recentpopularlog in

robertogreco : redburns   3

Let's Stop Focusing on Shiny Gadgets and Start Using Tech to Empower People | Wired Opinion |
"Even though Red Burns was one of the most influential figures in the tech industry over the past 30 years — most famous for co-founding the groundbreaking Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at NYU, and in a sense, the beginnings of interaction design — it’s not uncommon for technophiles to have never heard her name. Two weeks ago, she passed away. But much more needs to be said about one of the smartest, gutsiest women I ever knew, and about what she thought about education, technology, design … and life.

Red wasn’t particularly interested in IPOs or the latest tech fetish, even though she was always exceptionally proud of her students and their accomplishments. She knew that technology was a means to an end — and that the end was people.

In that simple reframing from technology to empowerment of people, I believe there’s something everyone one of us — whether designer, programmer, entrepreneur, investor, teacher, student, parent, or child — can learn from Red. Especially in a world where we tend to focus on teaching kids to code, debating the flatness of the latest iOS, or discussing the newest and shiniest device still searching for a meaningful application.

But Red wasn’t that interested in technology per se; she saw it as something you needed to get to the real work: improving people’s lives, making them feel more connected, bringing delight in big and small ways, and empowering them to affect change.

When Red co-founded ITP in 1971, most people were aspiring to get to color TV, but she was dreaming of ways to turn the media ecosystem upside down. Among her many projects was two-way television for and by senior citizens — one of the first Teletext field trials in the United States. She was passionate about turning “consumers” into creators, and her work and philosophies foretold of some of the most successful products of the digital age: YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

“I’m not going to teach you any software programs. Software changes. Technology changes. You are here to learn how to learn.” Those are the first words I recall hearing from Red in my very first class at ITP.

It wasn’t a coincidence that Red created ITP inside NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts rather than the computer science department; she wanted the program to be filled with dreamers, inventors, artists, and change-makers. She questioned the status quo and continued to do so as an educator and industry provocateur.

Today, the program Red co-founded represents the most innovative higher ed laboratory for what design, technology, and art can do when brought together in new and inventive ways. When I attended ITP in the mid 1990s — on the eve of the explosion of the commercial web and the birth of New York’s Silicon Alley tech scene — my class was filled with an unlikely cohort.

Many students, including myself, had little experience with technology. There were teachers, artists, filmmakers, policy experts, lawyers, musicians, and even a sword swallower from the Coney Island sideshow. Red relished finding people from every corner of the globe, and from every background and walk of life you could imagine.

This deep, abiding belief in the importance of diversity in the collaborative process is one of the many values I inherited from Red. When it came to finding students for that next class at ITP, she was less interested in the answers people brought to the table; instead it was all about the questions.

Red could have filled her classes with cookie-cutter 4.0 students with pedigrees from the elite undergraduate institutions of the world, and to be clear, there were some of those. She was famous for saying it was harder to get into ITP than it was to get into medical school. But Red was much more interested in the level of curiosity and passion an individual brought to the ITP community, and she knew there were many different ways to be “smart”.

Imagine what would happen if more schools, companies, and organizations thought this way, and the new kinds of engagement, learning, and invention that might take place.

Red had a strong belief that important concepts were discovered through play. This is a common notion in modern preschool education, but certainly isn’t the norm inside most companies, where efficiency and the bottom line rule the day and new ideas suffocate before they get a chance to catch on. It’s perhaps even less of a norm within most university settings, where supporting professors’ work and bringing prestige to the educational institution itself is paramount, so students often get lost in the mix.

Just one walk down ITP’s halls during a spring or fall student show reveals that it’s like no other educational environment in the world. The shows are more than the average tech “demo days” that tend to attract hungry entrepreneurs, recruiters, and investors. They draw in people from every walk of life — toddlers and grandparents, businessmen and artists, dreamers and doers — and the projects represent a diversity of ideas that open the mind to new possibilities.

I sometimes describe ITP to those not familiar with it as “Kindergarten for grownups”, but also love another description I once heard: “Engineering for poets.” Both of those convey the wonderfully fuzzy space between art and technology where so many new and important ideas are born. In this way, Red and her educational philosophies developed both the right and left sides of the brain by teaching artists to code and engineers to empathize.

There is much to be learned from Red’s teaching philosophies — really, a way of thinking. Not just for programs looking to replicate the magic of ITP, but for companies and other organizations and individuals, too. There’s a certain shorthand of understanding that takes place whenever ITP alums encounter each other, as I have during my time working at Google and Facebook. We may not know exactly what background or hard skills each brings to the table, but we know we are likely dealing with an open, curious spirit; a great collaborator; and someone who is human-centered in the way he or she approaches problem solving."
redburns  technology  design  criticism  criticaldesign  margaretstewart  itp  2013  diversity  humanism  humanity  openstudioproject  tcsnmy  lifelongkindergarten  reggioemilia  poetry  accessibility  computersareforpeople 
november 2013 by robertogreco

Copy this bookmark:

to read