It seems to me — and I may be wrong — that Tim is not really talking about the content of one post. He is talking about list culture. This is why I wrote about list culture and not the specifics of that post. Tim has addressed these kinds of issues before.
Immediately after Tim wrote and after I posted, I received yet a few more off-list comments, including a request to help one of the best researchers on the list to unsub — one of the few people applying design to large-scale social problems for major international organisations. I've been asking people not to leave, but rather to offer their views on list culture as several people have done. Thank you, Elizabeth, Eduardo, Victor, Stephen, Angelos and Fernando. I appreciate your willingness to step up to express yourselves.
I'm not reluctant to speak, but I am thinking about what I wish to say, so it may be a while before I post. I do want to offer a few comments on the interface of culture, context, and technology.
Eduardo is right — we are a global coffee break. Maybe even a global coffee shop. I walk in every day. Sometimes I see some regulars and sit down to listen. Other times, I join in. When the conversation doesn't interest me, I sit at a table of my own and read the paper.
Some days I'll see folks from my own school — there's Stefanie di Russo having a latte or Dori Tunstall ordering a vegetarian lasagna. Some days I see other folks. There's Don Norman; he's been sitting at his own table for a couple months working on the new edition of The Design of Everyday Things. Some folks show up infrequently with something deep to say when they do — perhaps Martin Salisbury or Carma Gorman, Sarah Rosenbaum or Victor Margolin, and always Jerry Diethelm. Others offer playful yet apposite comments that shed light — Gunnar Swanson is a case in point. There are people I sometimes argue with whose work I still deem central to our field — Klaus Krippendorff or Chuck Burnette come to mind. Every month, Fil Salustri posts notices and Marcio Dupont shows up a few times a month with useful new web sites. I could go on — it's a metaphor, and I can name a lot of people I admire and value whose words I read here.
In challenging Tim on the details of his post, Terry missed the point of Tim's note. Tim has written on these issues before, and Terry missed it then, too.
It is my hope that list members will think these issues through and offer some reflections on list culture. We will be much the poorer if people begin to leave. We will also be much the poorer if we change format or shift to another technology. Listserv is a superb technology — it allows threads for topical interest, but it keeps us all together in one place to allow for cross-conversations and multiple issues. The archive is massive, the search features are excellent, and JISCMAIL preserves all of our conversations back to the start of the list. JISCMAIL is the National Academic Mailing List Service of the UK. It began in JISC, Joint Information Systems Committee, but JISC has evolved as a public service company supported by different academic and government partners. JISCMAIL itself is operated by JISC Advance, based at JISC Netskills, at Newcastle University in the UK. It won't suddenly change or shift at the whim of an owner or a new business model — though a change in government policy or funding could, clearly, mean a major shift.
It's my view that threaded services, wikis, etc., won't work as well as this does. For issues in design research and research education, there is nothing quite like PhD-Design for spread, for depth of global membership, and — often — for the quality of conversation. I was recently at a meeting with a high-level HCI researcher when someone proposed that those present set up and use a wiki. She groaned, so I leaned over to ask her if it had been her experience — as it is mine — that she was groaning because wikis don't work. She said yes, and she has studied this over nearly twenty years as a senior chaired professor and research center director in three nations.
But the issue is not merely technology. The issue is that communities emerge over time, and in specific places. This includes the virtual global coffee shop of PhD-Design. You can walk in the door in Lisbon or Chicago, Singapore or Shanghai, but we all turn up in the same room.
It is my prediction that a wave of departures or an attempt to move to a new technology will fracture the list community. If this list fractures, my sense is that nothing quite like it will emerge in its place. The field has now grown to the point where we'll see several different approaches. There will doubtless be some unsatisfactory technical fixes that will flop about and fail. Some efforts may succeed, but not everyone will migrate, and projects that work will function at a far smaller size and scale. Any project that does work will only last as long as the business model and corporate ownership of the site permit it to last in today's turbulent technology environment. There will likely be smaller, dedicated replacements for serious, high-level interaction. These will be something like PhD-Design, but they will likely be invitational and there will probably be several such lists structured by discipline. Given the high-level expert model, these will most likely be closed off from the larger field. They will be inaccessible to PhD students and junior scholars except for those whose supervisors and mentors sponsor participation. Whatever happens, the design research community will lose the breadth and serendipity that often makes this such an interesting place.
The point is not to start yet another thread focused on one sentence in Tim's complaint. There are several ongoing threads — including one in which I owe Martin a reply that I've been polishing. But this larger issue seems more important to me.
List culture is the issue, not specific claims. This, as I see it, is the real source of Tim's frustration. He said as much on several occasions. Tim is not protesting. He is frustrated and irritated and he decided he is not willing to explain it yet again. I've written him off-list to ask that he remain involved in the list, and I deeply hope he returns. I am grateful that folks are sharing their views — especially the doctoral students and younger researchers who have not posted here before.
While I've got my broad concerns about the field, I am of two minds at the same time — the glass is both half-empty and half-full. We've got more promising, intelligent young researchers than ever before, and we continue to have methodological and conceptual problems. We are making progress and we're not where we should be. It seems to me that the PhD-Design list has done a great deal to foster the developing research culture of our field. I wouldn't personally be interested in a list system where I must spend more time searching through contents lists than reading, I'm not fond of travel so I'm not too concerned with conference calls, and even though I welcome the notices and research requests that make the list valuable, I'm not here for those. I come for the conversation.
The question is issue how to foster a high level of inclusive conversation that offers room for deep debate and broad commentary, for occasional jokes and for useful information. Please share your thoughts.
Ken Friedman, PhD, DSc (hc), FDRS | University Distinguished Professor | Swinburne University of Technology | Melbourne, Australia | [log in to unmask]<mailto:[log in to unmask]> | Mobile +61 404 830 462 | Home Page http://www.swinburne.edu.au/design/people/Professor-Ken-Friedman-ID22.html<http://www.swinburne.edu.au/design> Academia Page http://swinburne.academia.edu/KenFriedman About Me Page http://about.me/ken_friedman
Guest Professor | College of Design and Innovation | Tongji University | Shanghai, China
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