While water (or the lack thereof) defines the West, it is space that sets it apart from the rest of the States, from the urban centers of Detroit and DC, from the rural nature of Vermont or upper New York. With approximately 50% of the West designated as Federal land, there are long stretches of wilderness wholly without human imprint, without rows of corn or waving heads of grain or the twin stingers of barbed wire fence. Space draws the boundaries of Western identity.
It’s only natural, then, that considerations of space figure largely into my thoughts of identity, educational progress, and collaboration with others. As I drill down into the specific life of a grad student, engaged in classes, meetings, committee work, and teaching, I realize that much of my work is around a particular space in my house. This space is designated as my work station — but more than that, I intentionally designed it to be so. Because “thinking is not something done exclusively inside the head” but also something that happens within the interaction of people and tools, I wanted this space to reflect multiple possibilities even as I worked to shape the affordances & constraints of this room (Bolland & Collopy, 2004, p. 11). Of course, the reality is that I often work in my recliner, laptop perched atop my lap, cat curled around the keys. But the desk is my official place of work, the area I hold my Skype or GoToMeeting sessions at and the place I scratch each item off of my to-do list.
Form and function both matter. This desk is big enough to spread out, work widely (and I have a perpendicular desk that I utilize on occasion, when it’s warranted). It’s also old, heavy oak — the desk of a long-time professor who retired years ago and passed this legacy onward to another professor, who just happened to be my mentor, and who passed it on to me. Of course, even in the simple act of putting together a work space, there is a “balancing act between a variety of factors that often work against each other” (Mishra, Zhao, & Tan, 1999, p. 221), namely limited space, the height of the table top, the height of the chair, the electrical outlets, and so on.
Just as this space matters — deeply grained wood, worn by decades of use, and clean of clutter or outside interferences — so does the space directly behind me. Because of the nature of this program, because I am so often in online meetings, the space behind me is often seen by those with whom I am meeting. This, too, sets a tone, provides a setting, and is something of which I am conscious.
While no explanation exists for the pieces behind me, I prefer this lived in look to the sterile and often utilitarian look I’ve viewed in some backgrounds of online meetings. There is no need to explain to the casual viewer, for example, that the painting directly above my left shoulder is meaningful beyond its beauty, that the relationship between human and object has transformed both of us (Csikszentmihalyi & Rochbert-Halton, 1981). It rests simply, a mere backdrop for the meeting at hand.
Boland, R. and Collopy, F. (2004). Management & Design. In R. Boland & F. Collopy, Management as Design. Standford: Stanford University Press.
Csikszentmihalyi, M., & Rochbert-Halton, E. (1981). The meaning of things: Domestic symbols and the self. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.
Mishra, P., Zhao, Y., & Tan, S. (1999). From concept to software: Developing a framework for understanding the process of software design. Journal of Computing in Educational Research. 32(3). 220-238.