Designing the Self: Part 1

We are creatures of habit. It is most likely that we’ll walk the same route every time, visiting the same places.I rarely take full advantage of lunch breaks. At my previous job, about half the time I would eat my desk, or return to work with at least 30mins left on my break. I would work at my desk, go get food, eat it, and return to work. Hardly a break. Now I am in grad school, and things aren’t too different. Taking walks during my lunch break has always been a distant goal of mine.

I enjoy walks as opportunities to get fresh air, get some sun, clear my head, take a physical and mental break from work, and enjoy a new environment. I return from such a walk refreshed with new perspective, new ideas, or renewed confidence in previous ideas. On a great walk I would have found a shop or plaza or park, some kind of space that I didn’t know about before the walk. I especially treasured quiet spaces in the sun to sit and eat my lunch alone or people watch. I have found that these types of places are pretty rare (or are often occupied by smokers).

I’m interested in building a system that encourages me to take walks during my lunch break (or dinner break if I’m working late) and explore new places in the vicinity. My initial thoughts are to make this like a pacman game. I love designing games and I’m interested in location-aware and navigational software. I think it could be fun for each lunch break, you are presented with a simplified map of the vicinity and pellets along the sidewalks to collect for that turn.

Olya and I experimented on getting ITP students to take a break during their work on computers to do stretches. We set up multiple types of triggers and found that the students generally were open to doing the stretches, that they understood the benefits, and wanted to do them. With a stronger trigger, we think we could have better results.

Coming up with a project for my final assignment, proved to be difficult. It became That Thing in the front of my mind that I just couldn’t piece together. It’s been a stressful 3 weeks. I think in part because we are building a system for ourselves, it can be hard to figure out what you need or want, as opposed to building a system for someone else. My creative block/mental block got worst as each day passed by and I really struggled with working on this more versus taking a break, letting go, doing something else, and coming back with a renewed head.

So this is my idea. Breaks are good. Stepping away can be exactly what we need to get the neurons firing in different places and make new connections between ideas and help solve a problem, ease tension, or bring new perspectives.

I realize that my idea is somewhat similar to Kimi Spenser’s project last year, City Canvas. I’d been mulling over a very similar idea to hers for a separate class, Tech Crafts. I was building on top of side project I started last semester: It was a simplified navigation system that was meant to encourage wondering and getting lost. All the app did was point in the direction you should be going, like a customized compass. It didn’t care if you walk the wrong way. The idea was that we miss out on our surroundings and spacial cues by having a GPS system like Google Maps lay out a trail for us. Here’s more detail on that project here and here. So I really admired Kimi’s take on getting herself to walk more and would love to do something similar specific to going for a walk over lunch break while working.

Another idea could be that the trigger for walk is mental fatigue. But I’m not sure what the sensor is yet.

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