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A squish by any other name

May 10, 2016 - Research Project

What is it to be squishy? The first part of my research project is to make steps towards answering this question in the context of learning computing. I’d like to start with exploring some very squishy things.

Have you ever delicately plonked your hand in a puddle of frog eggs?

This spring (i.e. a few weeks ago) I came upon hundreds of pairs of frogs gloriously procreating in pools of spawn. I grew up in the city, and have lived in cities all my life, and so finding such unurban things like this was fascinating. Being a person who thinks with their hands, I wanted to touch the unurban-squishy-things, hence the delicately plonking hands.

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In the moment of delicately plonking (the one captured in the image above) my understanding of this pool of eggs went from a passing glance to a deep recognition. Thinking a little about this has helped me move towards defining what squishyness is. Three words came up through this action: amorphous, transgressive, and primordial.

adjective: amorphous
1. without a clearly defined shape or form.

adjective: transgressive
1. involving a violation of moral or social boundaries.
2. relating to art or literature in which orthodox moral, social, and artistic boundaries are challenged by the representation of unconventional behaviour and the use of experimental forms.
3. Geology
(of a stratum) overlapping others unconformably, especially as a result of marine transgression.

adjective: primordial
1. existing at or from the beginning of time; primeval.
2. (especially of a feeling or state) basic and fundamental.

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The experience of delicately plonking was so wonderfully paradoxical: it felt both intuitive and infringing, it was gross but wonderful. Through the action I felt like I had learned so much about the cycle of life, but I had so many more questions about it than before.

These are words (amorphous, transgressive, primordial) are not typically associated with computing: that which is often understood as clean, solid, binary, and futuristic. I made a quick google image search and found computing to be represented through sleek 1’s and 0’s racing around luminous linear tracks. (I’m aware google image does not entirely encompass our cultural imagination of things, but it gives us a clue). I’m loving how different the puddle of spawn is to this picture of computing, but also curious that it exists simultaneous and in relation to the binary-solid-futuristic realm of computers. We made the computers, but we are made from stuffs like the spawn.

I’m starting to imagine experiences in learning computing when it captures the sense of intuition and curiosity, through it’s positioning in the realm of amorphous-primordial-transgression. If feel that soft circuits and e-textiles are in this realm.

I’ve not answered the question yet, and of course the squishyness of a pool of eggs is not the same as the squishyness of something related to computers. But I think the context of things that are unurban and organic, a space so far away from how you would expect to learn computing, is a good place to start to make a definition.