The day after I presented my paper in Austin, I went out with a few of my students who live there and had some terrific tapas, a few glasses of Spanish wine, and lots of great conversation. I was presenting as “minimal Joyce,” which I’ve explained elsewhere as an effort to see how little it’s necessary to change sex in order to build trust and legitimacy (in myself and in others).
I had this image of myself as a software project, partly because that’s the way I think (having done a lot of software projects in the past) and partly because it’s a metaphor I had begun developing for this academic paper in the week leading up to the Austin trip. Conference papers and scholarly articles are just like software projects — you can start with what you think are really tight specifications, but as the project emerges, you make little changes based on feedback from users and readers, sometimes huge changes and sometimes little ones.
The philosophy of building a little bit, testing a little bit, making little changes, then repeating the process is called “iterative design,” and it’s contrasted to what a lot of people call “waterfall design,” which describes a project that’s tightly designed for its outcomes, dates, milestones, and resources. When stage 1 is finished according to the specs, then it’s laid aside forever and the team cascades downhill to the next stage, thus creating the metaphor of the project proceeding inevitably downhill like a waterfall. This philosophy makes it really hard to make a late change to a problem that gets built into the project early; iterative design, in contrast, seems to develop more slowly, but all those little amendments get fixed as soon as the problems are identified.
Like a software project or a scholarly article, I myself am at the stage where George 2.0 (codenamed Joyce) needs to be taken out of the design room and put into extensive beta testing and software quality assurance (SQA) and focus group feedback. You can’t really refine a product by continuing to talk to the designers because they have biases and blind spots — in my case, I’m the self-developer and my own design processes are this blog, my therapist, and Mary Jo. Think of it as iterative design at the human level, and I appreciate the opportunity to participate in testing and improvement and to watch (along with you, dear reader) as the product emerges from the chaos until it’s ready to show to the masses.
Being out and about as Joyce in Austin this past Saturday was beneficial and fun and very normal. I have been in several iterative tests, from the one in Boston in January to one in Santa Barbara and several here in Bedford Falls, and while I can’t be sure, I feel that Joyce (i.e. George 2.0) is beginning to be more real, not only to my own self, but also to others. How else do you get from the drawing board to the marketplace?
I’ll blog about this next idea more fully elsewhere, but there is an emerging field called Transsomatechnics that looks like the kind of thing that would be a fruitful venue for these ideas of iterative human design–too bad I’m completely swamped or else I’d seriously consider going to this field’s conference May 1-3.