Connect and Share: the importance of interdisciplinary approaches

This morning Facebook asked me if I’d like to share my year. The photo collage feature has been available for a while but has been featuring in my newsfeed more frequently lately in the “so-and-so’s year” format. While the concept makes sense as Facebook controls more and more of our personal data, the feature falls short for me.

Facebook as a utility is seen as a way to “connect and share”, however the “my year” feature feels more like a “collect and share” option. Where it falls short is in the ability to convey connection, or to put it another way, to convey meaning. This highlights the importance of the humanities and in particular storytellers to the technology industry. Collecting, managing and collating large data sets without interesting interpretation and analysis makes data meaningless.

I make these critics as an individual working in the creative arts and humanities who has only a limited understanding of the inner workings of STEM. The Facebook “year” feature however highlights the importance of interdisciplinary approaches and collaborations. The creation of social media and social technologies in particular can benefit from the skill sets of creative art and humanities researchers as these are technologies that tell stories.

If you think of data as documentation, you could argue that creative artists have long been responsible for the domain. Creative artist’s documentation is often subject to their own interpretation though, making it subjective and not objective which puts it at odds with our contemporary concept of data. We now like to think of data as unbiased. But can data ever be completely unbiased?

Too often we trust the “truthfulness” of the sciences and think of creative arts as wholly “fabrications” instead of considering that each is a blurred combination of both. Creative arts and humanities researchers are just as interested in facts, realities and evidence as those in the sciences, and creativity and interpretation are likewise as important to scientific study. The conventions, approaches and strengths of individuals working in either area are where the differences can be found.

As a researcher I’m a creative practitioner with an interest in the interpretation of what might be classified as scientific fields. I am interested in mental health, social media, therapeutic writing and communication technology and in particular where these areas intersect and intermingle. I enjoy interpreting the work of those in academic fields outside my own and I rely on their abilities to communicate their findings in ways that are accessible. As my research career and creative practice evolves I hope that I can (continue to) find and work with researchers from a broad range of disciplines whose strengths may vary from mine but who are flexible and respectful enough to see the value in interdisciplinary inquiry.

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