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Towards a pure, fundamental and quality notion of life and the world

Recently I was inspired by some things I heard and saw. One of them is from a video of Prof. Paul Dourish’s speech in Stanford. It is not his speech but Prof. Klemmer’s introduction that moved me. He said, and as I paraphrase, the smartest people are not those who know the most maths, but those who see the world more clearly. He meant Prof. Dourish’s contribution to HCI lies exactly on helping the others have a better understand of the problems they deal with. The other inspiration comes from a Japanese Drama called “おせん”. It is about an old restaurant, regardless of how the world is changing, stubbornly sticking to its traditional way of “料理” (simply put, making food). Even though the restaurant is eventually sold and dead, the spirit is not – the owner and staff still believe in preserving old and delicious cuisines and making food purely based on the purpose of offering customers the best dining experience.

Simply put, we live in a world with too fast changes and too many fancy things around. Even though most of us claim we can adapt to it or even lead it (since we are the new generation), we have no idea what and how much we have lost when doing so. As much as in the Drama the Japanese boy no longer appreciates the taste of  radish, most of us unconsciously lost the ability to appreciate things our ancestors once valued a lot. For example, how many of us can excitedly spend a night at home, simply reading books and more importantly, for no particular purposes but having fun? For books, honestly, most of us might already be “too evolved“ to make ourselves happy from reading it. Further, even in research, in HCI, we are sometimes overwhelmed and controlled by all the “fancy stuff” while forgetting what is really fundamental or important about the subject, the problem, the project and the field. For example, earlier this year, people were excited about the emergence of Microsoft Kinect and the SDKs and demos that came along with it. Many developed amazing projects using it such as Kinect-based browser, Kinect-based navigation system, Kinect-based robot, just to name a few. Most of the focuses come down to “what can I do with this cool device and technology?” And the following ideas showcase themselves and compete with the others. Here I am not rejecting the idea of using new technology like Kinect – in fact I am actively involved in it. My question, as always, comes to: with so many cool stuff (e.g., Kinect) coming all the time, how can we deal with it? Ready for battle all the time? Completely ignoring them? Selectively and continuously learning them? The reason I ask is I sometimes have the concern that many of us are driven by or anchored to one particular technology and its popularity while later on such effort spent are challenged or even disproved by another piece of newer and fancier technology. Another example is iPhone. Programming with iPhone has become a popular practice in HCI papers – even I usually start my sketches with drawing an iPhone. In some sense we are kind of “controlled” by this product from Apple. We sometimes say “hey, iPhone has this. Maybe we can do something with it.” This, however, is not necessarily bad; what I wonder is: can we not be controlled and limited by it? Without a direct answer to the question, I envision a way of doing research where the ideas control the technology, regardless of whether that technology is old or new, available or not, popular or not. In other words, we understand things from building stuff using technology. Then such understanding goes beyond the built stuff and forms itself into a shape where any technology or device becomes just a way of expressing and illustrating the understanding. Finally, it does not matter whether we have Kinect or not, or whether we are holding an iPhone: they are just some of the ways we can use to illustrate our ideas.

To sum up, be it life or research, from what I gained recently, I am thinking about moving myself towards a pure, fundamental and quality notion. “Pure” means being able to see things clearly and have in mind what is your idea and what you want to do. “Fundamental” means focusing on the more essential elements of what you are doing – try to understand, appreciate and enjoy such fundamentals. And “quality” means a pursuit toward better and better process without distracted or obfuscated by those that are less important.

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About Xiang 'Anthony' Chen

Making an Impact in Your Life

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