I keep thinking about the times we are living in, about how dramatically technology is transforming our lives, and about how the professional world I inhabit (academia/the Humanities/area studies) does not seem to be adapting to these changes all that well.
Lately I’ve been learning/thinking a lot about User Experience (UX) design. While 10 years ago this field still focused mainly on trying to figure out how to make web pages that were easy for people to use, it has now become a much more complex enterprise and one that focuses much more on trying to understand the actions and behaviors of human beings.
In other words, UX has gone from a largely technical field to a mixed social science/humanities + technology field.
What has necessitated this change is what I now see as the most important development of the Digital Revolution – the fact that we now have massive amounts of data about everything we do. Every business and organization can easily obtain data about how their business or organization is performing, but to make sense of that data requires that people engage in qualitative research to really be able to understand what people are doing and why. And that is exactly what is happening today with the massive expansion of the UX design field.
While businesses and organizations are thus becoming more “academic” in their UX research, the idea of using data to gain an understanding of what is happening in teaching/research/publishing is something that many academics have yet to fully accept.
In the process, I think that this pushes academia deeper into the ivory tower at a time when there are so many opportunities for the opposite. That, in any case, is what I’ve been thinking about.