Tracing Relationships Back in Time

As part of my continued exploration of thesis, one of our assignments is to look at a thesis idea from a historical perspective—go to back earlier than products, all the way back to the original social constructs that deal with your idea.

It would have been a convenient—perhaps even fun?—challenge to do Beerio, considering beer has such ancient origins, but the only way to go OG was to explore relationships. How individual relate to each other is the most original human component. And as I panicked in the “Endless House” exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art, part of my realization was that I want to try to find a project that can provide meaningful impact, not necessarily make a more convenient product. So Beerio is now in a struggle to stay relevant.

From the original prompt:

Trace back your thesis idea as far back in product design as you can. If possible, think before products, before technology, into as far past into human evolution as you can.

Which means I won’t even need to consider apps like Tinder or OK Cupid, and can end up looking at pespectives even before the construct of marriage. (We also had a separate prompt, called Powers of Ten, that dovetails here nicely. More on that in a bit.) It may be heavy, heady, and probably is a mix of both, but is useful in re-orienting an intervention from a modern convenience to a proper course correction.

Wherein I Try to Not Mansplain the History of Human Interaction

Let’s do some research. (But not real research, ’cause that’s cruel.)

Deep in a Wikipedia hole—a service which is never wrong—you can end up getting lost in the ideas of arranged marriages, which actually does a great deal to profess society’s influence on courtship, and of course, the greater predilection of societies towards marriage and how marriage is seen as a cultural universal (despite its reliance on a body that can bestow and provide a framework for marriage).

Going back to the dawn of human existence, where societies didn’t exist to anoint coupling, my assumption (not really being borne out of anything, since this would be prehistoric) is that relationships had to be based on a surfeit of communication and trust. Communication would obviously be challenging in a tribe still struggling with the concept, but if you can’t trust the people you’re around, you’d perish—and we feel modern versions of that with boardroom backstabbing or familial infighting.

And not that I am trying to take after the paleo lifestyle, but the edicts of that idea—take away the trappings of modern society and technology, and look at what’s there: Is it enough to carry you? In the case of relationships, constant connection afforded by cell phones and social networks is only helpful when you have meaningful conversations, when you feel a deeper link to another person. Technology can absolutely mediate those relationships! But those are borne of something greater than the technology itself, in my estimation.

But I kinda want to get away from marriage as a defining characteristic of courtship for lots of reasons, not least of which because marriage as a requirement for intimacy and courtship generally upholds patriarchal and unbalanced views of how people should act, and makes it difficult to give an adjusted foundation for the future.

Obviously all of this needs more context, more links and a lot more grounding than I have given here.

The Intervention, and Powers of Ten, and TK

As I described above, another assignment asked us to consider our thesis idea in relation to a couple of different factors: either ideation- or insight-driven perspectives in the guise of Powers of Ten the classic Eames video about the sense of scale at its magnitude.

Taking thoughts to this level is why I believe an intervention will not only be important, but vital to a stronger set of relationships. Too much of the world is still under the rule of backwards ideas. Putting dollar values on women, arranging marriages and forcing couples to stay married when their relationship is no longer healthy for at least one party, and the hidden brutality of those forced into arrangements not of their own volition.

At a macro level, it means giving a worldwide framework that can help organizations tell the story of relationships in a healthful way. At a micro level, maybe it means a middle school will stop sexualizing girls or making gender-biased rules on modesty and acceptable clothing.

But it’s tough to deal with this in a scale that will provide a true solution. Take this back and forth with Josh, who pointed out my flakiness on nailing anything that gets towards a solution when I went over a draft of this:

Josh: i’m seeing lots of question marks, but i think we need some declarative sentences!
J: like, what you have is “My idea is to achieve [x]” but I want you to say “My idea is a [thing] that achieves [x] by doing [y]”
J: even if it’s completely a nutty shot in the dark and not in any way a commitment to your actual thesis
Me: Staking territory has never really been my thing

This is where I tried declaring a stance, for now: My idea is an educational system or platform that helps marginalized individuals navigate relationships by setting clear ideas on notions of consent, communication, and equality of partnership. I am looking forward to his way of seeing how this can be presented at different levels—and will update here to present those thoughts—but in the meantime, it helps me gel together a potential concept for this thesis idea.

More to come.