Monday September 28th

I Can’t Stop thinking about this

I began this reading group

  • I’m taking this reading group at the moment that I really don’t think has any Computer Science people in it. Every week, we are assigned about two to four articles, typically from books, and we have discussions on them. The topic is Abolitionist Insurgency. At first, I was joking with another professor that “they use bigger words than we do in Computer Science”. But I’ve been thinking about it a lot.

I’ve felt like something is missing

  • I’ve felt like even though I’m learning a lot of this technical specialty, in another dimension, it is lacking in depth. I can’t have the kinds of conversations we have in my reading group with the people in my major / specialization, at least not on the surface level. In fact, a lot of things feel like they’re on the surface level in Computer Science, but in a way that’s hard to describe.
  • When I attended the first session, I felt like someone told me to look down and there was a gaping hole below me. I just haven’t found those kinds of conversations among computer scientists, and I honestly felt like a child. I felt like I could only communicate with the language of a ten year old, and everyone around me was an adult, so erudite and layered in their thinking. It made me immediately aware of the gaping hole of Computer Science education.
  • We don’t process things. We don’t take the time to think deeply. And it shows in our products.
  • We who can code (I can barely do so; that’s why I’m focusing on research and am not really a software engineer per se) see ourselves as often of high intellect, of boundless ability. But stepping into that sort of space made me realize why we flatten the ideas of other fields. I’ve been thinking about that a lot, as it’s been coming up again and again in spaces like data and AI. We flatten the ideas of other fields because we only see the surface, and we pat ourselves on the back for bad copies.

Bad copies of someone else

  • This reminded me of being a budding concept design student, learning digital painting. A famous concept designer would become the hip one that everyone wanted to be able to draw like, and then a slew of students would copy, very badly, the style of that hip concept designer. But they couldn’t really replicate it because the reason the concept designer’s style was so interesting was because they’re well, them. It took them years to get to that place, and their style is influenced by all the people who influenced them on their journey; you couldn’t really replicate that by just looking at their work and without the experience. The internet has a LOT of bad copies of other people’s work around, but those generally aren’t the kinds of things anyone wants to see in a portfolio. They want to see you; they want to see original work with something to say. The remake of “A Star is Born” talks about this, btw. And that’s hard, and it’s rare. A lot of work looks nice, but it doesn’t say anything. And sometimes saying something with work is a painful process, with a lot of failure and uncertainty. Authors may take years to write a book. There are hidden things you just don’t see if you only look at the surface and try to copy the lines, the style, the textures, the colour.
  • This is usually the sort of stuff that an admirer of an artist’s work who isn’t an artist might not pick up on. General admirers who don’t study work will often tell an artist “this is amazing! You are sooo talented” without being able to articulate why. And a professional artist will rip your piece apart, and tell you why. They pick up on things that casual admirers may not.
  • They see the lack of life drawing, or the lack of practice in oil painting and too much of a reliance on digital tools. They understand that the person has not taken a sculpting class or ecorche. They can look beyond the shiny glitter and surface rendering. They can look at a bad drawing and still see a communication of an idea. Potential.
  • I’m beginning to feel like some parts of computer science are like that. They stitch together ideas from other fields…but badly. They’re like the Photoshop of fields, with a mega dose of a healing brush and a clone tool. They don’t stay engaged long enough in those fields to really understand and commit to why those problems were approached in that way, and to engage in the study of those before them, too.
  • And it’s painfully obvious when you are confronted with the veracity of study in those other fields. It just doesn’t measure up. You feel like a toddler.

I have no idea what to do with this

  • I’ve been thinking about this a lot. It feels disatisfying. But I don’t want to put down computer science; I’m learning a lot and I’m grateful for that. But a part of me tells me that this isn’t all I am. I do like a lot of the tech and computer science culture, but it’s very difficult (or rather, rare) to find spaces like this reading space in there. And it’s strange and makes me very concerned but not surprised about why these spaces (at least not on the surface) don’t exist in tech.
  • A friend of mine once joked to me that “programmers don’t read” (my friend is a programmer). I want to laugh at the joke, but then cry.
  • I guess one can say that they understand why some of these companies are now considering things such as ethics in tech, or intersectionality. But it’s strange because to me, these are the questions anyone who is curious about identity and meaning eventually asks oneself. Weird.
  • Know thyself.

That’s all I have to say

Written on September 28, 2020