I was born and raised in Southern California. I received a Bachelor's of Science in Sociology/Law and Society from the University of California, Riverside. I went on to get my Master of Arts in Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Southern California. I'm currently working towards a doctorate in Film and Media Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara. My areas of research are biopolitics/necropolitics, race and indigeneity in the Middle East, and histories of computing. I'm generally interested in researching broken media (still working on what that means, exactly). I used to be an amateur game designer and programmer, but that was FOREVER ago. I barely remember how to do any of those useful computer things. Now I just spend my time playing video games, watching cartoons, catching up on the NERDIEST fantasy lore, and pretending to read books.
For my design problem, I am interested in thinking about maintaining my relationship to myself. It's not as easy as it sounds, and I'm certainly no good at it. My current ways of handling this relationship to myself are mostly reactive. Usually, I'll just play video games for the whole day or longer. Video games are fun, but sitting in a chair and yelling at my computer for 18 hours a day probably wasn't great for my health. Therapy is the obvious solution, but I'm not really ready for that yet (that's NOT to say that therapy is bad). I don't want to take medication (tried it before, didn't have the best results). Instead, I want to develop a better relationship with myself. I want to be more pro-active in handling my feelings. I need to have a toolbox I can reach for when I have to put up with an emotional attack. I want to create something that will help me get to that point.
I'm definitely not alone in wanting to find alternative outlets for dealing with depression. There are at least ten podcasts where people spend time talking about depression and anxiety (way too easy to find on Spotify). People find creative outlets to take care of themselves: making music, drawing beautiful images, creating personal websites and blogs, etc. There's even chat and text-based therapy services for people looking to find "alternative" kinds of therapy. To take up a scholarly (kinda) voice for a second here, I'm very interested in these mediated/media-based ways of interacting with oneself.
I will propose three solutions for my design problem (two fake solutions, and one I've already decided on). My first solution is to create an online space or an application for video-based support groups. This is based on what I find difficult about the chat or text-based therapy services: sometimes you just don't have words to explain what's going on in your head! This video-based support group might be a prototype for a facial-recognition software (for the user's private use). The software might be used to capture the different facial expressions made by the user whenever they just "don't have the words" to express themselves. Those facial expressions would be captured and saved, to be used in whatever way the user desires (private reflection, or a different way to communicate with others without having to rely on words, etc.).
My second solution is to create a small social media platform based on growing plants. I've witnessed many a graduate student put their energies into growing plants, ranging from a couple plotted plants to a full-on garden (I have no idea why this is a thing). However, because graduate students are busy doing their grad work, taking care of themselves and/or others, and trying to be the human beings they once were, the plants don't usually last for very long. The social media platform I'm proposing would bring together a small community of would-be graduate gardeners. People might share photos of their plants, or post questions about how to better take care of their plants. People could collaborate on an informal database, recording information on the types of plants they're growing (as well as how often they water their plant, special ingredients mixed in the water, the amount of light exposure it gets, the number of cuddles it, the number of selfies it has, other useful data, etc.). There should certainly be a kind way to remind someone to take care of their plant or to check on it regularly.
My third (and selected) solution is to create a digital diary. I personally find writing to be empowering and therapeutic (even writing this document brought me some relief). However, this is a special kind of digital diary. Unlike the kind of writing I see on personal blogs or video diaries, my digital diary will not attempt to make itself clear to any user other than myself. In my other digital works, I've found that prioritizing my pleasure and my understanding has been a highly generative artistic approach. It's a kind of interactivity that rejects the universalism seen in many digital projects. My digital diary will not be designed for everyone to have the same interaction. In fact, no one will be able to interact with this piece in the same way that I can. As a digital diary, it will take up a multimedia basis. This means that the diary will not just include brief essays, but also collections of sounds, images, and videos. This diary will act as a personal, multimedia archive - but only I will be able to understand how the data is organized. This is an important intervention in personal writing. Making your work legible to other users is a layer of labor that must be recognized. I've always been interested in removing that layer of labor, and observing how other users make sense of what I present.
My design problem addresses a personal interaction: an interaction with myself. My aim is to prototype a digital object that will allow me to process my feelings when I undergo an emotional attack. This is meant to help me work through my depression as an intermediary step before seeking therapy. To this end, my digital object should function as a kind of digital diary. However, the challenge in my interaction design in that this digital diary should not rely on written words, and should not present a "neat" compilation of my thoughts and feelings. Rather, my aim in this object is to "build a mess".
I want to be able to draw on a personal database that I construct - a database filled with sound, image, and video files that attempt to capture my feelings as they occur in non-sensical ways. This form of data capture is the best way to accommodate the way I feel my emotional attacks: as involuntary bodily movements, utterances, and facial expressions. The "mess" that I "build" will draw on these various types of files that demonstrate non-verbal emotional processing. In my prototype, these various objects will not be put together in ways that make sense, nor are they meant to be organized and categorized. Rather, I am meant to attach these files together in any way that helps me processes and move on from an emotional attack. Thus, the "mess" that I "build" will only make sense to me, and only in a particular moment. I will save each of these "messes" for purposes of reflection in the future.
The way I plan to enact this design is by building a jigsaw-like puzzle game in Unity. Any instance of the game will present the user (myself only) with a random assortment of sound, image, and video files. These files will be attached to different 3D shapes as textures (the shapes will be randomly assigned). My task is to arrange these files into a collage in whatever way helps me process an emotional attack (perhaps according to whatever "makes sense" to me in that moment). There may or may not be a timer for this collage task (I want to be able to move through emotional attacks relatively quickly, perhaps 20 minutes. At the same time, I don't want to cause myself any more anxiety.). When I am done collaging a particular set of materials (either by choice or by the timer going off), I will have a few options for what I can do with the collage (or "mess") that I've just built. I can save the collage, either to work on it some more at a later time or to simply reflect on it later. I can also delete the collage. I will also give myself the option to start another collage building instance, which will randomly generate a new set of materials for me to work with.
To complete this prototype, I first need to build my database and collect data. As this is just a prototype, I will collect a small amount of data (perhaps 10 of each type of file: sound, image, video). It has been many years since I've worked with Unity, so I'll probably need to find a jigsaw puzzle maker tutorial online and adjust for my project. The persona/user of this project is relatively simple to design for, as I will be the only intended user.
I'm pretty sure I did this paper prototype wrong. I've never done a paper prototype for a digital object that didn't have clear objectives, rules, etc. Since I couldn't really prototype rules and goals for my "digital diary," I decided to use the paper prototype to think through some other things that were brought up in the last critique. Specifically, I used this prototype to think through the materiality and tactility of the space on which I'd be assembling my messy collage of files.
In the last critique, it was pointed out to me that I had assumed the "background" and dimensionality of my digital diary project. I initially proposed a 3D puzzle/sculpting activity in which my files would become 3D objects that I would put together in whatever nonsensical ways I desired. I had suggested that this activity would take place on a "table top" background, without having put much thought into that decision. I've obviously revisited that decision (though the video does show that I interacted with my prototype on top of my coffee table). As the goal of my digital diary was to "build a mess," I decided to go with an adequately "messy" background: some of the papers currently littering my apartment floor. I don't usually crumple my papers (I'm not sure why anyone would - it takes up space and doesn't conceal any information). However, I found that crumpling the papers contributed to a "used" quality of the workspace that I was looking for (it was also cathartic to crumple up old homework for a minute). I had picked papers from my old Arabic homework because they happened to be lying around. I think I will continue using my old Arabic homework this way for future iterations of the project. It is, after all, one of the few modes of work I actually do on paper and not on a computer.
Crumpled paper also lends itself to a kind of tactility. The very frustration that my diary is meant to help me work through is "captured" in the uneven creases and folds of the paper. It fits well the theme of different modes of information storage and organization that underlies this diary project. The video also shows a "start" button made of crumpled paper. I demonstrate both "pressing" the button, and crumpling up the button as ways of interacting with that command. I think I like the crumpling of the button more, though I'm not sure how I would integrate that into the project. Based on feedback from the last critique, I removed the timer feature (though I'm really still undecided about this).
This paper prototype also allowed me to experiment with different tactilities of interaction. Aside from crumpling buttons, the video also shows a more delicate collage making process. The tactility of the actual activity is a bit muted. The diary "gives" me a random set of files, and I arrange them into a mess by picking them up and putting them down. For the music and video files, I just press play. While the interaction here seems light and lacking, I think I want to keep this simplicity. Most of my attention will go to the content of the files, and I'm not sure I would welcome the distraction of potentially making every single interaction more complex and weighted. I did try to experiment with a different tactile interaction by throwing something heavy onto my pieces (this is the book I threw down at the end). I'm undecided on whether I want to allow myself to throw heavy objects onto my collage (or to engage in other destructive activities towards my collage, such as setting it on fire or spilling water on it). Again, I'm concerned about creating too much of a distraction from what is supposed to be a thoughtful and meditative activity.
As the for the dimensions of the diary (the temporal dimensions, since there is music and video involved), I think I will just allow myself to play and pause music and videos as I please. It might be nice to have a sound mixing option, though I'm not sure if that will derail the main collaging activity of the diary. It might be simpler to just allow myself the option of having my media play one at a time according to my liking, or to potentially having things play at the same time and produce a cacophony (which really intrigues me for some reason). Ultimately, I have to try both options in the digital prototype and see which option I like more.
Prototype Version 1
Prototype Version 2
My second prototype turned into an accidental experiment with cacophony (building a mess of sound). When I was adding sound to the individual pieces, I made it so that the sound would start when you click on the image. I soon realized that I didn't include a function in the script that would stop the music being played in any way. Further, clicking on the same piece just starts a second iteration of the music to start. I don't remember how to include a pause function in the script, so the simple solution would be use shorter sounds...but I also weirdly like how messy this turned out to be. The overlapping sounds even made me laugh! For the next version of this prototype, I might adjust the sound, or I might work on getting the videos included in here. There doesn't seem to be a way to turn .mp4 files into sprites, so I might be working with gifs instead of videos.