weeknote 12

Finally another weeknote…

First, I finished my dissertation proposal. If you’re interested in reading it, you can find it here. They are tricky beasts, proposals are — they are arguments for something you have yet to write and research. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, every time I’d sit down to write the proposal, I’d start trying to write the whole dissertation in miniature. Finally, though, it came together (as noted, thanks to Ms. Vertesi’s help).

I presented and defended the proposal before my committee– Christine Boyer, Ed Eigen, and Axel Kilian — and another professor I’ve worked closely with over the last several years, Spyros Papapetros. Also in the room: 10 or so students from my PhD program, two from art history, and another professor in the architecture school, Miles Ritter, who shares my love for technology. The critique was really solid. I know what the holes are in the proposal and was happy that the committee and other audience members found them all.

Critique is an excellent thing. It’s scary, yes, but it’s an honor to have good people engage with your work in an intense manner. I learn so much from the dialogue about it, whether in a defense (such as with my general exams or as in Thursday’s presentation of the proposal), or in conversations with the people in and around my PhD program. It’s also been important to learn how not to be defensive in a critical situation.

Some of the questions and suggested approaches that came out of it: looking closely at the rhetoric that Nicholas Negroponte, Cedric Price & Christopher Alexander used; considering a number of figures around MIT & the Media Lab; looking at the influence of Noam Chomsky and linguistics; probing the difference between computation and the computer and how that affects architectural practice.

Wow. I guess I’ve been busy. Also in the last week or so, I:

  • Spoke at the Network Architecture Lab at Columbia University on a panel discussion about Infrastructure — it was part of the Networked Publics lecture series
  • Wrote a piece for the catalogue of the  HABITAR exhibition Laboral in Spain on the 1970 Software exhibition, 1840s telegraphy and the annihilation of space and time through distributed intelligence
  • Worked with a friend who graduated from Ivrea on the copy for her company’s product concepts
  • Spoke in the lecture series at the University of Chicago in the History of Science department, thanks to a kind invitation from department chair Adrian Johns. (My subject: Poste Pneumatique.) Okay, so that was three weeks ago. Afterwards I was in LA for a few days to visit my boyfriend.

What’s ahead? My brother gets married on Grand Cayman Island next weekend: a week from today, I will be scuba diving with sting rays. (How I love diving! And I never really go.) Thereafter, a visit to San Francisco for the first time in a painfully long time to attend the Institute for the Future Tech Horizons conference, plus a few days in LA.

girlwonder is back

Let me start this entry simply. I miss girlwonder.

I’ve done less personal and public writing in the 3 1/2 years since I started graduate school. That feels like a long time. A year ago, I started Active Social Plastic to think about things related to my intellectual pursuits, but it’s not quite the same. I hold it up to the kind of expectation I have for my academic work, which makes it less fun. It feels like work.

Part of the reason I stopped writing on girlwonder is structural: I very quickly had to move the site off server where it had been posted and have never been able to reimport the posts. It also coincided with the period when I began teaching undergraduates. Do I really want them knowing about my bouts of depression or my ex-boyfriend woes from 5 years ago? Not really. Some of it has to do with the intensity of school, especially in my first year. Everything was so very intense, it felt almost impossible to communicate it outside of the five people in my class, the other students in the school and the handful of professors I worked with closely.

That’s not to say I didn’t try. I created a blog on Vox, which allowed me to post privately to friends when I wanted. In the meantime, Facebook exploded and I began using Twitter. My Twitter stream is private; I have 1500+ contacts on Facebook. Is there anywhere where I can say anything about how I feel and what I think? I’ve decided I’d like to try and yet, I can’t really explain why I want to do it. Perhaps it’s as simple as wanting my own room to decorate as I please.  Things are different now than when I first started a personal site some 15 (!) years ago. At that point in time, the public online was small. When I wrote about how I hated my job in 1996, my coworkers weren’t reading it. Now, I must assume that my future academic employers, my fellow students, and the students I teach will all read this. (Twitter’s the place for my snarky comments since I control who reads what I post and trust me, there are plenty.) For several years, I’ve felt like I really can’t say anything of any mettle online, unless it’s in a private community: too much can be taken out of context too late. And that happens, anyway, over drinks and at dinner, not just online

What I’m curious about is being able to write again in a way that doesn’t feel like work. I’d like to try this other outlet for a while, too, and see what happens. So hello again, and welcome to Girlwonder, the personal blog, or website, or even homepage of one Molly Wright Steenson, age 37.