Prepare for the death of your ego

When I was began thinking about applying to graduate school in late 2004, I had a conversation with Peter Lunenfeld, a professor in the graduate Media Design Program at Art Center College of Design — he had visited Ivrea and I was one of his hosts there.

"Prepare for the death of your ego," he said.

It wasn't until a few weeks ago that I began to really feel how true that was. When I did my master's, I had already internalized just how irrelevant my previous career and life experience was. You think that architects care about interaction design, the web, mobile phones? Save for scant few exceptions, think again. There's a rant I wrote at the end of my first year titled "fuck you, architecture," where I lamented how architecture steals from many disciplines but declares its own as pure.

The Ph.D. is another layer of this. For us, our entire currency is papers. In the third year of our studies, we do our generals, and in our case, that means submitting a dossier of 6 papers we've written throughout the two years of coursework. We then defend them. This means that no paper is ever really complete: we keep reworking all but three of them. I didn't know how emotionally taxing it would be to write a paper that became 50 pages long (because it didn't have a point), then rewrite it to 25 pages in which I carefully reasoned my argument. It represents the strongest academic writing I've ever done and it still only got a B+. (This will change when I rewrite it, but still, ouch.) I've collapsed into a crying heap after not eating because I was working in the arts library. I've declared on Twitter, no less, that I was utter shit.

Prepare for the death of your ego, indeed.

Last weekend, I went to Savannah for the IXDA Interaction 08 conference. My first night (after a lot of wine and a Roberta Flack sighting in the Sheraton Four Points hotel bar — she may have killed us softly with her song, but I digress), Matt wondered why I wasn't blogging: he wanted to read more about what I was doing in school. I tried to explain any number of things. School has made me very internally focused, made me realize that my audience is my professor or advisor, my fellow students and the head of my program — and that little else matters against that. Thinking of externalizing it just makes me tired. Moreover, I'm competitive. I look at the writing of my good friends (and for that matter, Enrique), and I think: how can I possibly keep up with this? Where do these guys find the energy?

So back to the conference. I wasn't sure what to expect but the whole thing was dam breaking. It made me realize that I do still belong to the interaction design community — more than ever. And it made me realize how much I miss being engaged with the people in it. Finally, writing is so damn hard — it used to be so easy for me when I was younger, but what did I know then? So the way around it, then, is quite likely to write more. And to put it out there, and see what comes back.

I don't think this is so much the reinstantiation of my ego, but maybe the trusting of my own voice. That feels like a heartening thing.

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