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I received the following critique for my Research Phase 1 and here are my responses and observations from them.

“Using randomization during brainstorming is not ideal, because randomization has its own problems and limitations.”
So I used my domain map/list in my brainstorming, however, the most part of randomization was only to shuffle between domains, and not think of the same or related domain one after another. This was about 70-80% of the brainstorm itself. The remainder was mix and matching the domains within each other, and that was the part that was randomized – which generated pretty nonsensical ideas, but some weird but unthinkable ones that I’d never imagine.
Having said that, I believe that brainstorming is effective when searching for part of solutions, or methods, or replacements, alternatives, etc. Brainstorming for choosing the main idea of the direction for thesis should come from a more organic place, with a natural prompt and a subconscious impetus. Both my final ideas came from that same place, while, they were enhanced by the brainstorming sessions. Ex: I never thought of using AR in the Litter Project, or mixing the ‘irony puzzles’ in the Stranger project. While this is still not concrete, at least now I have that sketched out and imagined.

Your presentation did not reflect enough, as to why YOU are the best one to do this project.
I agree to this and I feel I should have introduced myself and my background more explicitly to illustrate that the final two ideas indeed have come from an organic place, with a natural impetus, from my history, my experiences back home, my initial experiences that influenced me when I came to New York City. While I showed how I dismissed some ideas from my gut, I also should have shown why I chose some ideas from my gut and experience.

“If previous apps like Litter exist, or failed, then why would you still want to make it, why would people want to use it, what incentive do they have to use it”
First of all, the main issue with a thesis that I want to address is, that when a solution or a project is being discussed, should that project be a “solution”? As in, here’s a problem, and here’s the solution that will resolve this problem. I am not going in this direction, neither do I want to. The problem of litter or garbage scattered on streets is a decade old problem. An app or a multitude of apps will not solve it. People have come in large numbers to clean streets, beaches, rivers – a year later, all those same streets, rivers and beaches have been trashed again, looking exactly how it was a year ago! So there’s no way to figure out a single magic cure or solution to this.
My intention with the Litter project is in simple words – Problem Visualization (or Data Visualization, if you may). Let’s just see the damn problem, and see it, and see more of it. And that’s it! It sounds really wasteful but from my experience in India all my life, and even from the 1.5 years in NYC, I don’t believe that people are looking at the problem at all.

The first step to solve a problem, is to see the problem, label it, understand it, and declare it a problem.

Why did it take so long for people to realize that Facebook can be a problem, that Google is watching over them? Why do people NOW want to download their data? Because they have been finally affected? Why are women NOW speaking against the men in power? All this is because finally, there are some avenues, that are reasonable, believable, viewable, digestible and accessible to all the average people, to voice their opinion, pinpoint the problem, drive attention and show the others that “Look, here’s the problem.”

Does everything need to be incentivized, even within an app? Can’t an app be used as a tool to log something, save something, build a database, gather information, complain, label, point fingers at?

“Why just look at the litter and garbage in just India. Why not NYC? NYC is as dirty as India.”
I completely disagree. First of all, yes, I am going to look at NYC. I don’t think its wise to stay in NYC and solve problems of India. The Litter problem has been born out of an impetus because I have lived in India but is not targetted to India alone. This is a global problem to have everyone use it and to help “measure garbage scattered”.
Secondly, NYC is dirty but nowhere even close to India! I’m not even talking about rural India, I’m only talking about urban India. However, NYC indeed is a good place to try and test the litter project, because there is a lot of garbage and litter around in NYC with dirty sidewalks, dirty subways, etc.

“Figure out what the problem is, and solve in that direction.”
Again, the Litter project is a project completely to “Figure out what the problem is”. Assuming the app is built and successful, the only positive initial result this app can generate is to SEE the problem and this will in turn help users of this app to figure out and draw their own conclusions of “what the problem is” and “why is there litter and garbage in certain regions of the urban world”.

“You said that people don’t smile in a train or subway. Don’t you think there are social risks? Would you smile at someone in the subway?”
I agree and I understand the concern here. I should have placed the train image with more context and I hurried my presentation towards the last due to time constraints. Everyone caught on to this, but I did not intend to say why people don’t look and smile at each other in the train. There are obviously social risks, especially in a city like NYC.

“Try threshold mapping.” “Where people interacting before the smartphone? and not now?”
I love this idea and that’s what I’m trying in these weeks. I need to see when and how do people interact with a stranger in the physical world (away from the phone screen) and what are the factors that assist them to break their ‘stranger barriers’ and interact with a smile, gesture, greeting, etc. I am researching this.

“Be careful when your comparing countries and cities. This may be offensive.”
But that is exactly what the Litter project is subconsciously all about! The idea for this came from several user reactions when I purposefully “complained” about the litter and garbage situation in our “global” cities in India. The consistent reaction that I got from all folks, educated, with bachelor degrees, master degrees, PhDs, senior managers, junior managers, leads, assistants, aunts, uncles, college students, senior citizens – is that “So what? We have too much population, that’s why. So what, China also has garbage. So what, NYC also has garbage. So what, we are very diverse, other countries are very homogenous, its easier for them. So what, other countries are very rich.”

So this idea of finding and labeling the problem has come from such user reactions. These reactions are not something that I tried to get last year. These are constant reactions ever since I started working, over 6-7 years. These reactions, are not for Mangalore or Bangalore only (Cities that I have lived in India most) but they are for Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Hyderabad, and any average urban Indian City. These reactions have come from my travels across India – North, South, East, and West and I travel a Lot!

Excuses, holding back because something or other will offend someone or other, attaching culture, religion, history to state of a city and its infrastructure and sanitation – all this “maybe” a ‘problem’ as to why this ‘problem’ of finding a ‘solution’ has still not reached anywhere, in India or for that matter, any other city with litter and garbage. So, the litter project is to simply, plot, count, visualize, and convert anything into data. Let’s just look at it. Let’s map it to population density, population, history, culture, demography. This project is meant to provoke. I’m not going to compare, but once built, its open to people to compare it or not – but there needs to be this avenue.

“Consider how you can encourage people, not discourage them. Think about how you can prove that’s true and what’s after that?”
I agree. I need to reflect, research and understand if this project indeed is going to be a critical project to provoke and complain and poke or can I bring about a positive outlook to the Litter project, or in other words should it actually need a positive outlook? Can it remain in a negative outlook? Should it remain in a negative outlook to actually make an impact? I personally don’t want to work on a year-long project with anything negative.

“What’s working well for cities like Singapore. Why is Little India, in Singapore the very visible place scattered with garbage? Do you want to move in the direction of studying garbage systems?
I agree. I need to study the various garbage systems and how this correlates to the culture and demography of that place.

“It could be interesting how this can be related to the people who practice ‘zero-waste lifestyle’.” “Why don’t you track your own garbage for a week or two?”
This was a very interesting feedback that I need to work on.

Final observations

  • I need to define what my Strangers project is going to achieve even if that is an experiment. I need to define what I want the user to feel, and what they need to take out of this. This is my most challenging part right now, and this will help me fully form my idea.
  • Being careful about ironical puzzles in the Strangers project – it should not cause people from other cultures to laugh or mock other cultures, but to understand them and gain empathy across the globe.
  • Do I want the Litter project or even the Strangers project to give out Poignant thoughts? Or should this be a ‘feel good’ and ‘feel positive’ project?
  • Should I work on both projects during the phase 2 or how can I decide one track to focus?