Bonus: Sideways User Testing: Moments of Inflection and Interviewing Myself

Because I view the invested object as a product for one user — me — with the possibility of attracting others not impossible but unimportant, I decided to augment my survey with some personal user research: a daily moment-of-inflection tracking diary and an interview with myself.

Moment Tracking

Since the project is predicated on the notion that there exists a moment of inflection — a moment where I, as the object’s user-owner-operator, can recognize the intimations of a moment of recollection, remembrance, or overwhelming vitality, a moment to save, I spent three weeks looking for and tracking these moments in a notebook.

Over these weeks, I recorded 7 moments, with 5 the first week, 0 over the second, and 2 over the third. They occurred most often in transit: on the subway, in a station, or walking down the street. Weather was instrumental in nearly all moments. Stress and travel were connected with the lower reports towards the end of the period. I always had my bag and phone near me when moments took place.

These fact all align with what I expected when I began the project. Since the design in this case is arising from my own needs, it is unsurprising that it works as I expected. So if the structural intuition is correct, what then do I want from the entire project? Time to ask myself.

Hi, Sarah.

Ready to jump into this interview thing?
Yes, let’s go!

Tell me a little about yourself.
I’m a woman. I’m [age redacted]. I’m married; I live in Brooklyn; I really like the subway and books. I have an overactive imagination.

An overactive imagination. What are the signs of that?
[Laughs] Well, you know, I get very absorbed in things. When I was a kid, I didn’t even play with toys really. I just read books and acted out stories in my head. Now that I’m older, it just seems like what’s out there [motions to room] is only the tiniest bit of what ... well, what the world is made of. And then the imagination part, too. There was an article recently about a guy who has aphantasia, he can’t see pictures in his head. And then I was reading a thread about it on this website, and people were talking about all their mental imaginations. And even though its been two days, I can’t stop imagining how a plastic milk carton feels, because someone mentioned picking up milk. I don’t even like milk! But the sensation is so real and so pleasant. Even though its not real. I dunno. Does that make sense?

So you find the sensation of imagination pleasant. Does it matter if it is real?
No, I don’t think so. As long as I know the difference between real and imagined and I am not going to end up in a sanitarium. Well, maybe it is more fun to remember things that were real, that happened, than conjure up out of whole cloth. I think that is because it adds another dimension on top of everything, like a search for patterns of truth on top of the pleasure of remember, which is on top of the fun of there being more than just sits before us. It can get a little overwhelming though, dimension on dimension. I’d like to organize it more, but I don’t really have time.

You don’t usually have time. Talk to me about a normal day.
Oh god. I get up at 7, so I have some quiet time before the storm begins. Then lots of school, work, commuting back and forth. I always feel like I am looking for moments that I can take and think a little — but then I always shove my nose in a book, so I don’t know how hard I am really trying to find those moments.

What are you trying to find time to think about?
How everything ties up together, I think. I like to build systems, and so I want to make a system out of the things I feel and experience, like a unified philosophy of everything, you know? But, like I know that’s not actually possible; I just like working on it forever. Like the Watts Towers or something. I also feel like I never notice things enough, never look into them deeply enough. I know the very topmost layer, but there is so much more to review and understand and link up. Like there’s this really great book, The Brothers K, by David James Duncan, and I love it because I can read it every year and there is something else buried in there. Or you go back to things you loved when you were in school, and it turns out they hold up or they don’t, or you know so much more now ... I just keep wanting to find those things and capture them because they make me happy. Because I think they are beautiful.

You want to capture things. Are you afraid they will get away then?
Yes, definitely, so afraid. Because some day I am going to die. And then all these lovely things and notices will die with me. It would be nice to save them. Although, it is a little indulgent and most people probably won’t care. But maybe there is like one person who will find that garden and be into it. And that would be super cool. But I have to find a way to get it all out first! And then even if it fails, I made a thing that made me happy.

Okay, so now I want to pivot and ask you a little more meta questions. Why are you doing this? It seems kind of bullshit.
Well, I do a lot of design work which is for other people. I am interested in a thing for me. Also, if we think of cybernetics’ second wave concept of an autopoeitic system, I am looking at the level of self-consciousness, which is worth discovering. In the final work, having others test the work may add another layer, but it does not seem appropriate right now.

So are you just not going to talk to anyone?
No! I plan to chat with plenty of people for research, including Katherine Isbister when we are both in SF this summer and Christopher Brosious. But the user-centered design approach just doesn’t feel appropriate for this topic.

Why not?
Well, look at Proust. He made his best work by gathering up a lifetime of impressions, then holing up in a cork-lined room to put them down in the way that made the most sense to him. Its powerful because it is particular.

You just can’t get through anything without mentioning that guy, can you?

[Laughs.] No! Because he is so cool and so good at capturing a world that is super familiar to me, despite the fact that in general the Belle Epoque is not that interesting. Because in being particular he hit on something, well not unusual but recognizable. I think that comes from not sanding all the edges off. Broad usability is important when it is like industrial design or something everyone can be expected to use, but we gotta keep making weird stuff, too.

Hm, interesting. Well thanks for letting me interview you today, Sarah.
Yeah, thanks for listening!