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The Semester Begins: Everything is Digital

January 31, 2014

Into the second week of the new semester.

This semester’s classes:

Digital Curation: A combination of history of computing and computers (interesting for context), attempting to impart an understanding of how computers work at the smallest level of switches and bits and bytes. Wednesday’s lecture was very hard going for me, trying to understand and visualize the inner workings of computers at their smallest or earliest historical level. Still to come: practical discussion and tactics about restoring damaged data, using Wikipedia judiciously and effectively. The instructor is prone to turns of phrase that have one of my classmates creating a custom Twitter hashtag:

“Wikipedia, founded in the Bay Area, and has more Google juice than Google.”

“Program flow: it’s like going on a date in NYC and finding out the person lives off the G Train. Romance killer.”

It is not outside the realm of possibility that these witticisms are extra funny in an evening class on a Wednesday night, when you’re trying to push your brain to understand and trust that a computer’s inner workings are made of bits and bytes and switches and things. I need to go over my notes, because there were a lot of complicated terms about packets and program flow and data storage that left me with the impression of “very small, electronic voodoo.” I may be missing some key elements of understanding.

Current assignment in Digital Curation class. Edit Wikipedia articles about computer history, adding sources, and generally improving them. Current thoughts about current assignment: editing Wikipedia in a useful manner is hard. Anything I can think of to add to things has been done- to be successful at this assignment, you have to have the hipster mindset, of expertise in a topic “before it was cool,” otherwise it’s already well-cited and there’s nothing much that needs doing.

Last night was the first meeting of the User Experience class. Have heard very, very good things about the instructor, who teaches two classes: User Experience and Information Architecture.

Assigned reading for last night’s UX class was the first three chapters of The Design of Everyday Things by Donald Norman. We were only assigned to read the first bits of it. But I tore through the entire book over the course of last weekend. Norman’s overarching theme can be summed up as “When you have trouble with things– whether it’s figuring out how to push or pull a door or the arbitrary vagaries of the computer and electronics industry– it’s not your fault. Don’t blame yourself: blame the designer.” A simple notion, and it sounds like common sense, as do most of the explanations that he makes over the course of his narrative.

Think about it some more: Fumbling and frustrated, not sure what button to push, or pushing the wrong button, and not getting the result you want. Feeling stupid? Stop feeling stupid and awkward. Start thinking in terms of design flaws. Shifting that perspective is tremendously freeing. I was pretty much highlighting and underlining something on just about every page. Common sense, once you form the thought… but if you’re used to the frustration and blaming yourself for your own fumbling with technologies and gadgets, it becomes a revelation. Definitely a fan of Norman’s approach. And curious about how the rest of the class will play out.

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