Using UX to Build a Better World

UX is computer shorthand for User Experience. And a lot of work has gone into making it better, for computer users.

This is not because computer companies want to help people – they are only interested in helping themselves. But they are gradually realizing – that they have to help people, to help themselves.

And when I say gradually, I mean very gradually – with lots of setbacks.

I am listening to an excellent course – Introduction to the Foundations of Western Civilization – where this same dynamic occurs over and over. It takes hundreds of years – but eventually people get the message.

One of these messages, that gets repeated over and over, throughout history, is “We must build a better world!” And, quite frankly – we have failed miserably at this.

I am watching a MOOC, on edX, presented by the University of Michigan – Introduction to User Experience. They have developed a methodology for doing this – actually a lot of methods the designer can chose from. I asked myself why these could not be used to make a better world.

The answer is simple – it’s a matter of scope. UX works in the computer world (this is what it was designed for) – but cannot be used outside of it.

This is the tragedy of our times. We can work very well in developing computers – but not in developing a better world.

The Decision to do Everything Wrong

This is my reaction to being an American, in America, for most of my life. I didn’t like this way of life, but Americans could not imagine why. They were of the opinion that America was perfect. And that is why so many people from so many other countries were so desperate to be there.

The problem here is in the human mind, that seems to think of opposites as identical – with very dangerous consequences.

Americans think doing everything wrong, is the same as doing everything right. And nothing on earth will convince them otherwise.

I ended up in Silicon Valley – one of the craziest places in a crazy country. But no one there could understand why I didn’t like it. And I didn’t either – I thought there was something wrong with me, and I became suicidal.

I had plenty of therapists – the Valley is loaded with them – but not a single one thought the Valley might be the source of my problems. This idea was forbidden to them – and they would not venture into forbidden territory. And get blown to pieces.

Twenty years later, and living in another country – I can see they would not have been blown to pieces. But they still cannot see this. A belief, for people living anywhere – is a fact of life, and they do not question it.

This belief is simple: “America is perfect, and must not be questioned!”

To be proper Americans, they have to limit their thinking – and not question anything fundamental. And they know instinctively which beliefs are fundamental.

They cannot be good for America, and they cannot be good for themselves.

The State of the People

What people? You might ask – and I might answer “The American People!” But I wouldn’t say that, because it would make me look stupid.

Everyone knows the American People are no longer, and have not been for some time. And anyone who speaks of them, is a shameless politician, out to get our vote.

Sensible Americans are now out for themselves – at the expense of everyone else. But they will not come right out and say so. This has to be deduced from their actions.

And their actions, frankly, are ambiguous. They miss having a national identity – but they don’t see any way of getting it back.

They live in a global economy, tied together by a global TV, and a global Internet – with no way of controlling this.

They live in a world that is controlling them – not in a world that they are controlling. And this trend has been developing for some time – as our machinery has become more powerful and better connected. With a quantum jump in the Fifties with TV, and then the Computer.

This is such an impossible situation – we cannot accept it. But scream at the top of our lungs “No, No, No!” And refuse to support such a world.

But this world does not need the support of most of people in it – it can get along nicely without them. Note that I said most of the people – who are useless in the Computer world.

These people will continue to exist, and continue go to their shopping centers – but will also feel less and less important, and get less and less money – because they will be less and less important!

The stage is set for lots of social instability.

The Sermon on the Internet

Schneier on Security

We no longer have things with computers embedded in them. We have computers with things attached to them.

The Internet is no longer a web that we connect to. Instead, it’s a computerized, networked, and interconnected world that we live in. This is the future, and what we’re calling the Internet of Things.

You can think of the sensors as the eyes and ears of the Internet. You can think of the actuators as the hands and feet of the Internet. And you can think of the stuff in the middle as the brain. We are building an Internet that senses, thinks, and acts.

This is the classic definition of a robot. We’re building a world-size robot, and we don’t even realize it

This guy lays it on the line. He only misses one thing – no one is listening to him – or only a few are. What he is saying is complicated – compared to the Sermon on the Mount, that was so simple, anyone could understand it.

I want to understand the Computer – and spend time everyday on this task. I have only learned one thing for sure – Computers are complicated.

Asking our stone-age minds to understand them is asking for a lot – but I have such a mind, as do Software Developers. All of us have to shift into another world – yet another one! And I know we can do it.

I have put this on the top of my reading list – and I am going to read it if it kills me!

America and the Americans

This distinction appeared early in the 19th Century, when America become urban and industrialized. Before, there had been only one type of American – farmer, although, in the South there were slave-owning Planters that produced tobacco for, and bought manufactured goods from, an overseas market – mainly English.

This distinction was personified by Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton. George Washington tried to moderate between them – but eventually presided over the American Constitutional Convention that made the United States happen.

Thomas Jefferson, who was in France at the time – came back, became involved in American politics – thereby making himself powerful, and fathered children by one of his slaves, at the same time.

The new kind of American was typified by Andrew Jackson, very much a self-made man – who, without knowing it – made possible the formation of many new kinds of Americans. He made them respectable by his own example.

And this new respectability was celebrated by Walt Whitman. Who made the Common Man not only respectable – but almost divine.

This was a new idea – but one Americans (all kinds of Americans) took as their own. I might as well state it here:

No matter how incompetent you are, you are basically perfect!

To this day, Americans believe this – and believe this completely. When I was working in Silicon Valley, in the Nineties – I saw all kinds of destructive craziness going on. But everyone was saying “Nothing bad is going on!”

Nothing bad could happen, because they were so good!

Longfellow Compared to Whitman

Poetry Foundation – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As you know, I have been reading Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography. And I have been surprised to discover that these two lived and wrote at the same time.

Whitman is now considered (along with Dickinson) as one of the founders of American poetry. Why?

Because, I think – Whitman was more American.

Longfellow was from New England, but more was happening, in Antebellum America, further South, centered in New York City. Whitman was part of that scene. He didn’t like it, especially – but he could not resist it.

This scene was dirty – to speak plainly – and Whitman covered himself in this mud. First, as a journalist – and then as a poet.

He thought he refined it in his writing – and perhaps he did. But Americans loved sensational writing – and he was full of it.

The Appeal of Destructive Behavior

The appeal of destructive behavior is built into the Human species – and manifests itself most readily in war.

Usually, this behavior is referred to, in the abstract – as violence.But I prefer the more general word – destructive. We can see this most readily during times in the past, when groups of people destroyed each other – and themselves. They were possessed by a destructive frenzy.

We have to ask ourselves “What precipitates this destructive frenzy?” In our times, it seems to be – unconscious dissatisfaction with the present situation, coupled with the inability to understand it.

People become unhappy with the way their world is treating them – but are not allowed to consciously experience this – so it gets shoved into their unconscious. Where it festers, until it explodes.

Our first learning experience is as small children – most of what we learn, we learn in the first three years of our lives – and probably even before we are born. The fetus knows very well, the attitude of its mother to it.

If a small child is treated badly, what can he (or she) do about it? This is a huge decision, and everything depends on it. He will try to adopt other people’s solutions.- which usually, is to deny the problem exists – and, as part of this solution, move it into their unconscious. The rest of his life, he will live with this time-bomb buried in his mind.

If we are rejected, we adopt different personalities, that will be accepted – but we never feel satisfied with them – and social instability builds up.

The only solution is a complete restructuring of society – which is going on right now, with a move towards a Software economy. Whether this will save us, or not – remains to be seen.