A thesis is a project that only you can make.
— Liz Danzico, Chair of SVA MFA in Interaction Design

Thesis I

I would add onto the quote above, that a thesis is a project that only you can make, at this point and time in your life. I came into this program thinking that I would do some sort of social innovation project for my thesis. I had spent much of my time leading up to grad school working with non-profits, and on projects that attempted to get technology to those who needed it the most. But after a year trying to get people to change their waste habits and stop sexually assaulting people on the street, I was feeling burned out on behavior change. While I still believe design can be a force of good in the world, for me, these projects were starting to feel empty. I was less interested changing behaviors, and more interested in why we behave. I started writing about the stories we tell ourselves about what our lives should be. 


Thesis Almanac Introduction

APRIL 2013

As long as we’ve been organizing ourselves into groups, we’ve been creating hierarchies within those groups. As industrial revolution broke down traditional power structures, the amounts of goods and services you can afford became the key signal of your status in society. While your place in the societal power structure used to be determined by who your family was, more and more it became about what you owned or could purchase. While this afforded people a sense of social mobility they hadn’t had access to before, it increasingly placed an emphasis on competition with your neighbors, and outward signs of your success and purchasing power. “Keeping up with the Joneses” entered the lexicon, describing the behavior of conspicuous consumption to display socio-economic and cultural superiority. 

“You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.” —Bill Watterson

Now, Facebook and social media make it easier than ever to check in on what everyone else is doing, and feel lacking. Magazines churn out stories about how we should (or can’t) have “it all,” shaming us for not having “it” while at the same time telling us it’s something we both need and is impossible to have. 

The constant comparison has extended beyond material goods to every experience we’re having or not having. It’s even spawning new terminology, like “FOMO” - The Fear of Missing Out. We’re faced with each other more than ever, and new opportunities to feel like we’re losing crop up at every turn. 

Is there a way to live outside of the bounds of this constant comparison race? What would a world without competing to “win” at life look like? Could we be happy in our own skins, with the possessions we have, with the experiences we’ve had? Would we consume less, be kinder to the planet, and each other? Could we set our own signposts for “success” in the world?

While we’ll probably never escape societal power structures, my thesis aims to explore the ways we find ourselves in meaningless competition to “win” at a game with no rules, as well as the ways we can find meaning in life outside of what everyone else is doing.  It’s already changing. No longer do you graduate from college, get a secure job, and work your way up the ranks. It’s estimated that 40% of the workforce, by 2020, will be freelance or contract workers. What it means to be a “real adult” is already shifting underneath us. With dwindling resources and growing populations, we’re going to have to find ways to radically reshape the way we view society. Lets start with ourselves.