Digital Blur Book Launch At Architectural Association April 27

This book Digital Blur — in which John Marshall and I have a sort of drunken, double-bandolier-wearing bandito-style essay on *undisciplinarity — will launch on April 27th in London at The Architectural Association Bookshop, which is a fantastic bookshop anyway so you basically can’t loose.

if anyone goes..i wouldn’t mind a photo of the event just to show my mother what i have wrought, in my own humble, minuscule way.

Digital Blur: Creative Practice at the Boundaries of Architecture, Design and Art’

On behalf of Libri Publishing I am delighted to invite you to the launch of Paul Rodgers and Michael Smyth’s new book.
A formal invitation is attached.

The launch is being held on: Tuesday 27 April 18.30 – 20.30

The AA Bookshop
Architectural Association
36 Bedford Square

The nearest underground station is Tottenham Court Road.

Wine and soft drinks will be served. We hope you will be able to join us.

Please R.S.V.P. by email to:

Continue reading Digital Blur Book Launch At Architectural Association April 27

Undisciplinarity (essay in book)

The book that resulted from the ‘inter_multi_trans_actions: emerging trends in post-disciplinary creative practice’ symposium at Napier University in Edinburgh, Scotland on Thursday 26 June, 2008 is nearing publication.

The book ‘Digital Blur: Creative Practice at the Boundaries of Architecture, Design and Art’ edited by Paul Rodgers and Michael Smyth will now be published by Libri Publishing following Middlesex University’s decision to close Middlesex University Press.

According to Amazon the book is due on 31 March, 2010.

The book contains an essay by John Marshall and myself that is preambled thus:

Marshall and Bleecker, in their essay, propose the term ‘undisciplinary’ for the type of work prevalent in this book. That is, creative practice which straddles ground and relationships between art, architecture, design and technology and where different idioms of distinct and disciplinary practices can be brought together. This is clearly evident in the processes and projects of the practitioners’ work here. Marshall and Bleecker view these kinds of projects and experiences as beyond disciplinary practice resulting in a multitude of disciplines ‘engaging in a pile-up, a knot of jumbled ideas and perspectives.’ To Marshall and Bleecker, ‘undisciplinarity is as much a way of doing work as it is a departure from ways of doing work.’ They claim it is a way of working and an approach to creating and circulating culture that can go its own way, without worrying about working outside of what histories-of-disciplines say is ‘proper’ work. In other words, it is ‘undisciplined’. In this culture of practice, they continue, one cannot be wrong, nor have practice elders tell you how to do what you want to do and this is a good thing because it means new knowledge is created all at once rather than incremental contributions made to a body of existing knowledge. These new ways of working make necessary new practices, new unexpected processes and projects come to be, almost by definition. This is important because we need more playful and habitable worlds that the old forms of knowledge production are ill-equipped to produce. For Marshall and Bleecker, it is an epistemological shift that offers new ways of fixing the problems the old disciplinary and extra-disciplinary practices created in the first place. The creative practitioners contained within the pages of this book clearly meet the ‘undisciplinary’ criteria suggested by Marshall and Bleecker in that they certainly do not need to be told how or what to do; they do not adhere to conventional disciplinary boundaries nor do they pay heed to procedural steps and rules. However, they know what’s good, and what’s bad and they instinctively know what the boundaries are and where the limits of the disciplines lie.

(Via Designed Objects.)

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Digital Blur: Stories from the Edge of Creative Design Practice

Cribbed from John Marshall’s Designed Objects blog, he and I contributed a short, analytic essay on inter/trans/undisciplinarity as it pertains to design practices for this book — Digital Blur: Stories from the Edge of Creative Design Practice. The book is forthcoming in September-ish I am told and contains a collection of conversations and project reviews from some wonderful designers practicing in the edgy, curious, peculiar near future where things are calibrated slightly differently and the world has tipped a little to the side. Can’t wait for this to come out, not so much so I can see what we wrote (I have trouble reading my own writing and I’ve long since forgotten what we said, although I’m sure it is somewhere on the hards drives or clouds) but because these sorts of compilations of projects are great sources of energy and inspiration.

Creative Practice at the Boundaries of Architecture, Design and Art
Edited by Paul Rodgers and Michael Smyth

This book brings together ten of the world’s leading practitioners and thinkers from the fields of art, architecture and design who all share a common desire to exploit the latest computing technologies in their creative practice. The book reveals, for the first time, the working processes of these major practitioners’ work that breaks down traditional creative disciplinary boundaries. inter_multi_trans_actions provides a rich picture, both visually and textually, of the following ten leaders in the field – Jason Bruges Studio, Lucy Bullivant, Greyworld, HeHe, Crispin Jones, the Owl Project, the Pooch (BigDog Interactive), Bengt Sjolen, Troika, and Moritz Waldemeyer.
This book aims to inspire and inform any reader with an interest in design, architecture, art and/or technology and provides essential reading for any practitioner, researcher, educator, and/or other stakeholders involved in the creative arts and industries. The book provides a detailed insight into the techniques of these ten significant creative individuals and how they exploit the latest computing technologies in their work and the impact this will have for creative practice in the future.
• paperback
• ISBN: 978 1 904750 69 7
• 264pp
• 264 x 196mm
• £24.95
• Publication date: September 2009
• Middlesex University Press

Why do I blog this? Another annotation about forthcoming written things and a busy fall season of exciting activities.
Continue reading Digital Blur: Stories from the Edge of Creative Design Practice

Innovation 2.0?

Thursday April 09, 15.19.14

Expectation or anticipation? In Batvik Finland?

An interesting article in the Harvard Business Review that I came across recently. It is relevant to a long-standing interest in other strategies for “innovation” particularly in commercial enterprises.

The article is called “Fewer Engineers, More Anthropologists” by Navi Radjou. It argues for, like…more anthropologists and fewer engineers while an enterprise attempts to “effectively identify[ing] and address[ing] the explicit and unmet needs of the broader consumer base in emerging markets.” (Quick translation — selling more stuff that makes sense to local people/cultures/practices in Brazil, India, South America and probably Africa, too.)

Why I find this intriguing is how ancient it sounds. If it the article was dated in 1990 I might understand. But it is quite recent, published only this month. This makes me think that something was forgotten, as is the nature of history. This is fine, except along with what was forgotten goes any lessons or insights learned.
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More Than One Degree

No one should be allowed to do what they’re diploma (or whatever..) says, especially if they have three of those diplomas — e.g. BS, MS, Ph.D. all in Computer Science or whatever. Should be a law. The other law? Switch what you do every 3-5 years..really. Versatility & variety & polymathic approaches to doing things. Depth through expanse and experience beyond chasing the same stuff for an entire education, or an entire career.

Why do I blog this? A CV received from a willing candidate in a topic area I am curious can do one thing quite well, but only one thing. It made me think about how flexibility and agility can be expressed in education and skilling. How do you retool yourself in a context such as the current crisis (trust, credit) we are in? Especially as the discipline in question — three degrees all told — becomes increasingly commoditized with overseas South, East and Southeast Asian “knowledge” workers (the new blue collar) willing to work in their local economies for 30, 40, 50, 60 percent less than their counterparts in North America or Western EU. (Partially because they can afford to, but also because the expectations for materializing one’s wealth are a quite strong — or were — motivator in the western contexts.)
Continue reading More Than One Degree

Undisciplinary Design / People-Practice

Crossing into a new practice idiom, especially if it offers the chance to feel the process of learning, is a crucial path toward undisciplinarity. The chance to become part of a practice — with all of its history, ideology, languages, norms and values, personalities, conferences — is an invigorating process. Embodying multiple practices simultaneously is the scaffolding of creativity and innovating, in my mind. It is what allows one to think beyond the confines of strict disciplinary approaches to creating new forms of culture — whether objects, ideas or ways of seeing the world.

I’ve been an engineer, working on the Motorola 88000 RISC processor at Data General back in the day. I studied how to think about the “human factor” as an engineering problem while I was working at the Human Interface Technology Lab at the University of Washington where I got my MSEng. The human factor has a less instrumental side, I discovered — it’s not just median heights and inter-ocular distances. So, I went to study culture theory and history of ideas at UC Santa Cruz where I got my Ph.D. I wanted to understand how people make meaning of the (technology-infused) world around them. Shortly after that, and quite accidentally, I entered the art-technology world when I recognized that I could do a form of “research” that was simultaneously technical and cultural. Four years in academia on the other side of the lectern provided a useful opportunity to try a different way of circulating knowledge, and a different set of constraints on what can and cannot be done in the area of practice-as-theory.

These disparate practices actually have a satisfying arc, in my opinion. It’s a combination of instrumental and practical skill, together with a sense of the meaning-making, theory and aesthetic possibilities of mostly technical and engineered objects.

Objects, I have learned, are expressive bits of culture. They make meaning, help us understand and make sense of the world. They are knowledge-making, epistemological functionaries. They frame conversations and are also expressions of possibility and aspiration. In many ways, they are some of the weightiest and expressive forms of culture we have. Being able to make objects and understand them as expressive, as able to tell or start or frame larger conversations and stories about the world is very satisfying.

Objects express the cultural, aesthetic, practical knowledge of their making — in their “design”, and in their crafting as “art”, or also in their “engineering.”

This is not a revelation for most of you, of course. For me, though, it has been a revelation to understand this kind of statement from the perspectives of multiple practices or disciplines.

Objects and culture are reciprocally embodied, certainly. But what object? And what culture? Certainly not one solidified, rock-solid meaningful object. If I take a phone (there are lots around me nowadays) and try to understand it, it matters from what “culture” (or discipline, or community-of-practice) I study it. At the same time, making an object, and how it is made, and what it will mean, and when I will know it is finished — all of these things depend on what culture or practice or body of knowledge you choose to look at it from.
Put an engineer, a model-maker, an industrial designer, a marketing guy all around a table, staring at a phone. What will they see? Where will they agree on what they see and where will they look blankly and wonder — what is that guy talking about? How much time is spent — minutes? months? — negotiating what is seen?

What practices fit in the middle? Is that inter-disciplines? And what practices run across many? Is that multi-discplines? Do trans-disciplines work above and beyond? What about undisciplinary? What way of seeing that object will make it into something new and unheard of? What way of seeing will materialize new objects, innovative ideas and conversations that create new playful, more habitable near future worlds? (And not just smart refrigerators and clothes hangers that automatically dry clean your shirts, or whatever.)

What do I call myself?

Approaches To Practice

Sunday March 29, 13.18.40

Professional Statement

My professional goal as an academic is to create wider, public understanding as to the meaning of, and possibilities for, an invigorated, livable technoculture. For the last several years, through scholarship, writing and art-technology projects, I have been primarily focused on the ways that networked digital cultures operate, exist and create meaning. More recently, I have developed a commitment to revealing a deeper sense of the possibilities for actively shaping what that digitally networked world looks like, how it is co-habited by many different kinds of social beings, and how we may co-exist as social beings within it. My goals, in other words, are to make sense of the “new networked age” episteme in such a way as to create a sense that it is possible to shape our world, to “hack it”, into some place that we can inhabit in a life-affirming, sustainable way.

I believe that the world is at a crucial intersection, as always, but this one really matters. There has long been a recognition that digital networks might likely be enablers for worldly change of the most profound and impactful kind. The arguments that undergird this point of view are familiar. The fluency and literacy that a consequential number of people have with its technical underpinnings matters because fluency and literacy amongst a diversity of social formations can yield “new things.” The capacity of individuals to acquire the material skills to create their own technologies that facilitate these social formations is unprecedented. The networks continue to pervade many touch points within the social lives of a diversity of peoples, and pervade many touch points within the physical, geographic world. Such arguments continue, often based upon access, skill, the economics of digital transmission, and so forth. Succinctly, there are far-reaching implications for digital networked publics. The portents for worldly change are provocative.
While the possibility for change is latent within these enabling conditions, the direction that change takes is not entirely clear: knowledge, literacy, techno-savvy DIY-skills may yield a variety of possible worlds, not all of which, on an ethically normative register, are palatable. On the one hand, it is presently conceivable that the new networked age could provide us with a mechanism to make a world that is more habitable, more sustainable and more accepting of cultural and political difference. On the other hand, it is well within the power of the informed imagination to conceive of a digitally networked world that is precisely the opposite.

In sum, it is my professional goal to turn my creative and intellectual energy toward ways to achieve the more life-affirming social world.

My Approach To Scholarship
I hope I can distinguish my scholarship as an interdisciplinary hybrid that knits together my engineering and social sciences background, training and passions. As an engineer, I am fascinated by technology and actively develop such, but I am less interested in doing traditional engineering, such as creating more efficient data storage software, or making faster computer processors. As a social scientist, I like the idea of revealing the complex, imbricated relationship between technology and culture, but I also like to make culture through my technology projects.

The challenge for me in doing interdisciplinary work is that I embody interdisciplinarity. I want to make technology and culture at the same time. I want to do such so as to understand how culture and technology are actually two sides of the same coin, something that social theory reveals fairly well through science and technology studies, and cultural anthropology, and other disciplines as well. While also doing this kind of social theory, I want to make — design, code, build, test, release — the kinds of manifest contributions to new networked worlds that technology, absent social theory, is able to do through traditional engineering practice.

This approach to scholarship is perhaps best encapsulated in what Tara McPherson describes as a “theory object” — an instantiated “thing” that is able to “do” theory in its design, construction and use. Theory objects are embodiments of social theory and social practice, where the “social” is part of the design and construction of the “thing.” In my case, the “theory objects” I would like to construct are instantiations of the research questions my scholarship addresses.

This approach reveals social theory through the creation of technical instrumentalities, or framing theory through the creation of technological systems, or answering questions as to how meaning and social interactions can become embodied within or made possible by a device, software program or engineering practices. For instance, a component of my current book project is an investigation of more serene environments for networked digital social communication. Email, for example, and instant messaging, are seen in some contexts to be persistently nagging utilities that can be disruptive and distracting. Here, the question is around finding livable usage scenarios for IM or email. I am developing a software application that attempts to answer this question, by recasting the way in which we engage our email or interact with our IM buddies. As a “theory object”, this software may succeed or may fail or, more likely it will both succeed and fail, as all technologies and all social theories do. But, through the construction of this software object, it is my intention to both address this research question — what are less disruptive ways to engage digital communications practices. At the same time, by showing the step-by-step design and construction of the object, I can reveal the way that practice gets built into software.