Technology and…Me?

So I have never been much of a gamer or techie.  I spent my childhood reading endless books and frolicking around the Ottawa River, my head happily in the clouds. While my little brother waged his battles with Sega (does anyone remember Sonic the Hedgehog?), I merrily fought my way through mountains of thickets. I spent my teenage years steadfastly avoiding the internet and immersing myself in rather grotesque works of art that my mom still insists we keep, for memories sake. My first cell phone and my first Facebook account? Not until my early 20s. It took me years to get a smartphone. So I surprised myself when, all of a sudden, I began to show an interest in themes such as innovation, start-ups, technology, social enterprise, design, etc. As I explored these themes, I found myself in a very different universe, filled with computer scientists, future librarians, architects, digital media specialists, and, well, me: a Sociology grad who had never heard of Arduino and didn’t realize that a URL was simply a web address. I was fairly certain everyone was speaking some other, entirely new language (Wayfinding? Open Source? Where was I?) Needless to say, I felt like a sloth…         …in a land of Spocks It took me a while, but eventually I let go of my inhibitions and focused on  learning. What did I discover? Nothing short of a brand new world, with plenty of room for social science majors too.   I'd like to share one practice that I've learned about in my foray into technology: The practice of Critical Making: We’ve all heard about critical thinking, no? It is the process of reflection and questioning that each of you must engage with as you come up with your own brilliant insights in your labs and papers. Well, critical making applies the process of critical thinking to the act of making something. Sound strange? It takes a moment to wrap your head around, I know. U of T’s very own Matt Ratto, an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Information, and a rather brilliant scholar, has written a great piece on critical making. Basically, critical making allows you to explore a concept and a physical material at the same time. The ultimate goal of critical making is to come up with new understandings of how to create something, or how you yourself work with others in order to create something. The actual end result may be functional or not, hideous or stunning. It is the process that matters; not so much the outcome. Interested in knowing more? Take a look at U of T’s Critical Making Lab. It seems to me that the principles that underlie today’s initiatives in design, innovation, gaming and startups revolve around creative and interdisciplinary collaboration, a lack of hierarchy amongst team members, and a focus on process and a common vision. Embedded in all of these is an interaction between the social and the technical. Since I really like the idea of creating things with others and making experiences more interactive, it is no surprise that my artsy, idealistic side was captured when I first encountered such notions. U of T is actually a bit of a hotbed when it comes to innovation and design. Feel inspired to get involved? Take a look at the following clubs and associations on campus:
  • Applied Architecture, Landscape and Design at U of T (AALD) – Did you know that the AALD Student’s Association offers workshops Photoshop, AutoCAD and Illustrator, among others? The workshops are open to everyone, and take place during the academic year.
  • For all of you current and future gamers, U of T has a Game Design and Development Club (GDDC). The club is “for anyone interested in the design and development of interactive electronic entertainment”. This includes musicians, writers and artists, for those of you who are not necessarily computer programming inclined!
  • U of T’s Rotman Commerce is offering a new undergraduate class in Business Design. Design Thinking,with its focus on a human-centred and creative problem-solving approach, is finding its way into many different disciplines.
  • U of T even has a Hackers' Cooperative (TUTHC), which creates a space for others to improve their programming skills, collaborate on projects, and allows for its members to be exposed to a variety of computer programming technologies.
  • And last but not least, stay tuned for a new Mobile App Development Lab (MADLab), in the works and set to open at Gerstein in the near future. More on MADLab  and open design practices next week!

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