page that gives the time-pressed people one-minute summaries of books! She framed the problem really succinctly: what people want is to learn something at a specific time and to know how much it costs beforehand – they need that information to be presented to them clearly. That’s where I’m a bit skeptical of programmes like Codecademy, which I faithfully followed for 2 months at the beginning of the year before l ran out of steam. As one of her slides said, you can earn plenty of badges and still not know shit!

Step out of default thinking mode

Scott Jenson made the valid point that often we don’t bother exploring what a new technology can do, and instead force-fit what we already know into it. Mobile is about so much more than apps but most people still think apps are the golden egg. As he said ‘apps prevent just-in-time interaction’. Ideally what you want is objects that use your location to suggest options that can be used in real-time. Yes some apps do that, but why does that functionality have to be wedded to a phone? ‘Google your room, not the web’ – that’s what’s most relevant to you. As he mentioned referring to the Kuhn Cycle – we need a paradigm shift in mobile. A lot of what Jenson spoke about is in this blog post, if you’d like to hear more.

Hacking as a behaviour can help understand the universe

Ariel Waldman mentioned so many cool things my mind took a while to let it all sink in:

–       A particle physicist figured out how to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber as a result of one guy’s hack to detect hair-growth on his beard with a USB microscope.

–       The Drake equation

–       The Isodrag typeface, where the weight of letters is determined according to the amount of wind drag they create

–       The fact that the next Mars Rover design is inspired, of all things, by tumbleweed.

–       Syneseizure: an experiment to feel sight by mashing up sight with touch.

Lots more science hacks here. Mind. Blown.

The joy of getting an audience to do something cool

Seb Lee-Delisle gave us glow sticks and made us participants in his digital art. You should go to his website and explore some of his projects.

Fictional and cultural metaphors can teach you more than you think

Lauren Beukes came all the way from Cape Town to speak at the conference. I was busy writing down ideas that were sparked while she was talking so I’m afraid I can’t elaborate. In a way that’s self-explanatory, right?

‘Computers are emotional parts of our lives’

I think that’s the thing that stuck with me most from Jason Scott. He went on to say ‘we put our lives into them’. He spoke about the Save button and how we think it’s a solution to everything when it really isn’t. That’s especially true of this Facebook age we live in. The Archive Team he leads is doing a pretty amazing job of trying to get the word out and educating people about protecting their data.

‘Toys are incomplete without people’

Tom Armitage on making friends and the freedom that toys afford to play with concepts, the way he’s done with Markov Chocolates, Ghostcar, Twit4Dead and the Tower Bridge Twitter feed. So, experiment, play, meet people and know more things.

‘I’m having a wonderful time, why?’

James Burke – it was the second time I was seeing him speak so I sort of knew what to expect – is the kind of person you know you’re going to emerge smarter from just listening to. He spoke at breakneck speed about topics from Descartes to education, and emphasized how our education needs to span disciplines if we are to make sense of this world – it’s no longer a specialist’s world. PS: the quote above is from a joke Burke mentioned: a depressive sends his doctor a postcard from the beach…

His talk poetically closed what Ben Hammersley started with – special kudos to Clearleft for putting the agenda together in that way.

At the end of the day, I was mentally exhausted but in the best way possible. I’d been meaning to go to DConstruct for a few years and this was my first time there. I certainly hope to go again.

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