I’m visiting the city of Gimcheon South Korea, my father’s hometown. The flight from Fukuoka to Daegu took less than an hour. My family gathered here for Chuseok holiday, which commonly translates to ‘Korean thanksgiving day’ in English. I sat down to take some minutes to review and appreciate what the unforgettable 10 days workshop at Yamaguchi gave me.
This is a gift
‘Technology as a gift’ was the theme of the program. I believe it’s usually a good practice to compare something with other stuff to get a better understanding of it. The attempt to understand technology by comparing it with a gift starts with asking the question what the nature of a gift is.
Some of us may be familiar with the ‘This is a gift’ checkbox we sometimes encounter when shopping online. Besides the technical consequences that the receipt is not going to be included in the package while you can add a message card to it, what does this option mean to you? For me, it means more care. It is about a relationship than a transaction, more about customized than mass-produced, more about self-curating than being suggested.
But as a software developer, have I thought about the products I contribute to as a gift? No, I haven’t, to be honest. Taking part in a massive IT project, I feel there are just too many layers between the users and me. But luckily, I found a chance to learn how to write code as a gift during this program.
On Day 3, Kiwako came up with this ‘coffee chat’ idea — to help the students, teachers, and staffs to have the opportunity to get to know each other in pairs. I co-worked with Jim to implement the matching system which I enjoyed. A night was enough to make and present it to the class.
But then the weird moment happened on the second day we ran the match. The number of students who signed up for the coffee chat was odd, resulting in Takashi, one of our fellow students to stand alone, uncared at the bottom of the match list. Takashi did go on a coffee chat as Kiwako briefly suggested to include him in the last group to form a group of three, but I was frustrated. I realized I was only up to making it up and running, dealing with the list of the names of our friends only as data. I was ignorant of those who are actually behind data.
What if I thought of this system as a gift. I must have been more considerate to whoever who’d affected by the tool and embed some more care within the system. I could have made it automatically form a lucky group of three when we have an odd number of participants.
When I get back to work, I’ll take this mindset of thinking my code as a gift to the people who we deliver our products. As if I checked the ‘This is a gift’ option.
The world around us
I introduced myself as a full-time software developer, part-time community builder, and life-long technologist throughout the application and the first few days at the workshop. However, at some point, I didn’t feel comfortable with that. Apart from the truth that most of the students could also introduce themselves in the same way, I found those fancy words vague and didn’t feel attached to them.
It was Jane, one of the SFPC teachers who helped me to find the reason for my feeling. She showed us how she’s been working to point out and address the problems around her, in a playful manner. For example, riot grrrl driving game is a game she brought up about the gender pay gap in the United States. Another example she introduced was Momo Pixel’s Hair Nah. It was a game about the experience of being a Black woman and having people touch your hair without consent. I learned I also need to be able to introduce myself about what I see and what I say about the world around me.
Taeyoon was talking about the recent political relationship between Korea and Japan during the orientation. He suggested us to be the ambassadors of our respective culture. I came to think of that there’s a topic I should speak about in this workshop as the only Korean student in this workshop held in Japan, friendship.
The friendship between the people is not over. And we need even more conversation in a situation like this. On the third night in Yamaguchi, after the family dinner was over, I visited a local Izakaya(bar) near the hotel. There I had a chance to talk to some Japanese folks. The first few questions were something like ‘do you like Japan?’. And two hours later, we were talking about where to visit in Seoul, and the daily lives of my age in the two neighboring countries. I had five glasses of beer that night, Mr. Kishita bought one for me.
For the final showcase speech, I spared the last one minute to say something about friendship in the Japanese language. Takuma and Juppo, who stayed at the same hotel throughout the course with me generously helped me to translate the words into Japanese. And this was the script:
I believe friendship isn’t static. There’s a time we sing and dance along, but also a time to do a harm to each other.
But we are still friends. And after all, the time we spend together will only take us to another level of friendship.
今後もお会いできたらいいでしょう。 こんなギフトのような機会に私を招待してくれて ありがとうございます。
I hope I’ll see you around. Thank you for inviting me to this giftful opportunity.
After the final showcase, students, teachers, and staffs showed some more positive reaction to this short message than I expected. One of the students told me that it felt like a poem, while some people told me they got emotional that they almost cried. Above all, I felt comfortable after hardly bringing up this topic.
Preparing the next harvest
It was not only me who felt that we should take some more effort to observe and say out about our societies in the use of technology. We talked about what we are going to pursue after the program. Juppo wants to improve the educational system. Takuma wants to raise political awareness from the people. That change inside ourselves was one of the biggest lessons we had from this program, which I found very thanksgiving.
What I want to do after this program is to introduce some more humane approach to the tech society around me. I want to share the idea of ‘code as a gift’ with my fellows. I want to bring some more care to the products I make.
And I also want to continue the experiments to try the different possibilities of technologies, in a studio that I’ve made just before coming here. It’s in the city of Seongnam where I live and work. I named it after SFPC, ULPC(Underground Lab for Poetic Computation).
I look forward to seeing what is going to happen there.
I wish we could keep in touch with the friends I met in Yamaguchi, to form a peer-to-peer network to see how we have changed after the program.
This posting was published by Taeyoon Choi.
Photo: Naoki Takehisa
Courtesy of Yamaguchi Center for Arts and Media [YCAM]