Assignment: What does it mean to be human?
- Select “something” (object, image, etc.) that exemplifies what it means to be human.
- Write a brief explanation (two pages, double spaced) of your opinion. Address these questions:
- Why does this “something” symbolize what it means to be human?
- How might this “something” relate to the design of an information system?
Humans strive to make meaning of their lives and the world around them. More importantly, humans have the capacity to make meaning. One method humans use to understand the world around them is by recording their lives and thoughts in words, drawings, and symbols. Therefore I have chosen a journal to symbolize what it means to be human.
In a journal humans document their lives, work their way out of problems, and create meaning. We use journals as a repository for our emotions; our writing serves as a way to grieve and to express joy. Journals act as our confidante – a place where we confess our greatest secrets, our greatest needs, and our greatest desires. In journals we can stockpile the treasures of our imagination.
Journaling provides us one way to distinguish what is important and what is unimportant; what is relevant and what is irrelevant. We use journals to sort things out, and our sorting allows us to solve our problems, to adapt, to evolve, and to survive.
We have the ability to project or reflect in journals. We can look forward and dream what may be. We can look back and remember what was. We can use the combination of hindsight and clarity to avoid the same mistakes.
In journals we can draw, doodle, and paste. We can write on impulse, or we can write thoughtfully. We can rewrite and revise. We can erase.
The journal can become a scrapbook, and the journal can become an archive. The journal I’m holding today can also be viewed as a symbol for diaries, cave paintings, calendars, tics on a prison wall, a blog, a sacred text. Therefore, this journal — by its contents and by its being — also illustrates the human capacity to think symbolically.
We can choose for our journals to be private or public, and both have value. Anne Frank, Jim Carroll, Buckminster Fuller, Anne Morrow Lindburgh, and Michael Palin all kept diaries or journals. But perhaps more illustrative are the journals from the unknown and common: the 19-year old mill girl in 1845 Lowell, the Oklahoma rancher’s wife in the 1934 dustbowl, the 63-year old mayor-domo in Chama, New Mexico. Their journals provide an insight into their lives, and they – in turn – give us meaning today.
Information systems are created for users, and systems will be used if they fall within a framework that people understand. Therefore, designing a meaningful, useful information system requires an understanding of users’ needs and values. Our examination of people’s personal writing — their diaries and journals — is but one way to understand human needs, the needs of a certain population, or the needs of an individual. When we gain insight into how people think and insight into their culture we can design systems that match. We can study the sounds and structure of their language and design systems that follow. We can study journals and diaries to find gaps in understanding and knowledge, and we can then design systems with those gaps in mind. We can design a more usable, and therefore more valuable, system by studying the human record, and a journal is one of those records.