As part of a user research exercise for the design of a digital detox cafe, I asked my architecture students to take up the challenge of not using their cellphones and be connected to the internet. They have to keep a small diary during this period of time. Below is a selection of some their observations and reflections.
In a research paper titled “Faster, Cheaper, Deeper User-Research”, published in the Spring of 2003 in the Design Management Journal, Patrick Whitney and Vijay Kumar, faculty at the Institute of Design, Illinois Institute of Technology offered a new way of buying fresh food and produce in Hong Kong, SAR, which they claimed would ease the inconvenience of mothers while upholding the longstanding desire for food and produce freshness in the SAR. The use of electronic tags, scanners and a home-delivery system were the key elements of their proposal.
Despite their well intentions, the proposal suffered from a lack of understanding of, and empathy for the discursive nature of consumption, which sociologist Richard Sennett had passionately argued. Sennett described the loss of sociality in modern-day consumption, where a fixed-price policy for goods and services has done away with the reciprocity of haggling and bargaining. In so-called less developed countries, such interactions between seller and buyer in a market or bazaar still retain this social dimension. For Sennett, consumption as a discursive activity has become an abstract, impersonal monetary transaction.
The Foodchain idea, presented as an innovative solution and prejudiced by its possible commercial viability totally missed the point. Going to the wet market is more than just buying fresh food and produce. As a kid growing up in Singapore, I accompanied my grandmother on her daily visit to the wet market. Despite having to take a ricksaw to our destination (yes, it was pretty far away and a long time ago) and suffering from mild arthritis, she looked forward to this daily activity as it was an opportunity to get out of the house, to gossip with friends, and to get a good bargain from the stall vendors, which gave this petite lady in her seventies a small victorious feeling. How do you bargain with a hand held scanner and when all the prices are fixed, and tagged? Most important of all, it was an educational journey for me growing up and learning about the richness of life and the social dimension of living.