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  • Writer's pictureAdam Johnson

COVID-19 & Shifting Gears

Whats going on? Why are you starting a blog?

The Coronavirus pandemic has thrown the world into a state of uncertainty and turmoil. Families are worried, many have lost jobs, and most businesses are closed. This is affecting everyone, and now, for those of us in good health, we have a lot more free time on our hands.

In my case, my university has closed its campus and is now having online classes. I had to say goodbye to everyone in my thesis year a few weeks ago, thinking we were coming back. It still hasn't hit me yet, not going to lie.

I figured a place to post my thoughts about what I'm working on while quarantined would be helpful to keep myself on task but also to think more critically about what I'm working on. Perspective is important. It's easy to feel too close to things, and I hope by writing my thoughts out, it'll help me take a step back. I also want to share a little more of my process. I figure this could be a normal thing where I post updates about projects I'm working on.

Uncertainty and Thesis

A lot is up in the air right now, but our days still tick forward. Despite no longer having a thesis show to design for, I still have a thesis to work on. I have no idea what's happening, how long this will last, and what other things might happen. But I do know I need to make a shift to accommodate these changes.

My thesis dealt with social spheres, and I was in the middle of testing out probes when things started shutting down. I had just tested out my "Pay it Forward Machine" and found out people do want to share kind words with each other. I was going to make a higher fidelity version to test out, but New York issued a shelter-in-place order. My probes were contingent on normal social activity, but now that buildings were closing and people were staying indoors, my current thesis idea seemed less plausible.


For reference, my original thesis probe was testing a kiosk idea: Physical kiosks placed around a city that users could interact with. Users would leave 15 second messages for a future user of that use the same kiosk. It would be a way to tell messages of affirmation, stories, or anything worth sharing to someone you'd never meet. There are, of course, lots of moderation issues around that, but I'm working on that, too.

The main idea is to give people a better sense of their community and the people they'll never meet — I call it the social sublime.


After talks with my professors and advisers, they mentioned it might be a good idea to take my idea digital — so it could be tested more easily with fewer people. As much as I try to avoid the "lets make an app" for this project (since it's entirely based around social interaction), it looks like that might be the territory I needed to explore.

Community in Trying Times

I've been feeling pretty down over the past few days/weeks since so much has changed. I, along with the entire class of 2020, will no longer have a traditional commencement. Friends have moved back home since campus has closed. Staying sane and healthy is becoming something I have to put more of an effort into.

The silver lining is that a lot of us are in the same boat. Despite friends and family being miles apart, I've found that friends have been reaching out more. Now that we have more time to ourselves, we're talking more. I'm seeing more people going for walks six feet apart in the parks. The pandemic has highlighted what we value. And in retrospect, it's validating my thesis research: without the pressures of daily life, people will seek out connection.

I've been playing Animal Crossing with friends, sending gifts and talking about life. I feel somehow more connected to those I'm talking with now. I feel an overwhelming love for my friends and family and its helped me to put into perspective when to slow down and when focus up.

I'm taking thesis and life one thing at a time right now. Things are crazy, and I know I don't have all the answers right now, but I have the tools to move forward.

Going Digital

I've started distilling my kiosk idea into a list of outcomes and figuring out how to turn that into an interactive service. I've boiled it down to "exploratory storytelling." I really want people to engage with their communities in both the geographic and interpersonal senses.

The running idea I have is Pokemon Go meets geocaching meets audio logs. I'm figuring out the details and methods of engagement. I'm working through censorship and bad actors. Really just lots of text and drawings on a page:

Not sure where this is headed, but hey, at least I'm happy with the direction right now!

#thesis #design

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