This is an article I wrote for my Philosophy of Technology (formerly Technical Lives) course by professor Adam Nocek as a Final Paper in December 2016. Since I will be graduating, I would like to do a summary, also a tribute, to my past few years of study in ASU Herberger Institute, my adventures of re-thinking about my future and changing major, and some of my thoughts about how to create and innovate in the whole tech and digital media industry.
DECEMBER 9, 2016
I am a Pirate
As the title said, I am a pirate, at least I think I am, and I want to be. What does that mean? From my initial observation of the concept of “pirate” to the change of thinking and decision I made in recent years, I am willing to talk about my view of “pirate” based on the concept of philosophy, the views by another artist, technicians, or whatever they are, and my personal experiences. In addition, at the end of the year and the whole 2 academic terms since I changed the major to Digital Culture, this is a great opportunity to share my point of view about my thinking of the relation between science and art, and how I think about my field of study and my future.
DEFINITION OF “PIRATE”
It looks like “pirate” is not a positive word. The definition of “pirate” in the English Oxford Living Dictionaries is a noun that represents “A person who attacks and robs ships at sea”. For a generalized meaning, pirate means “A person who appropriates or reproduces the work of another for profit without permission, usually in contravention of patent or copyright” (“the English Oxford Living Dictionaries,” 2016). They break rules. They steal things. However, the word “pirate” in this context is not a “bad thing” that without the respect of people’s intellectual property and the exact “copy” without moral responsibility.
THE GREAT PIRATES
The concept of “The Great Pirates” was come out by Buckminster Fuller, an American architect. In Fuller’s Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth, he outlined the formation of contemporary educational, political and economic systems as the product of the energies of Europe’s sea trading interests, the men Fuller referred to as the “Great Pirates.” (Kent den Heyer, 2005) For the Great Pirates, they understand and know how to use the existing resources to gain success. For more specific, “He would use the science of ship building to amass a fleet, he would use his people skills to manage his crew and to negotiate with representatives of far away lands.” (Flemming Funch, 1994) Also, they have the courage to challenge the common sense and rules. “The Great Pirate knew the world was round when everybody else was kept in the belief that it was flat.” (Flemming Funch, 1994) The Great Pirates holds to their own views, even they are not mainstream.
“WHAT IT IS ALL ABOUT”
Or in my words, the “unity”. Analyzing a thing as a whole is extremely important for developing a product, or manage a team or company. “when people know what it is all about they don’t need someone else to tell them what to do.” (Buckminster Fuller, “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”, p.16) With the awareness of many functions of the ship, The Great Pirates could clear about the whole thing, like there is a gigantic control panel that all the elements, buttons, and organized graphs are in their sights simultaneously. “the only real competition they had was that of other powerful outlaws who might also know or hope to learn through experience ‘what it is all about.’” (Buckminster Fuller, “Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth”, p.32) And the thinking of all, in my opinion, is a “unity” that should be the principle of making a thing that can be worked synergistically.
In Chinese scholar circle, there is a word “copinism”(拿来主义) presented by Lu Xun, the famous Chinese novelist active in the 20th century, that was used for representing the idea of “using the existing thing for making their own things”.
In the past, some of the people have an opinion the innovation should be done from the very start, in other words, the most significant part of the development is the core of technology itself, rather than the development based on the technology. However, in my opinion, sometimes the “shells” is more important than the “kernels”.
“Real Artist Ships”
Figure 1. Apple’s “Pirate” flag. (Picture from Mashable)
There was a “pirate flag” in Apple’s headquarter in the 1980s. Apple is a “pirate”, and their spirit of “pirate” affects them making outstanding products for 40 years.
Back to the old time, the user interface of computers is just a blinking text cursor, and user needs to learn the syntax for executing the commands. Learning computer by remembering the commands is tough for customers.
Steve Jobs bought Xerox PARC’s technology of graphic user interface and used it as their personal computer product Lisa for the first time. In computer science, a graphical user interface (GUI /ɡuːiː/), is a type of user interface that allows users to interact with electronic devices through graphical icons and visual indicators such as secondary notation, instead of text-based user interfaces, typed command labels or text navigation. (“Graphic User Interface – Wikipedia”). Lisa was a successful product, and the original Macintosh continues this innovative GUI design for the Macintosh operating system “System Software 1”, and added a lot of fonts that come with the Macintosh that was a groundbreaking idea that changed the desktop publishing industry forever.
“Real artist ships.” Steve Jobs said, “Picasso had a saying said ‘good artists copy, great artists steal’, and we have, you know, always by shameless about stealing great ideas.” (“Apple CEO Steve Jobs Interview – ‘I hired the wrong guy…’”) Apple didn’t invent the graphic user interface. In fact, they bought the core technology from Xerox and made some development for their product. However, that does not mean that Apple is an infamous copycat without the morality and innovation. The brand-new way of interaction with the computer is a revolution, and Apple changed not only the whole computer industry but also the desktop publishing industry.
DO “JUST ONE THING”?
Before I changed my major to Digital Culture, I was struggling with my decision for a couple of weeks. In fact, before I started my freshman year, I heard about this undergraduate program and it really attracted me. I read the idea of this program, the courses list, and of course, the career opportunities. I was constantly asking myself, why do I need to do just one thing? Why I cannot do the thing I love to do? Why I am self-restraint and have no courage to make changes?
Thanks to my talents and the passion of my life, I have a lot of things I want to do. I keep coming up new ideas, and some of them already became true, while some of them I am currently putting effort on. I love using a computer since I was a child, and I would like to do anything with a computer. Besides, I think I have talent in arts, design and directing. For software development, I prefer to design the user interface and user experience, while I also learned some programming language since college. I also love making short films of my daily-life stories by using the linear-editing software.
I was a Computational Mathematical Science major student, and I was trying to switch my major to Computer Science that belongs to the Ira L. Fulton School of Engineering.
It was October 2015, when I was a sophomore. That was a tough time for me. First of all, I need a satisfied TOEFL (Test of English as a foreign language) to switch the Computer Science major to meet their prerequisite. However, my attempt in earlier that October was failed. I have only one or two opportunities due to my schedule for the test. Plus, I had some difficulties for my Calculus 2 class that also prepared for the changing of major, which I think I have a risk to fail.
Moreover, the most important issue is, I started seriously considering about my future that Computer Science is not what I want to do, and switching major to Computer Science might be a big mistake.
I finally made my big move. One year later, also the beginning of Fall 2016, I was asked about some couple of questions in one of my Arts, Media and Engineering (AME) classes.
Please describe your history with computers… Have you ever programmed before? Have you ever made and edited videos? Why did you pick the Digital Culture program? What would you love most to do after you graduate?
Of course, I love computers. When I was 6, I started to learn using computer and fall in love with it. It was a PC in my mom’s office that running Windows 98, and I enjoy using MS Paint for sketching whatever patterns and using Word 2000 for type anything I want. When I was 10, I surf the web a lot by using a laptop installed Windows XP. Youku (a video sharing website like YouTube in China) was my favorite website that has a lot of videos.
I was impressed by the magic of computers, the operating systems, and the software… Besides the Apple Mac OS X, its hardware was more advanced and allows me to learn some new skills, like editing creative videos using Final Cut Pro X and fixing pictures using Photoshop. However, I didn’t try learning to code before college. Although I am curious about the making of software and apps itself, I mostly enjoy and concentrate on the design and creative ideas of these apps. Until freshman year I started to learn Java, and I also learned Processing and Max/MSP for my Digital Culture courses, and I am currently enrolling a programming course that will cover C, C++, Scheme/LISP and Prolog.
Also, editing videos are one of my huge hobbies. I enjoy creating videos like a director, using appropriate music, add fancy subtitles… I often record videos during my daily life, edit these videos together and make “movies” about my life.
Digital Culture program is focused on the relationship between technology and life, and concentrating on the creative thinking and skills in many fields including code, graphic design, marketing, etc. I strongly agree that art and science can be combined and work together, and in today’s digital world, the “art-and-science” combination could make great masterpieces for people to appreciate and use. So, we are using some powerful tools and technologies for building, designing, and developing programs. “As new tools and new knowledge become available to the world of science and technology, they also become available to the art.” (“Scientist? Artist. Pirate! Who is Joe Davis?”) Students can make fancy products and projects. The DC courses, including this class (it is called AME 294, Introduction to Interactive Environments), also emphasizing the concept of “interactive”, which concentrate on user experience and the technology in people’s daily use.
I personally more interesting on the design of interaction and visual communication of a product, and that is why I choose Digital Culture as an interdisciplinary program instead of Computer Science that I found it is more concentrated on the technology theories itself like circuits, chips, processors, etc. “A lot of what passes for true science is quite incremental and doesn’t really change things.” (“Scientist? Artist. Pirate! Who is Joe Davis?”) The new idea for me is more important, while I didn’t mean that these are not important when making a product.
In addition, I personally would like to engage in technology companies and become an interaction designer for the products like apps or even larger interactive systems, to make these cool things with a fantastic user interface and user experiences.
After a year of study, I would like to add some of my new points about why I prefer Digital Culture program and want to be a “pirate”. In recent years, there is a new concept called “building blocks of innovation” that inspired me for my thinking of how I really want to do. For more specific, this kind of innovation is using the existing technologies and combine them as a new product with new ideas for implementing new functions. Joe Davis also believes that “Creativity is the ability to put things together in new ways”. (“Scientist? Artist. Pirate! Who Is Joe Davis?”) I also had some discussion with my friends which is the same major as me, and some of their opinion that makes sense for me. Digital Culture teaches a lot of areas of technology. We have a responsibility to understand, or just get familiar with at least a little bit, but a wide-range of each technology. That will help us to make products that are usable, more efficient for running, user-friendly and even saving more energy, while guarantees the quality. Back to the discussion of The Great Pirates. They knew many functions of the ship, so they can handle the “technology” of their ship and made their management as a unity.
MY FIELD OF STUDY
2016 was the best year ever for me. I keep doing the things I love. I do visual art programming; I do the “combination-of-art-and-science” things, I make arts interactive.
Of course, in my field of study, there have some differences between the professional study of computer science or electrical engineering, and my field of study has some limitations while I wanna realize some of my ideas. While I am responsible to familiar with the existing technologies and use these technologies to make new things, the problem is we might have more obstacles when we want to, or coming out some ideas about the new technologies that they do not currently exist. In addition, when we thinking about making a new product, we might have difficulties in choosing which kind of technologies that are better for us to use. We might use the wrong technology, and they cannot realize our ideas, or they can, but with unsatisfying results.
However, I personally think that makes sense for me. First of all, making new things by using existing technologies that I treated as materials are the thing I love to do, and that is my personal choice. However, the most significant point is, we cannot make big things without the power of the support by another. In other words, we need collaboration.
During the study process of building projects in my study of Digital Culture, we usually make groups for our projects, and each group members have their own tasks that depend on their strength of talent. For example, I personally good at graphic design and programming in Max 7, so I basically do the coding in Max and design the user interface; and, for the project that needs music, I prefer making a group with someone who is good at music producing and using MIDI keyboard.
TO SUM UP…
Be a pirate is my destiny. Inspired by Buckminster Fuller, Steve Jobs, and Joe Davis, and my observation for the relation between arts and sciences, I will make my step further on my ship and be a great pirate.
Pirate. (n.d.). In the English Oxford Living Dictionaries. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/pirate
Heyer, Kent den, R. (2005) Buckminster Fuller’s “Great Pirates: An investigation into Narrative Analysis in World History Courses. World History Connected. Retrieved from http://worldhistoryconnected.press.illinois.edu/3.1/heyer.html
Funch, F. (7 December 1994). The Great Pirates. Retrieved from http://www.worldtrans.org/essay/greatpirates.html
Fuller, R. Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Page 32). The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. Kindle Edition.
Fuller, R. Buckminster. Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth (Page 16). The Estate of R. Buckminster Fuller. Kindle Edition.
“Graphic User Interface – Wikipedia.” Wikipedia. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Graphical_user_interface
Apple CEO Steve Jobs Interview – “I hired the wrong guy…” . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nK7TQVFSA1Y
Scientist? Artist. Pirate! Who Is Joe Davis? . Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GkZt00Qics
The cover photo on this page is retrieved from an article from The Verge:
Macintosh designer is selling $1,900 replicas of Apple’s legendary pirate flag, https://www.theverge.com/2014/11/22/7268621/macintosh-designer-is-selling-1900-replicas-of-apples-legendary