Common canvas of distinguishing features

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Chris Chase, a neuropsychology professor back in college, enjoyed introducing concepts with the notion that humans are more alike than they are different. It is a useful foundation for deciding what is important to study, fundamentals that apply to everyone or the anomalies, certainly not unimportant, just narrow. And yet, humans are fascinated with differences and in particular our faces and our bodies.

Slavko Milekic, the chair of my undergraduate thesis on child friendly interfaces, evolved the face flipbook into kid-friendly touch-screen interfaces. Earlier on, in a self-study project I implemented the more traditional version of a face flipbook, allowing someone to switch parts of faces but in a more literal representation to the kid books I grew up with.

Reminder: There are too many examples of literal expression in virtual spaces that fail. It amazes me that we tend to not take on the larger challenges of inventing something new instead of replicating what we know.

Slavko introduced gesture and touch based interactions to the traditional computing environment enabling object switching, size shape and position. Certainly one of his successful creations was that of assembly of faces out of a variety of common objects like vegetables. Even at a young age, even when working with vegetables – something often seen as a challenge for children – we are fascinated with the construction of human form.

Move to the more taboo example of human nudity in art or even pornography. There are books dedicated to human genitals – again, the differences. Even when considering the world of fantasy and identity, nudity and pornography depict other people doing things that you yourself could do, by yourself, with others you know and increasingly others you do not know. So why that fascination, if not for the differences. What is it like to see an attractive someone with a certain set of features? It is all about the distinguishing marks, regardless of it being labeled art or smut.

My recent move back to New York City, more specifically Brooklyn, reminded me of the diversity I missed. A great Walt Whitman quote on a Barnes & Noble ad in my subway car read,

Stranger, if you passing meet me and desire to speak to me, why should you not speak to me? And why should I not speak to you?

That must be what outgoing is, talking to the diversity around you instead of just observing. But, in fact, almost no one speaks to strangers – we even teach our children not to. However, everyone has the pleasure of enjoying diversity visually at fire hose volume in New York City and for me on my morning commute on the F train.

Professor Chase is still right, we are more alike than we are different and while we are consumed by those curious differences, I posit that our fascination exists because our distinguishing marks appear on a relatively common canvas.

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