What’s the question?

I ambushed poor Supervisor C——- on his way to the printer to put forward my plans for an assignment I wanted to create for first-year students in our course. He thought it was a great idea even apart from data-gathering, since it would provide first semester students with an immediate awareness of mental health issues – all the more relevant for what we can assume is a very different first-year student experience in a pandemic.

More importantly though, he made me realize I had no question, which was fun. Because I really felt like I did. How could I not realize I’d never formulated my goal? I used to teach this – draw the Minoan labyrinth on the blackboard and tell the story of the original red thread!

But no: all this time, I hadn’t been really working towards anything properly framed, but just sort of dancing around within guiding parameters. Which is generally not uncommon and undoubtedly has its place in the process, but definitely was not what I thought I was doing. So there you have it again, me: Do what you hate doing: show concepts that are unfinished and unclear ideas and just talk to people. There are things you just don’t see yourself.

So for want of a better introduction, here’s my guiding questions (for now).

  • What would a social network for well-being require?
  • What does “good” and “bad” mean in terms of technology design?
  • Which functions and features would it have, design-wise?

While I still feel like they are far too… big-picture, I feel better for having formulated them anyway. I mean, what do I even want, it’s only my second month.

There’s much to find out – what’s the working definition of Mental Health I’ll use? Where do I situate myself, which perspectives and theories do I use, and why? What do I need in order to answer these questions? Should I attempt a literary review of social networks and an analysis of the mechanisms and features (and resulting behaviours) that are detrimental to well-being?

Supervisor C—– also reminded me to keep my strengths and knowledge in mind as I delve into literature, since he knows I’m prone to wanting to know things beyond my field and trying to stick my nose into disciplines that I’m not really equipped to. “Don’t forget you’re a design researcher, and that’s your strength, your difference in generating knowledge and approaching these things. What are your advantages? What insights can you gain, what data can you gather that others can’t?” Leave the behavioural analyses to the behavioural analysts.

Normally, I would’ve been all “gee, Supervisor C, that ain’t no news!”
But after forgetting to formulate a question… well, I felt the need to write it down.

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