True Art.

I did the assignments out of order, so this is my dystopian fiction; please see my assignment from last week for an examination of known unknowns and mitigation strategies.

My story is meant to examine from the perspective of a deeply misogynistic person how they might be able to live in a world in which a woman has been completely reduced to the image or representation of herself. The consequence, as I explore in this, is very dire: it actually is a negation of humanity and love in a deeper sense; including within himself.

This is the outcome I fear most for trying to mix a ‘feminist’ intervention into a system that is already being used to turn women more effectively into a series of images. After all, dating apps are bad for both genders: on an app, a person makes themselves into object through becoming images that they use to represent themselves. In becoming an object, they then enter into a marketplace of objects. More so, “demand” is not longer cultivated by the individual as it was in pre-dating app dating markets; demand is now amassed and used by the platform to induce more swiping and usage of the app. According to the book, The Labor Of Love, when dating platforms moved into the public space (before, the family was in charge of dating and it happened in the ‘parlor’) the logic of dating changed—now daters are encouraged by the platform that provides the experience of dating to be forever engaged in consumption-oriented activities because it benefits the economy. The economy therefore is constantly pushing us to do a bunch of work that’s actually for the benefit of corporations and not for our own happiness —things like getting a Brazilian wax, getting our nails done, spending time in a gym, buying fancy brands that supposedly say things about who we are. Moria Wiegel calls “tinder industrial complex” and encourages us to understand that that is “exploited labor” in a sense. She says that honoring love means accepting that it is this active form of care that we give to each other. It’s not in demand like the dating market leads us to believe—there is no competition or scarcity, love doesn’t diminish when you give it to one person. You have an endless amount; but the dating market leads us to believe that the opposite is true.

The main character is a painter in this. That was very deliberate. I recently read “women looking at men looking at women” which includes this great quote about representations of women painted by men: “We have no recourse to living bodies in art. I am looking into fictive spaces. Hearts are not pumping. Blood is not running. The markers of the human female in biology—breasts and genitalia that I see in these images (when I see them)—are representations. Pregnancy and birth do not figure explicitly in these pictures, but sometimes what is not there is powerful nevertheless. I am looking at inhabitants of the world of the imaginary, of play, and of fantasy made by painters who are now dead, but who were all making art in the twentieth century. Only the signs of the artist’s bodily gestures remain: the traces left by an arm that once moved violently or cautiously in space, a head and torso that leaned forward, then back, feet planted beside each other or at an angle, and eyes that took in what was there and what was not yet there on the canvas, and the feelings and thoughts that guided the brush, that revised, altered, and established the rhythms of motion, which I feel in my own body as I look at the pictures.”

Therefore, this story is meant to examine the new technology through an age-old analogy: art is also a singularized object that is within cycles of demand. We end up seeing how the piece of art ultimately retains singularization despite the cycles of demand, but it is the person who objectifies it irreparably is the one that loses their own humanity.

I also wanted to allude to sexual harassment and rape culture in his interaction with the high schooler in the art class, so there are extra metaphors in the description of her meant to evoke a more serious assault than the verbal one. Also, forgive me from stealing the ending of the great Gatsby :P—the green-glow was too good a symbol not to reuse.


True Art.

Brian Watterby was 32, but unlike most 32 year olds, aside from the blue denim jacket that he thought to be the nicest item of clothing in his possession, and a modest but sleek apartment (filled with work-in-progress art that his art dealer often told him bore the same deep colors and clean contrasts of a Whistler or a Vermeer), he owned very little by choice. His apartment, though well decorated, was simple: his satin-linened bed had no frame; his black table-tops were granite-less, and his floor was a markless brown-black wood. Brian spent a great deal of time in his apartment—by choice, of course. He had always thought of himself as the introverted sort, the kind who often stole away with a glass of whiskey and a few amusing thoughts, and therefore had little need to impress the few visitors his apartment did attract.

When he did have the occasional visitor, he was always sure to direct their vision to his most prized and treasured possession: a black and white photograph of a nude woman taken in the 1920’s by Edward Weston. The photograph was exquisite in Brian’s mind; and became the apsis of his many lectures that he served to his guests upon their arrival (“You know how he gets the saturation so perfect like that? He holds the light between his hands, shaping it, keeping it from pouring out too fast on to the developing picture. Can you imagine?”).

In February, when the colors of the trees around him lowered by an octave to deep reds and eventually greys, for the first time in all his fifteen years of painting, he lost his inspiration. He had reasoned that his deficiencies were due to the lack of beauty to inspire him—the routine coldness of this time of the year had driven the high-heeled women he liked to watch from his open window indoors. He had recently grown fond of critiquing these women from his outlook above, sometimes out loud if he was feeling truly up for the game of it. Thick Ankles. He’d think, in light amusement. Long neck. Birthed Three Children; Worn Thin.

As their seasonal skirts had lengthened from summer’s thigh-grazing prints into knee-length knits, and then eventually into pants, Brian found his game had been ruined. He retreated from the window-side, starved of skin to peer at and cursing the weather for providing him such little beauty to observe. Saul, his art dealer, didn’t find his story sympathetic. Instead, Saul had left several brochures in his mailbox—shiny pink and glinting white with the smiles of learned community-arts-center students. In one, he had circled the description to an intermediate sculpting class in thick red pen.

“The teacher’s a tiny little Asian dime-piece,” Saul said over the phone one day, “wears these overalls with nothing under them.”
Brian shut his eyes, and bit his lower lip and twisted the cord tightly around his finger. He imagined the teacher sitting in his apartment with him. A goddess in her overalls, sitting on the blackness of his leather couch. First he’d paint the overalls, he thought to himself. Then he’d bring a heavy over-head light, and paint the shadows in her cheekbones, maybe her chest.

“But I don’t sculpt,” he said finally.

“She’ll teach negative space,” Saul said simply, “any change will bring sales.”

The sculpture class was to be held in a warehouse in Uptown, and it took Brian a few transfers and a 20-minute walk before he finally reached the embellished steel doors that led inside. Having already been stirred sour by the unsightly lack of women on the bus, he found the moist-aired, muraled studio to be entirely underwhelming. Maybe it was because of all the silence that seemed to lay like a fog between him and the back wall of mirrors; or perhaps it was the sharp and noisy angles of the randomly spaced carpets lying across the floor; or even the dust-spattered stool-legs of art stations, which jutted out in peculiar rows like the bones of a fish; or most positively, the nude man in the center of the room, who sat simply on a metallic chair that had been chosen to function as a makeshift pedestal.

Brian moved to the back of the classroom, pulling back the stool of a free work station, which consisted of a small table topped with a block of clay and several small cutting devices—all speckled with dried clay-dust—with bulbous metal heads and sharp tips. As he sat, the point of a not-quite-hammered in nail pricked through the denim thatching of his jeans, and caused him to jump and knock the stool backwards across the floor. The noise quickly drew the attention of the teacher (who did, indeed have overalls, but unlike in his fantasies, she wore them with a striped tee shirt underneath). They locked eyes, hers hard and disapproving of his ruckus. She turned down to her attendance list, her hair falling in thick black ribbons around her face. “David Ortburg?” She asked.

“No,” Brian said, “Brian Watterby.” As her eyes found his name on the page, Brian was struck by the familiarity of her face, thinking for a second that he must have seen those eyes or those lips before, perhaps as one of the late-night women who walked alone in front of his apartment. Perhaps still it wasn’t any single feature at all, but the softness of a face in which beauty just seems to collect in—burrowing into small pockets or freckling unexpected locations. After all, wasn’t that what women were for?—the endless supply of beautiful details he could pull from their bodies and place on the canvas.

“We’ve already moved on to the torso–Ms. Bradshaw,” the teacher said, pointing her chin toward a student seated to his left, “is a lovely student. Why don’t you watch her until I finish over here?”

Turning, he found that he was seated next to a high school student. She was decked in dark brown corduroys, a long white turtleneck, and brown glasses. Her cheeks were pink and round with sincerity, and her forehead flat and just-a-bit too large; both were bordered by the sharpness and shortness of a pixie cut. She shouldn’t keep her hair so short, Brian thought momentarily, it makes her face appear round.

Having assessed the rest of her, he stopped to examine her handiwork as well. Unimpressed, he reached for the cup of water at his desk, but instead of grabbing the tools from it, he accidentally knocked the cup spillingly away from the table, sending a splash of water down on to his shoes.

“Do you need help?” the younger Bradshaw asked about his shoes.

“Oh, that’s just funny,” Brian said, sitting slowly back in his chair, a devilish smile brewing on his face, “you think that you can help me?”

“I have a napkin,” insisted the younger Bradshaw, turning away, reaching into her backpack, jumbling gently inside for her tissues.

“You have a napkin?” he said, mockingly.

“I have one I swear,” she said again. Brian looked at her back, all curved and round as the still entrance of a cave. Her voice as soft and silky as the silence around them.

“You know what,” Brian suddenly lurched his body forward, “I know how you can help me,”

“How can I help?” she echoed softly.

Brian rubbed his hands together, “You can answer me something.”

The younger Bradshaw sat up. “Yes?” she said, her eyes still bright.

He gestured at the nude, his mouth turning into a grimace of sickly sweet delight, “Do you like what you see?”

Instantly, the girl grew stiff next to him, her cheeks losing a bit of their pinkness. She didn’t answer, but instead continued to work, her fingers only momentarily pausing. Brian pressed on—feeling his curiosity thicken.

“I don’t know about you, but—” said Brian, smiling devilishly, “I’ve certainly seen bigger.”

The younger Bradshaw blushed girlishly. “I think he’s fine,” she tried to say, her bright voice growing weary and confused, her eyes darting awkwardly from Brian to the nude and back to her own feet.

Brian licked his lips, taking in her nervous fidgeting and the way she readjusted her glasses on her nose, sliding them up so the rims obscured her gaze. The silence, that Brian had previously felt so fog-like and so blanketing, was becoming quickly ragged. He planted his feet firmly on the ground, and said, in a deep voice, “Tell me what you think, then,” he pressed toward her, leaning in, pushing forward, and putting his hands on his knees, “Would you sleep with him?”

From across the room, the teacher turned her head, finally noticing the discomfort coming from the far side of the classroom. Seeing that Brian was nearly off his stool, towering over the girl seated next to him, she paced over quickly and stood, tall and firm, between him and the girl.

They stare at each other for a moment, the teacher’s eyes firm and hard and amid his own attempt to match their authority. Brian’s eyes flip from feature to feature, searching for a flaw to extract, any snag or tear in her face that he could use to pull her from her seat of authority, to tell her, to ask her, to force her to beg him to stay. But he found none. As he looked around the room, his stomach turned in the same way it did back in high school, upon entering a lunchroom, and seeing so many unfamiliar and cold faces staring back. As he did in high school, he sat for a few brief and honest moments boldly in the silence of the stares, then, knowing he was truly, and deeply, not wanted, picked up his belongings and left the art studio.

Brian reached the door of his apartment, and his fingers struggle to insert the key into the lock. He pours himself a drink and is drawn to the window. Outside, the sun has just set beyond the rooftops of the green, grey and brick Brooklyn homes. In the dimness of the street, among leafless trees, Brian notes only a few night-walkers, but is pleased to see that his neighbors had just begun turning on their indoor lights. Across the street from him, a small-framed, corduroy-clad girl walks up a red-brick stoop and opens the door to a small, modest brown-colored townhouse. He finds himself surprised to notice that the young girl is the same one from the sculpture class—How had I not recognized her? He thought, scratching his head.

He watches as she enters the small Brooklyn house, her little clay masterpiece in tow. She walks through a small foyer, which is decorated with off-white wallpaper and pink and yellow knickknacks stacked on shelves. She disappears for a moment, behind the walls of the house, but reemerges in what appears to be a dining room. Her mother appears to be sitting at the dining room table. Her mother is wearing a bright green sweater that looks loose and comfortable and likely smells like home-cooked meals, and spices like oregano. The girl places her masterpiece on the table in front of her mother, who smiles widely and broadly, wrinkles happily rippling up her face as she hugs her daughter. They both work together to clear a place on the egg-shell colored mantel behind them, then the mother carefully, as if the sculpture was the most tender object in the world, picks up her daughter’s piece and places it between an unframed picture and a glass stein. They then stand to admire and appreciate it for a moment, caught up within the warmth and stillness of their own home, the mother struck with wonder and awe at what her daughter had so skillfully produced with her humble and slender fingers—at what skill she had worked so hard to learn.

Brian puts down his drink, his mouth open. He paces back to his treasured nude painting, which now, with him being the apartment’s only inhabitant, and he, Brian Watterby, the painting’s only admirer, seems rather unwonderous to him.

Brian imagined the woman in the painting gathering herself. Sitting upright in the metal chair. Brushing herself off. Pacing up to him inside the picture. She placed one hand to the invisible glass of the photograph’s wood-framed pen. Like an animal caught behind a glass entrapment at the zoo, her hands pressed to the glass, and left a greasy mark, but no sound passed through. Brian put his fingers to the picture too, his pinkie touching the imaginary hand of the model. In the darkness of the New York apartment, for a moment, there seemed to be nothing but the picture frame separating the two black and white worlds—the model in hers, and Brian in his.

Brian picks up red and black paint, and with the deepest feeling he knows, he paints over the nude’s face with an ugly, black smirk. Yellow teeth, and red, shiny lips.
The sun sets on his balcony, leaving his apartment dark and black. The Weston, now defaced, looked back at him, asking him the same questions it had asked before.

Am I beautiful? It asked.

Brian couldn’t answer. He stared at the painting, it’s smirk and it’s color.

Do you love me? the painting asked again, if you love me, you’ll tell me I’m beautiful.

Brian wipes away a smudge between the yellow teeth. He takes a deep breath, and as if in response, he picks up his whiskey glass, and with one hand placed on his hip, he turns—for what feels like the first time—away from the ever-reflecting glint of the picture frame, and on toward the soft green-blue glow of the steel-tipped Brooklyn rooftops.

Fiction and Mitigation Strategy

Note: I wrote one 2 page document that combines both anticipation of negative outcomes as well as a description for how to mitigate the disasters.

Following the insights of my “comparative and historical analysis” of how both Harvard and Stanford, the most wealthy schools in America, have designed and staged their interventions on the rape crisis at their universities. Through these interviews, I realized that many solutions already exist, and that the most valuable ground to break is in cultural interventions. As many have pointed out, this problem is so intense because our culture puts a ton of emphasis on sex and marriage, yet we do not provide the educational resources for most people to understand how to navigate this terrain of historical conditioning that is ripe with gender inequalities. As a result most people employ outdated or deeply misguided behavior “scripts” that hurt themselves and others. Both Stanford and Harvard have been ramping up their educational interventions to address the social aspect, but these efforts are brand new and are still being finessed. Both employ an intersectional “ecosystem” of identities approach that encourage perspective taking and cognitive mapping in order to help cis-gender men understand how the socialization of their identity harms both them and others. The education also works to make individuals aware of the social scripts they adopt. For example, the “hook up” script which is a goal-oriented script that prioritizes male pleasure. As Moira Weigel has pointed out, a particularly salient and toxic aspect of our culture has been to historically depict heteronormative relationships as “the battle of the sexes as a kind of market competition, where women barter sex for love and men do the opposite. In this exchange, not only is dating work for women and recreation for men. Desire itself is a liability. If a seller knows you want to buy, he knows you can get more”(254). Therefore, my intervention is targeting “the dating market” as a site in which to diffuse cultural “re-programming and education” in order to break down these scripts that the market place operates on, thus turning it in on itself.
There are many ways in which this could go wrong; the extreme versions also give insight into how the intervention may go wrong in more subtle ways. The first that comes to mind is that in infusing cultural education into the dating market place, men who identify as “Incels” (involuntary celibates) may be either inflamed by the idea that people might dare to threaten the revenge fantasy that their entire lives operate on. According to Wikipedia, incels are mostly white, male and heterosexual; their discussions with each other online are often characterized by resentment, misanthropy, self-pity, self-loathing, misogyny, racism, and a sense of entitlement to sex, and the endorsement of violence against sexually active people. This subculture group has already committed at least 4 mass murders than have resulted in 45 deaths. In a solution gone wrong, the educational platform would flare up the negativity of the incels by leading them to believe that the educational messages that plea for men to think critically about their identities is just another way in which others are oppressing them; which in a worse case scenario, could result in violence against the groups I am trying to protect. While this is an extreme case, there’s a less extreme version that also would be a bad outcome: if men are made to think that they are to blame for their social conditioning to the degree that they become so entrenched with self-hatred that they are unable to change, and thus end up exacerbating the problem. The incels show us that masculinity is a very fragile thing. On one hand, how our culture codes masculinity creates problems for everyone. And yet being emasculated is also a traumatic thing for many men. As a mitigation strategy, I would suggest that these educational tools be developed collaboratively with men who once operated on these scripts, and have been “converted” through the existing educational systems at Harvard and Stanford. These men are easy to identify: they have a role at each school that deals expressly with these men. I spoke with the woman at Harvard in depth about this role. She said that the emotional labor of having to sit through the process with men as they process and come to understand how their social conditioning they have been operating on is flawed because it harms others. A mitigation strategy would be to develop the educational tools to market to these men in a way that incentivizes them to learn how to disassemble their own identity without the identity flaring up and being threatened by the process. Another mitigation strategy would be to employ humans or have very intelligent bots who could perform the same role as I described; these bots or humans would act as emotional support for men grappling with their identities and ask the right questions to get them to self reflect.
Another disaster would be to inflame the anger of women and non-gender conforming identities in the non-privileged position against men and other identities who oppress them. This seems pretty unlikely, given that I can’t think of a single historical example of “women committing violence against men because they realized how oppressed they are,” but I won’t rule it out as a possibility. This would theoretically flip the gender binary of privilege and power on its head, allowing women to group together and dismantle men in anger. Even as I type this, I wonder if that’s what the #metoo and #timesup movements are about: women realizing that our culture has gaslit us to believe that we are nothing more than a body for male pleasure, an object in the field, incapable of subjectivity and taking sudden and extreme revenge in order to restore justice. Realizing that they have been gaslit by social messaging to relinquish any agency that they do have must be very difficult—even as someone raised on feminist literature and theory, I still fall into depression about it sometimes. In my own, more begin case as an example, even having women fall depressed at realizing how much of their lives and identities are built on a sort of self-repression, self-denial, and self-hatred would also be a net-negative because it would lead to resignation rather than empowerment. As a mitigation strategy, I would want to work with women to figure out what messages empower them: it may be a better move then for both men and women to avoid going into the history of how they are currently being conditioned and the implications on their present lives, and instead just intervene in the same way that one might “upgrade to a nicer model of car”—using this capitalist logic might be helpful to motivate people to learn self-empowerment and self-awareness and reflexivity as skills they believe will help them perform better on that market… when actually, they are skills that help them to dismantle the negative impact of the market and gender privilege on their lives.
Finally, the last area is that I see how it is tempting to want to focus my intervention on heteronormative scripts because I have personal awareness as a cis-gender straight white female to understand how these works. But as many of the people at Stanford and Harvard have pointed out, these issues effect the non-gender conforming communities as well. For that reason, I’d need to do a lot of research and collaborative design work to understand how identities harm these individuals as well. Intersectional feminism would say that a good solution would be to map all the identities and study how they interact a little bit more; and perhaps that is the use case for AI here… maybe using AI, we can see how an individual enacts their identities in chats with romantic partners, and then offer strategic educational interventions to help them with that particular aspect of that identity. For example, maybe AI can tell if a the identity in the privileged position who has trained to be assertive asks the same question four times in a row to a non-privileged person; this effectively is a sort of violence against that person even though on the surface asking the same question four times in a row doesn’t seem “that bad”. The AI could then target them with an intervention about rethinking the trait of being “assertive” so they can understand how in some cases it may help them, and in other cases it may hurt them. Using Ai then would allow the platform to give more nuanced educational interventions that are specific to how a person enacts their identities.

Ideo Method card: Perspective taking/role playing

WARNING: the following content is polarizing. I advise those to only read if they have a truly open mind about the issue of the rape crisis and are willing to be more flexible about our current understanding of “victim” and “perpetrator”.

During my interview with a psychology professor and lecturer who teaches about social and cultural causes of rape on campus we tried a version of “role-playing”. The goal of the exercise was to come to a deeper understanding of why sexual assault might happen beyond the desire to either totalizing villainize perpetrators or blame victims… or any prefiguration of those two angles.

In the role-playing, I played the female victim (for the sake of simplicity, sorry to male victims, I know this doesn’t just happen to women!) and she played the male perpetrator. We took turns bringing up real incidents and used role-playing to try and open up all the narratives contained in each instance and how a particular event might look from both sides. We started with an example in which a boy kissed a girl who had been saying “no, I’m really not interested.” In this dialogue, we talked about how the girl was afraid to insult him and so she was laughing and shy and nervous about saying no, and in this circumstance, her conditioning to be passively created a miscommunication for her potential romantic interest, who perceived her to “coy” and “teasing him”. We even found ways to open up a dialogue about the intentionality behind someone attempting to overpower a woman and how even that may have been seriously misleading. A confession, that the last one was based on a true story in which after someone tried to overpower a woman I know, she struggled out of it and said, “What the f*** was that?” and then the man proceeded to break down in tears, claiming he was nervous and that the conception of masculinity he was raised on suggested that women were attracted to violence and dominance and that as soon as he did it he realized how wrong and horrible that was.

I think a lot of women may take serious offense to this exercise; my heart absolutely goes out to victims for what they have suffered. The goal of this exercise was not to blame either women or men for what happened but to open up and problematize the notion of intentionality. We found that intentionality is extremely complicated. To quote “future sex” by Emily Witt, “I came to understand that sexuality had very little to do with the sex you actually had. A straight woman who hooked up with people she met online in her search for a boyfriend was not different, in behavior, from the gay man who made a public declaration about looking for noncommittal sex. The man who cheated on his wife was no different, in action, from the polyamorist who slept with someone outside of his primary relationship. It was the ideation and expression of intent that differentiated sexualities, not the actual sex” (Witt).

The professor helped me realize the nuances under the surface: the same event could come from a variety of intentions so it is impossible to make “all” or “none” claims about this crime—even when the same “actual assault” appears to be happening. By shifting the blame from individuals to cultural conditioning… we opened up the door for dialogue and learning that could shift that conditioning. And this doesn’t just apply to men. I pointed out that when we teach about cultural conditioning and gender, we’re really marketing those messages to women. Why? She thinks it’s an incredibly important way to fight the crime by empowering women: “we want to make this idealistic argument about whether or not women need to change their behavior, but in a pragmatic sense, the answer is yes, they do have to change—the cultural programming that creates this issue resides in the ‘cultural programming’ of both men and women. Which isn’t to say that women aren’t at fault for the way they’re behaving, it’s very much a part of social conditioning. [As an educator] I believe that the value of educating women is so that they can reject that social conditioning.”

Sexual Assault Epidemic on Campus

founder of better-brave

I started my interviews with a peer. I had originally scheduled the call with her to talk about what excited me about this class, but as the call went on, it became clear that this should count as my first interview, as both of us have had personal experiences with the problem as students and as women in the workplace. Right now, she runs a company that she founded that helps women seek assistance outside of HR to report sexual harassment claims. In her experience, HR has failed to help her because their jobs were to protect the company’s interest… which actually meant protecting C-level executives with issues rather than female employees. For that reason, she was able to provide specific insights into the culture that causes sexual assault. During the interview, she mentioned that she feels that the cultural part of the problem has two poles: One pole is that systems of privilege and power can easily be abused and used to harm others. The other part of the problem was that many of the perpetrators are just truly ignorant to the fact that they are causing others harm. They literally have no idea that they are causing others harm. She cites how she led workshops at many workplaces… in these workshops, she would make sure to say that her educational space was a “safe space” for all genders to ask all questions. Many men came forward in the meeting admitting they didn’t know or understand the #metoo movement. Others admitted they have no idea what is appropriate and what isn’t, and that they don’t know how to read body cues. Others felt they were good men, but would make ignorant remarks like “I don’t understand why I should have to learn to use a different pronoun for a transgendered person” without realizing how hurtful they were being. In her perspective, the problem is “masculinity” and how it is man-ufactured by society as a role. She thinks that men are being unconsciously trained to enact masculinity in a particular way, and simultaneously we are training women to enact femininity in a particular way. This cultural coding results in both masculine “power” trips that abuse those who occupy feminine roles, and also ignorant reifications of what they take to be “obvious reality”…. To her, prevention lies in education and disassembling these structural privilages afforded to men.


Title 9 Officer at Harvard

The next interview I conducted was with a Title 9 officer at Harvard. Her interview was incredibly rich with insights of both the history of how Harvard, an elite institution with tons of money and resources, chose to design a particular set of support structures and the rationale behind them. In this paragraph I couldn’t possibly do the conversation justice, she was fantastically helpful! As a listener, it became clear that Harvard is *crushing it* in terms of the recourses they are providing to victims. There are so many kinds of resources, that a victim can kind of “choose their own adventure” for what they want to do about what happened to them. There’s title 9 for people who want justice in a judicial sense. There are support networks for people who want therapy and a variety of modalities so you can choose what therapy you need. Immediately, it became clear that perhaps support for victims or better police weren’t the answers for how to make more improvements for the issue… harvard was doing an excellent job in terms of both those things! The real thing that is harder to change is the cultural aspect of the problem—otherwise, you can only improve the response after the crime is committed and add security measures that make it harder to commit the crime, both of which are being addressed by Harvard’s massive amount of resources. And it’s not clear if the resources for victims or crime preventions or the policy is even having an impact at all. She cites how there were always resources for women, but it wasn’t until recently that Title 9 became this institutional “power” on campus that has created and enacted a policy that all students, faculty, and staff must obey. She says the main role is to hold and possess a definition of what sexual harassment is. We talked about how enacting institutional power around defining sexual harassment has huge benefits, it is hard to tell what effect it will have on the university. She mentioned that despite having a great system to report the assault, it is still so stigmatizing to do it, that many never get to use those fabulous resources. For example, a grad student that is assaulted by the most big-name professor in their field may never be able to come forward about it because of the power dynamics. nShe mentioned that there was a survey of the problem of sexual harassment on campus in 2015, and there will be a new one conducted this year that will be able to show if there has been an improvement.

I was fascinated by how she described how the different parts of the institution came together. There were many smaller organizations that all worked at the problem from different angles. She attended Harvard and was part of the student advocate group. now, as an officer in title 9, she maintains a connection with this student group so that they can, as she says, “keep each other honest.” the student group advocates for the students and helps to voice complaints that then filter back through the title 9 office and thus shape policy. She was also able to outline how there were multiple places on campus where education happens. She cited a group called OASPR who is responsible for cultural programming and changes like education about “affirmative consent”. Interestingly, this is not the cultural value enforced by the policy in title nine, which uses the language of “unwanted sexual conduct.” I asked her why this is, and she said that it was a choice to use “unwanted sexual conduct” because it is more nuanced for judiciary reasons and is more specific. This suddenly elucidated something to me: “affirmative consent” is a cultural education message because it is trying to re-educate both women and men at the same time… it tells women that “hey, you should be more upfront about what you want and need, because you have been trained to enact *passivity* as a part of your role as a female, which means that you might fail to communicate that you do not want someone’s sexual advances, and possess the inaccurate belief that you have to just endure it because that’s what it means to be a woman”. and it tells men “hey, you should listen to the subtle and obvious body cues of others because you have been trained to be *active* and often that means you neglect to pay attention to what other people are feeling and thinking and instead focus on how you can get what you want; there’s no reason to villainize you for that because it’s how you’ve been trained, but, seriously, start paying attention to this.” Among others, she pointed me to learn more about a specific person whose entire role is to be a safe space for men who believe they may have harmed someone to go and talk about what happened and learn from their mistakes. I was floored when I heard that this is a resource that is actually available on campus—that was exactly what tammy was asking for.

Staff Psychologist specializing in Victims of Sexual Misconduct  at Stanford

after such an interesting conversation with the title 9 officer at Harvard, I thought it would be interesting to do a “comparative anthropology/structural analysis” of how the same institution is composed at another school. Being an alum of Stanford (I was class of 2017) I remembered a lot of the institutions and how they were set up and was able to quickly get in touch with someone at Stanford. Although I had contacted the title 9 office, I was put in touch with someone who occupied a very different institutional role than the woman I spoke with at Harvard. As I learned from her, not all schools have the same “designed eco-system” of support and institutional measures made to combat sexual assault. The woman I spoke to at Harvard often used critical theory terms and structural analysis in order to speak about the problem. Yet something different was happening with the woman I talked to at Stanford. Her role was in the CST group, which is based in the health services group on campus. She was a psychologist primarily and spoke about the problem from a very social sciences angle. She was fascinated by different statistics than the title 9 officer. She readily admitted that Stanford has one of the highest rates of sexual assault. She also reported an interesting statistic: while on-campus women of the same age, comparatively to off-campus women of the same age, are less likely to experience sexual assault… on-campus men, comparatively to off-campus men of the same age, are more likely to experience sexual assault. We talked for a while about these stats and what story they might be telling. Both of us settled on “woah. this problem is really gnarly and weird” at the end of exploring several possible meanings. I have come away thinking that this is the problem with social sciences: they can provide data that show us what the reality currently is, but they cannot tell us the solution or how to be. You have to run “experiments” of ways to build a social reality and use social science data to map causality. Ultimately, in terms of causality, she thinks that there are so many levels to this issue: institutional, cultural and individual. In her mind, part of the problem is that we live in a culture that glorifies sex and gives it esteem and privilege and power to men who have it and to women to wield their desirability as a weapon. And yet at the same time that our culture glorifies this and uses sex as a status symbol, our culture fails to teach us enough about what’s going on for people to “get” the big picture of what is happening. Sex education for my entire generation, she says, was most likely porn; which is basically like trying to get an education about astrology by watching Star Wars. She talked about how alcohol is not truly causal… because it has many uses. It might cause people to make dumb choices that don’t reflect their sober beliefs… it might also be weaponized against women by men who want to, as she said, “have sex at all costs.” She says that both happen, and that’s why alcohol regulation is so complicated and is an incomplete solution because it doesn’t radically solve the issue. Being a clinical psychologist, she also talked about how students in college are still adolescents, and that might account for why they make “immature and dumb decisions”. That kind of claim makes me think about “boys will be boys” and made me question her rhetoric and if she was implicitly putting the blame on women for not protecting themselves from a dangerous reality by making that claim. She also mentioned that

She also mentioned that if you look at studies from 20 years ago, we’re seeing the same rates of sexual assault… which really brings up a deeper question of the efficacy of these systems and how they’re set up. From her perspective as a psychologist, the judicial systems are ultimately not helpful at preventing crime. She says that just recently a group called SERA has begun to release a bunch of very powerful and effective pedagogical cultural programming sessions, but its too soon to know if they will be effective. Hearing from her, I was extremely surprised to hear that even though it feels like I have been there so recently, Stanford’s resources have grown exponentially even during the time I was there. As I found out, a lot of the most key and progressive resources weren’t even available until after I had already left!

I was also surprised to see that Harvard and Stanford have somewhat similar structures in terms of the services they provide. They have the title 9 office which is in charge of policy and institutional/recourses-type help (like being placed in a new dorm or requesting a restraining order from a classmate who assaulted them). There’s also a group that deals with cultural programming. and beyond that, there are student-oriented groups. At Stanford, they have title 9 which also does investigations. they have CST which does a private and confidential consultation, SERA which does cultural programming. Despite their similarities, which I brought up in the interview, The psychologist insisted that there are many ways of doing things. For example, she says that Princeton has a distributed model in which there are confidential resources in each department, which all feed into the centralized title 9 system. This all reminded me a little bit of Bruno Latour’s argument about the modern constitution. I was fascinated at how we divide up the structural institutions that deal with a problem that is so multi-faceted. Where we draw the lines of responsibility is super fascinating. In both interviews, they brought up about how important messaging is—it tells students what kind of resources they will receive.

closing thoughts

In reading between these two interviews, I came to realize that there have always been resources for victims and there have always been cops. Now, there are more people to help these victims, but that doesn’t reduce the rate of the crime (or rather, in 2019 Spring we will know if the increases in resources at Harvard and Stanford have had an impact on the rate of the crime). I asked all three “What areas are you not working on that you wish you could?/if you had magic powers, what would you do to address the issue?” and all three mentioned that cultural change as being the area of most opportunity for causing change, but due to their institutional roles, they couldn’t really take part in that part of the change. That was where they drew the boundary line… but that was for the benefit of the whole system, surprisingly! in providing clinical, psychological and judicial systems independent from dogma or belief, they couldn’t be threatened by any groups’ beliefs. We can all agree that rape is a crime and that it needs to be treated as one…  even if in private you insist that your frat brother Joe who hooked up with a sleeping girl at that college party to make his brothers laugh is a “truly good guy”. The cultural issue seems to be centered in gendered privilege structures, and this applies both to cases of “ignorant abuses of power” as well as tyrannical abuses of power. Part of the problem is rooted in a culture that teaches men to be active and neglect the wants and needs of others, which encourages them to use their privilege to blindly hurt others. Another part of the problem is that we train women to be passive—making them think they can’t stand up and demand what they want.

What will happen if we start training men to be gentle as the most “desirable and powerful” form of masculinity? What will happen if we start training women to be Brave and courageous, and prove to men that these are desirable, admirable, even sexy qualities? in doing so, we’d be educating men to disassemble their structural privilege. wait. that’s going to be SUPER hard. Why? because the privilege is what benefits them… so why would they ever be incentivized to decrease what benefits them??? 

That’s the kind of stuff that this woman wants to know.





Rape Crisis at Universities in America

Due to awareness of my own identities and privileges, I have chosen to tackle sexual assault college campuses. The United States Department of Justice highlights a chilling statistic: one out of every four female undergraduates will be victim to some form of sexual assault before graduation. There is an average of 293,066 victims ages 12 or older of rape and sexual assault each year in the U.S. This means 1 sexual assault occurs every 107 seconds. Sexual assault, a type of sexual violence, is a term that applies to a broad range of forced and unwanted sexual activity. Those who study gender relationships have long since made the argument that this crime is about privilege, power, and control. Gender studies have long since explored how institutions structurally uphold male privilege, and the rampant rate of this crime on college campuses suggests validity to that claim.

The film “The Hunting Ground” explores the nature of this problem. Its powerful exposé on the epidemic of rape crimes explores how the crimes have a long and horrible impact on the lives of the victims, their communities, and their loved ones. Rape is a crime that disempowers women; when it happens at school, those women often end up struggling to get the most out of their expensive education and also alienates them from their community—meaning that this crime disempowers them in more ways than one. The film also explores how the universities have failed to address this problem; often times going to great lengths to protect the male perpetrators reputations at the cost of the wellbeing, education, and health of the female victim. The film exposes how universities across the nation avoid the issue through the means of victim blaming, harassment and ignorance.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimates that at least 95% of campus rapes in the U.S. go unreported, meaning that most victims do not receive the support they need and deserve.

A lot has already been done. Victims have organized informal lists of perpetrators and have banded together to take down high-profile perpetrators as part of the #metoo. One called “shitty men in architecture” has several people from my own school, the GSD, on it. Title 9 was a huge step forward in fighting sexual assault on college campuses, but this was one of the first things that Trump overturned when he got into office. The amount of stigma and the intensity of what one has to go through in order to report these crimes also may be a factor that prohibits individuals from reporting; many universities within the last few years now have free counseling available that doesn’t force the victim to report their crime. Online services (and apps!) for victims are very popular: For example, the brand new non-profit, better brave, was started by a friend of mine to give women resources outside of their company’s HR department to report sexual assault or discrimination. Other groups have tried to create online versions of rape crisis support. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really stop the crime from happening, but it does help by providing victims with the things they need. Companies are also starting to build in support systems for these kinds of crime into their services.


Please see my network map here. 

Assignment #5

My Core Values:

THE “RATATOUILLE” PRINCIPLE: a good idea can come from anywhere.

(Forgive my reference to the Disney movie if you haven’t seen it) The movie’s fictive famous chef died asserted the idea that “anyone can cook” and was met with skepticism from those who felt “well, everyone can cook, but should everyone?” At the end, the revelatory moment is found in this quotation:

Not everyone can become a great artist; but a great artist can come from anywhere.

There’s a lot to be learned in the design world from this. I spent the summer looking at how a major tech company does participatory design. The higher-ups often were dismayed at the results, realizing that with a small N, most of the ideas people came up with were either not feasible or didn’t make sense as solutions.

It’s true that not everyone will have “good” (effective, feasible, desirable) ideas. But that doesn’t mean we should shut down and never listen to others. While not everything is a good idea, we need to remember that a good idea can come from anywhere.  This means that part of your job as a designer or leader is to ways to unlock the genius in others and allow it a platform for expression, so the best ideas are celebrated, not the mouths that those ideas come from.

HUMILITY IS THE KEY TO TRUE LEADERSHIP: True genius and success emerge from networks, not from individuals.

I believe that success never comes from one person by themselves, it emerges through networks of people and how they interact with each other. America praises the individual, the founder, the CEO, the writer, the inventor, the risktaker, as this sort of singular nexus of brilliance and achievement. But I think that model is wrong.

I believe that there are no “geniuses”—rather, everyone has genius in them. I am not alone in thinking this.

If this is true, then we need to have a model for successful implementation (which often necessitates a sort of “authority” who acts) that still successfully celebrates and incorporate the genius of others in it. I believe that this is where humility comes in and remembering that positions of authority are first and foremost opportunities to serve others. Take for example the brilliant researcher and writer behind Godel Escher Bach, Douglas Hofstadter, who begins a book by acknowledging how his authorial genius is indebted largely to all of the individuals in his life:

The many friends [I am connected to] form a “cloud” in which I float; sometimes I think of them as the “metropolitan area” of which I, construed narrowly, am just the zone inside the official city limits.

HEART-CENTERED RATIONALISM: Make decisions that are balanced with both heart and mind

In pop culture, we tend to cleave matters of the heart and matters of the head from each other, insisting that one is emotional and the other is rational. Even the structures of our personality tests—meant to classify and inform individuals of themselves and their values—separate the way of the heart from the way of the head. For example, the Myers Briggs test allows your personality type to have either a heart-centered approach or a logic-centered approach. But are these two modes of being actually fundamentally opposed to each other?

I have not researched this (read: this is an opinion) but I wonder if this cleaving of heart from mind has to do with gender roles, gender education, and gender norms. If what I said is true, it would imply that the “male-normative” role of leader, as a constitutive fact of its founding, rejects matters of the heart as unimportant.

In my value system, matters of the heart are also matters of the mind. To leaders, these should and must be indistinguishable. We should therefore act rationally on matters of the heart, and act with the heart on matters of the mind. They are not separate. To reference Bruno Latour, we need to go beyond matters of fact and instead attend to “matters of concern.”

DON’T FORGET THE BODY: while it is attempting to attack “the system” or “the man” we can only view the system through materiality.

Our bodies situate us in space and time: our bodies are what situate us within abstractions like institutions,  ideologies, and power structures. While it is tempting to just analyze the abstract system or statistics that compress materiality down so it can be more easily understood, we need to recontextualize what we know as being produced by specific bodies in specific places.

As bodies, we are inseparable from materiality. This is what connects us to histories of oppression, migration, power, and privilege. Privileged bodies forget their privilege because privilege is the ability to not have to “realize” that a door is open for you that is closed for others. When you do fieldwork or ethnography or interviews, you bring your body with you. This principle seeks to be aware of the body and how it may affect design research and practice.: for example, are the questions you’re asking and the site in which you’re asking them going to enable truth and honesty? Think for example the brilliant rhetorical move of the specialist who interviewed Blaisey Ford: this specialist used the opportunity to show how the site (the massive, televised, 5-minute structured government hearing) in which her testimony transpired stacks the odds against her and increases the likelihood of her failure to present evidence in a manner that will expose the truth if it is she who possesses it.

BEWARE THE TOTALIZING FORCE OF NARRATIVES: because we all can be unreliable narrators,  we need to ask others to “read” our work for us.

If being an English major has taught me anything, it’s the concept of the ‘unreliable narrator’. Making products involves narratives.  If you can’t see what I mean, study the pitch for a startup: the narrator first presents the problem then articulates a solution. What is chosen as the ingredients of the problem is a choice made by the narrator. The logic of the solution comes from how this problem is set up.

Humans are all fallible narrators because our brains are not built to function in isolation. Everyone has blind spots. Therefore, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will critically examine your work and the story you are telling. Have people read to see how you might be unreliable as a narrator!


Designing a Convening for the Rape Crisis

**note, I am focusing my response on cis-female-identifying assault victims, but I recognize and send my love to male assault victims. In a perfect world, I’d work with a cis-gender male and others of different gender expressions to make sure the platform is applicable to all**

In the wake of the FBI investigation and what ended up happening with Kavanaugh… I have to chose to design around this one. I’d want to design an intervention in which  survivors of sexual assault at young ages (like high school) would be able to converge and express their experiences through creative writing, art, poetry, and storytelling… and then this work would be turned into a platform used to educate high school men about rape culture, the fallacy of the “boys will be boys” argument, and help men to empathize with the young women that they traumatize. It would both provide a safe space for assault survivors to tell their stories and create a community of support… but then it would also be a way to use those personal stories to catalyze real change. In terms of location, it may make sense to do it online as an internet movement because everyone could be in a special location that is safe for them and easily toggle in and out of participation as they needed. The classroom for the men would obviously need to take place at schools across the country, where the structures of authority can ensure that they take the material seriously and their full comprehension is being assessed at each stage.


Problems I am Thinking About


#1) Mental Health and Gen Z

Research has demonstrated that Gen Z struggles with mental health. NPR calls this the “silent epidemic” in their report. The following statistics are directly from the NPR report:

There are more than 50 million public school students in the U.S. and as many as 1 in 5 shows signs of a mental health disorder. Most of the nearly 5 million affected students — nearly 80 percent — won’t receive counseling. Or therapy. Or medication. They won’t get any treatment at all. Npr pointed out that children who struggle with mental are uniquely positioned in the public school system in such a way that will make it difficult for them to get treatment. Their teachers are overburdened and are not trained to help with mental health issues. School counselors can help, but there are not enough of them: the average counselor has about 500 students assigned to them. School nurses could help too, but they face great demands: the average number of students per nurse is 1,515 students. School psychologists can be the best people to step in. They have the specialized training — if a school is lucky enough to have one to itself. Similarly to the nurses, the average number of students per child psychologist is 1,400.



Bringing technology into the picture may be difficult to justify. In fact, many have noticed that the technology may in fact be the root of Gen Z’s mental health issues. PHD Jean Twenge has researched Gen Z who were raised with smartphones and has crafted a compelling argument that their relationship to technology is the cause of Gen Z’s anxiety problems. If technology is already Gen Z’s Pharmakon, solving this issue with more tech has a bit of an irony baked into it. Studying how technologies might be negatively affecting Gen Z might be a good place to have inspiration for how Code can help.



It seems like changing the policies for how schools address mental health should be the easiest site for change… however, as we know that schools are already complaining of underfunding. According to the Mackinac Center for public policy, almost 30 % of taxes already go to funding schools; they trace the issue here to being poor money management, which might suggest with more research that there is an opportunity to require certain amounts of money be spent on this issue by schools. But spending more money may still make the resources out of reach for most and also may not mean an improvement in resources… only more spending on them.


Parent interest groups and documentary filmmakers have started campaigns to help educate the public about Gen Z and mental health. A particularly successful one of these was called “angst”. The Resiliency project at Stanford also shows promise. However popular these programs are while they run, it’s not clear if they have created lasting change. It helps certainly to remove the stigma with getting help, but in the long run, do they statistically drive more people to get the quality support that they need?



This is actually a really interesting area for new solutions. Right now, several apps have launched that provide on-demand therapy through the smartphone. Before chatting with a professional, a lot of them even offer to chat with an AI bot for free. I know a few social workers at Kaiser Permanente who are disappointed to be migrating to iPhone appointments because they feel less of a personal connection to their clients.  This is an interesting model to explore that may allow for greater access to therapy by lowering the price point and obstacles to “consumption” of a therapy appointment… but making this a sustainable option for all parties involved might take some thought… How might changing the model of the therapy appointment make mental health help available to more people?



#2) Rape Crisis

(trigger warning: I will talk in a straightforward manner about this issue.)

The modern rates of gender-based violence are shocking. Even more shocking is that the top three countries with the highest amounts of problems are 3) the US, 2) Sweden, and 1) South Africa. There are already high rates of this crime in all three countries… never mind that there is a huge problem with underreporting these crimes.



Many have tried to find a code-based solution to this problem. For example, the brand new non-profit, better brave, was started by a friend of mine to give women resources outside of their company’s HR department to report sexual assault or discrimination. Other groups have tried to create online versions of rape crisis support. Unfortunately, this doesn’t really stop the crime from happening, but it does help by providing victims with the things they need. Companies are also starting to build in support systems for these kinds of crime into their services. Thinking of how uber has added a button to report issues like these.



Obviously, a huge area for change. Title 9 was a huge step forward in fighting sexual assault on college campuses, but this was one of the first things that Trump overturned when he got into office. The amount of stigma and the intensity of what one has to go through in order to report these crimes also may be a factor that prohibits individuals from reporting.



Can we incentivize men to look out for women and be allies? What about preventing the bystander problem by somehow rewarding unsung heroes? It’s a bit of a bleak thing to propose, so I’d love to think more about how we can use this lever to create change. I am also thinking about how the reverse thing has occurred: in getting negative publicity about toxic male figures in companies during the #metoo movement, we may have seen some unconscious (or very conscious) boycotting going on. I’d like to see a study done on whether that is effective or not.



In the market one, I noted how male allies might be a solution to this issue. This seems like the most important place to create change. Of course, we should teach men not to rape. And we should also help them teach each other not to rape and not to support rape culture. This is, of course, a massive systemic cultural issue so it would also really take some thought to think about smart interventions that could be made here.


#3) Fashion & Pollution   

Fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world… or so sustainable clothing companies say.  We intuitively know that “Fast Fashion” (the same phenomenon of “fast food” but with clothing) has become a huge industry with fast-fashion chains like Forever 21, H&M, Zara and Topshop —but it is hard to get data on how environmentally unsound these services are. Not to mention that there are issues with human rights. It’s been a long open secret that the cheap clothing made by these brands are produced in factories that jeopardize workers health.


Due to market incentives and the very understandably ‘human’ desire to be trendy and ‘cool,’ the fashions keep changing, meaning more and more production of low quality, high waste clothing that is bought, worn a few times, then thrown away. H&M have tried to initiate better ways to recycle their clothing and donate it, but this works with less than .1% of the clothing sold at these stories. The inexpensive clothing is poor quality, with low resale value, and there’s just too much of it.

This is a very interesting site because it’s actually hard to separate out earnest attempts to be ecofriendly from the ploys that prey on consumer guilt for an excuse to jack up clothing prices. For example, on many sustainable clothing sites you’ll see the claim that fashion is the #2 most polluting industry in the world… but no one seems to be able to back up that claim. How might we actually get tastemakers to shift to more sustainable business practices? And what about the huge overhead costs of investing in ecofriendly production methods that mire companies in their ways?


There’s already a lot of laws in place around pollution due to fashion and human rights… but they don’t seem to be effective. What about if we taxed trash fashion? Who would that hurt? Who would that help?


Online stores are finding eco-friendly ways to produce, distribute, market and resell their clothing. For example, Reformation, an eco-friendly brand, allows customers to resell clothes they don’t like through their platform to other customers.

the norms right now are often just marketing ploys that harness insecurity and the human desire to belong in order to drive consumption. I think of Gwenyth Paltrow’s site, Goop, which has demonstrated that beautiful, highly adored people can sell anything they want to people provided that they market it as the ‘secret to their beauty’. For example, A 55-year-old woman in Spain died after receiving bee sting therapy; a service which was promoted heavily by goop and Gwenyth Paltrow.  What would happen if the whole industry (including tastemakers) shifted its marketing norms along side its cost-structure in order to incentivize a different kind of fashion consumption that would be based on long-term sustainable and ecofriendly use? What if consumers expected their clothes to last longer and be of higher quality so that they could actually be recycled?






Further considerations Re: the “wreck of my well intentioned start up”

In my first blog post, I reflected on my startup. Here, I’ll go a bit deeper into rethinking why it failed to evoke the social change I had planned. To use the schematic provided by Lessig, the full scope of the problem involves the constraints created by the market, by the law, by social norms, and by the architecture of the solution.

In the case of my company, I think I had done a good job of understanding the market dynamics in general. The product I created would realistically create more opportunity for all players in the space… but it could potentially pose an issue to incumbent powers. As I stated in my first blog post, in order to make our model as best as it could be, we needed access to a massive amount of high-quality ticketing data… and yet, I had failed to see that the only people who had that kind of data were the very monopolies we were trying to undermine. This ultimately meant that if we wanted to make something that worked, the practical use of what we made would be determined by the company that owned it. This created an aspect of the regulation of the technology that we didn’t have control over.

While the threat to the incumbent powers proved a problem, theoretically, this could have been overcome with the other constraints. For example, we could have found a way to shift the social norms of artists. The reason that the big monopolies are the only place to find quality ticketing sales data is that they are private data sets. There are public data sets available—in fact, we tried to train our model on them. These free public datasets were of poor quality because promoters who ran events would self-report the data. Often wanting to influence musicians to work with their brand or venue, we found that this data was often inflated or inaccurate. In a similar way, musicians had no benefit of posting public data… it took effort, tech-savvy, and could contain information that hurt their brand. Indeed, one of the benefits of having a privatized data set from a big conglomerate is that they, just like our models, needed to understand why shows performed badly so they could figure out how to avoid making the same errors in the future. Because the data was internal to the company, there was no downside of honesty. If we had created a platform in which we worked directly with middle-class musicians to collect the data about their shows and show them how working with us would benefit them, we could have become the locus of the data set we needed. As a team, we were afraid to take on such a big challenge (we’d need lots and lots of artists to be valuable enough) and for that reason didn’t pursue this option. As for law, right now the major conglomerate is under investigation for potentially violating anti-trust laws, but that process is slow moving.

As for architecture, I believe the solution I outlined of working with the musicians themselves to collect the data is the best bet… and that, of course, depends on the structure of the platform used to deliver our AI model. Strangely, the company we exited to is actually best positioned to deliver the solution I outlined, provided that there are enough venues able to get out of their exclusive relationships with the large conglomerate. I guess I had been thinking of this as a failure when actually, we most likely lucked into having the product land at a place where it now has the highest likelihood of impact.

I’m writing to you amid the wreck of my well-intentioned start up…

In 2016, I founded a company as a senior at Stanford University. I had spent the three previous summers doing internships in the music industry. These internships had revealed to me how behind the scenes, the ‘culture machine’ struggled with entrenched social inequalities. I was astounded, also, by the lack of advanced technology and wondered what role technology could play. Many close friends of mine at the time were musicians struggling to ‘make it’: despite being talented, it was difficult to get booked—it was even harder to get fair pay given the nature of the gigs. Seeing the industry from these perspectives inspired me to create an AI-fueled “demand forecasting” technology that I hoped would help the situation. I believed my tech would create opportunities that would bolster the now hardly-existent musical middle class, decrease the overbearing power of entrenched monopolies, and eliminate some of the parasitic roles that reduce the feasibility of a creative career in the present day.

After a year of building out our model using a testing data set from a large, infamous ticketing company, we stumbled upon gold: our model could forecast the demand for concerts in advance far more accurately than even the most skilled industry employees. While we celebrated this success, in retrospect, my mistakes at this precise moment make this more of an embarrassment than a success. In order to make our model as best as it could be, we needed access to a massive amount of high-quality ticketing data… and yet, I had failed to see that the only people who had that kind of data were the very monopolies we were trying to undermine. This ultimately meant that if we wanted to make something that worked, the practical use of what we made would be determined by the company that owned it.

As a naïve student, I was inexperienced enough to think at the time that these business partners shared my vision for the tech. Yet this definitely wasn’t the case: it became clear that our potential business partners had no intentions of pursuing our vision. Instead, they wanted to use our AI model to more efficiently drive up ticket prices, which I strongly felt hurt customers and music culture at large. I was personally upset by the possibility that I had created something that would be used to hurt musicians and music lovers, thus damaging the world I identified with most. Disillusioned, I began trying to find an equally viable business partner that wouldn’t use the tech in this problematic way. I was indeed eventually able to find a better home for the team and the model. My startup exited in February of 2018 bound by non-disclosure, so I cannot say much more than that. Today, our model has been trained on their dataset and is working at a success rate beyond what we had even thought possible. …But it still isn’t clear how this tech will ultimately be used by the company. Though our model won’t be used to hurt anyone, our model will certainly not perform the positive social role I had envisioned.