Luke Skarth-Hayley

Creative Technologist, Software Engineer, Writer

Notes from the Treeline

Plans and reality rarely mix well.

Hello, from out here on the raggedy edge. It's been... a minute. Okay, let's rephrase: it's been about a year.

Conscious habits are hard to form at the best of times. Given the current state of the world, virtuous habits are hard to come by. Prioritisation is a must. Writing blogs, already something of a throwback, were thrown down into the darkest recesses of my todo list as Y1 of the PhD took hold.

It has been a year. Let's leave out the world state. On a personal level I had something of a tumultuous time. The demands of taught modules in the first year, coupled with multiple parties tugging in different directions regarding the topic of my research, proved to be quite a challenge along with some personal stuff of which I won't go into the particulars. I'm through the woods now, and hoping for clearer travel on the way ahead.

There's been some utter delights this academic year though, especially toward the end of it. I had a demo and extended abstract accepted for the Audio Mostly Conference based on my MSc dissertation. I got to go to a lovely conference and inflict my noise on people, along with attending a workshop by Bela and saw a lot of really interesting work on audio and music. More about my demo/abstract in a later post.

As I enter the second year of my PhD, I've joined the Mixed Reality Laboratory. These folks were doing VR and AR the last time it was popular, 20 years ago, and their research has been key in mixed reality thinking. They are quite honestly amazing, and a lovely bunch, so I feel particularly grateful and excited to be part of the lab.

Otherwise, here's a bunch of things I did/am doing:

  • I made dystopian and utopian short films with folks from my cohort as part of our taught element, which gave me great insight into filming and editing.
  • I ran a workshop on Space, Place and Identity in the digital context a couple of weeks ago.
  • I'm slowly writing up a paper based on some research I did into different VR control methods.
  • I'm also finding the initial work on my PhD as it coheres from proposal into a real thing to be a deep joy. I even got to do some programming!

Also, there were some extremely good personal things! Main one: I got married! I've found it enormously centring to marry my partner. She and I have been through some weird years since we met, but we've always been there for each other, and she's been a font of knowledge, wisdom and compassion through it all. The cliché is true: I've married my best friend.

And now, some notes on calibrating for the year ahead...

I've brooded on the notion of the Dark Forest Theory of the Internet since reading it a few months ago. I'd noted that Twitter and the general media diet was seductive and a source of distraction and disquiet in my life, as so many others have. Given the need to focus for my PhD, I'm unlikely to participate in Twitter or other social media going forward. I do recommend emailing me as per my details here or via my University of Nottingham details.

Naturally, there's tension in this. Disengagement is fine for the individual, and perhaps something to be done temporarily depending on one's circumstances. As Warren Ellis notes, "Everybody’s made excellent points, now well-trodden, about offlining as privilege and privilege-signal." I am keenly aware of my own signalling in this case. Yeah, I can and am choosing to do this. I probably also need to get out there for "impact" in the academic parlance and communicate my research via social media and other channels in due course, but I'll look to experiment with broadcast-only approaches like tweeting from the command line or something.

Fundamentally I am looking to get off the tiny loop carousel and the destruction of contiguous thought it causes so I can do the important stuff, like be present in my life with my wife, with my friends, and to, you know, actually do my research and earn my PhD. Beyond the loops, as per the dark forest theory, there's just a lot of predators out there in what, in my youth, was a relatively pleasant place. I've been accused of being a hermit, as if that's a bad thing. Honestly, you can see more from a distance, observe the weather patterns rather than get soaked by the rain, when you step back.

So, I'm behind the treeline now, working to involve healthy context-switching behaviours in my life, reducing and becoming more selective in my media diet, and finding ways to get my technology to support me in ways influenced by Humane Technology (once Time Well Spent) and Digital Minimalism. Throw in some ideas from Calm Technology and Appropriate Technology and, well, I'd like (us all) to get to a place where technology is useful to the individual and the collective without it being an ambient attention to money conversion machine. I'll try and find some time to talk details on how I'm approaching this in various ways in the future.

If you've read this far, thanks. If you read it in one go without looking at something else, well done. Now go take a walk or something, and leave your phone at home, or in your pocket if you can't be without it. Just take in the trees, if you see any, and the sky above. Etcetera.

Be present.