Weekly Learning: Workshop, Grit, Prequel, and Recycling

The Planet of Workshops

Are workshops ruining the UX design world? points out something important for all the wrong reasons.

Firstly:

Workshops do not replace proper user research

True, but not helpful, because a concerned third party could simply say: “well, workshop is part of our approach to user research.”

Secondly:

Workshops do not “democratize design”

Even truer, but, hey, why does design have to be democratized? Sometimes it shouldn’t be.

Workshops are not the answer to every problem

Of course, but not helpful, because no one would admit that they think workshops are the answer to every problem.

But great points anyway, because there’s more to add.

Firstly:

Workshop is, almost always, neither the first nor the only part of your user research.

Secondly:

Workshop is not meant to democratize design. It’s meant to democratize decision making, and therefore, power.

And lastly:

Workshop is the questions to every problem.

Sex, Money, Tech, and Power

OnlyFans’ Truth Laid Bare: The Marriage of Sex, Money, Tech and Power makes quite some spearing points.

Sex, money, tech and power. One way or another, all major world events have been tied to one of these four concepts.

OnlyFans, a social media platform created to share explicit content against tips, finds a way to merge all four. In doing so, it also manages to elegantly reflect the state of technology in 2021.

That “Uberisation of Sex” could even sound like a liberating idea, but:

Most Creators don’t Make a Lot of Money… But the Platform is Making a Killing

So:

Make no mistakes : nude or clothed, the rich getting richer is a staple of post-2016 tech. Just like everywhere else in tech, a conversation about the just remuneration of the thousands of workers turning a select few into millionaires is well worth having.

And arguably:

It would be easy to argue that the OnlyFans is creating a new paradigm for sex work, where women are in control.

…one however wonders if it’s even possible for women to reclaim their sexuality in a deeply entrenched patriarchal society, or if claiming to do so is just a lie women tell themselves so they can more comfortably cater to the male gaze.

But what’s the problem, exactly?

It’s a lot easier to explain the platform’s success as a correlation to the government’s inability to help young women in need, rather than through any form of feminist movement.

Sex, money, tech and power. OnlyFans uses two, and generates the others. By using these tools, it acts as a bellwether for society, reflecting and accentuating our most pressing issues. If we work hard enough on these issues, maybe, just maybe, there might be a time when OnlyFans is no longer newsworthy.

Much Ado About Grit

The Weak Case for Grit might not be the myth-debunking piece you hesitate to read, but it poses some great questions that any critical thinker would seriously consider before committing to becoming a GRIT advocate.

Firstly, the evidence is still rather weak:

The evidence for her strongest claims about grit’s efficacy still hasn’t arrived. Almost two decades since she started her research, it has not been established that grit is a genuinely useful concept that tells us much that we didn’t already know—or that it can be boosted, anyway.

[…]

As it turns out, there was never much in the literature to support either of the two ideas that launched grit on its way: that it was more useful than conscientiousness and that it seriously outperformed “traditional” measures of cognitive or, in the context of military training, physical performance. It is difficult to justify Duckworth’s statement that grit “beats the pants” off older, more established measures. Many of the examples she gives consisted of studies in which the predictive usefulness of grit wasn’t compared with its most obvious competitor, conscientiousness, in which grit simply didn’t perform as well as traditional measures, or both.

Secondly:

While grit might be useful in certain very specific domains, it is not a particularly helpful concept for predicting who will succeed.

And lastly, perhaps critically:

It may be unfair to poor kids to focus on grit. Doing so reflects a blinkered understanding of how inequality operates and perpetuates itself.

The Art of Prequel

Is There Such a Thing as a Necessary Prequel? asks:

Why are prequels so hard to pull off?

And it provides deep insights on the art of storytelling along the way, by using C.S. Lewis’ Narnia prequel, The Magician’s Nephew, as an example:

The Magician’s Nephew was the hardest book to write in the Narnia series. It took C.S. Lewis five years, one significant redraft, and completing every other book in the Narnia series before he’d finally beaten The Magician’s Nephew into an acceptable shape.

C.S. Lewis is a great example because:

…if even C.S. Lewis struggles with writing a prequel, why do so many screenwriters and novelists think they can toss off a prequel that’s genuinely satisfying?

Truly great prequels are difficult to pull off:

It would have been easy for Lewis to fall into the classic prequel mistake of assuming that the person we saw in the original book was always that way, importing their old habits wholesale…

The lesson:

By allowing the character to be not the person we already know, there’s room for both change and surprise.

And more importantly:

It’s difficult to discover anything new about someone who’s presented in the exact same way they were the first time we met them. Lewis isn’t asking, “Remember what you knew about the Professor in the last book?” and then sticking to some hoary blueprint; rather he asks, “Remember what you liked about the kids in this series?”

Masterfully, in his prequel:

Lewis consistently prioritizes “Remember what you enjoyed?” over “Remember what happened?”

The question Lewis is actually answering is, “What did people enjoy about the previous book, and how can I give them more of that?” Whereas when you look at far drearier prequels, the question they’re starting with all too often is: “What don’t we know?”

“What we don’t know?” is often the [most boring] question you could ask.

Why? Because:

Most readers bring a delightful, childish wonder to a story, cheerfully trusting there’ll be weird spots we just roll with. Why do dragons breathe fire? How do repulsor beams work? Why is Tom Bombadil’s poetry so powerfully insufferable?

We accept “That’s just how it is” and move on.

While that “is not to say that you can’t explain a mysterious part of the story.”

Yet the answers to those questions have to reverberate in some interesting way that adds depth or emotional resonance to what we already know!

And critically:

Like all good barroom trivia, the answer must be more interesting than the question.

Maybe the art of storytelling is, indeed, partly about answering the right questions:

I think Lewis needed all that time to write The Magician’s Nephew in part because he was wise enough to realize that prequels hold their own special danger—you have to answer some questions about What Has Gone Before, yes, but which of those questions should drive the plot beats of the story, and which should be left a mystery?

The Myth of Recycling

It’s been a long time since the last time I read something this resonant — I’m an Environmental Scientist, and I Don’t Care If You Recycle offers some great opinions you don’t have to agree with, but which you have to think critically about.

The situation is definitely not good:

Microplastics and the plastic waste in our oceans, food-chain and even air are harmful to humans and wildlife. In one study, 100% of the mussels tested contained microplastics. And even if you go vegan and only eat organic food, you are likely to breathe in plastic from urban air and drink it with your water.

But:

…the amount of single-use plastic churned out every day is not the consumer’s fault. If you have tried going plastic-free or tried reducing your plastic waste, you know how hard it can be. Sometimes products come in layers and layers of plastic, and we have to go the extra mile to avoid it.

The point is:

Recycling is good but the truth is, banning, reducing, and redesigning has way more impact.

So what are the issues, exactly? The author gives four:

Most plastic is too expensive to recycle.
Wealthy countries export their plastic waste.
Recycling should be the last option.
Not all bioplastics have a low environmental footprint.

And:

…a lot of plastic pollution comes from industries and that over 50% of it comes from consumer single-use plastics.

The author also provides a list of actions to take.

Museo

Museo is a visual search engine that connects you with the Art Institute of Chicago , the Rijksmuseum , the Harvard Art Museums , the Minneapolis Institute of Art and the New York Public Library Digital Collection.

Definitely super nice if you know what you’re looking for.

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