2019 Spring

Lan Zhang

Week 1

Essay: A response to "Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial"

Over the winter break, I went home to China to visit my family. I was detained at the transfer airport, unable to board my plane due to a severe snowstorm at the flight destination–my hometown. My home province doesn’t get snow in the winter usually, so a small, rare weather blizzard can bring serious worries and attention to the local residents. Eventually, I got home after an 11-hour-delay. It was very cold when I stepped outside. My parents came to pick me up at the airport with our pet dog Chibi, who was about five and a half years old and was dressed in a heavy-duty yellow bumble-bee winter puff-jacket. You heard that right. She looked like a Disney cartoon character rolling on the ground. It was insanely adorable, and I couldn’t help holding her for like straight five minutes. Despite numerous discussions in the past with my father about how dogs never needed wearing clothes, I didn’t bother complaining to my parents about it then. Over the next couple of days, I would do after-dinner walk with my parents, and it brought to my significant attention that they would have Chibi’s outfit ready at the door and wouldn’t leave until Chibi was fully buttoned up. “Dad, you know dogs will be totally fine without articles being outside, even when it’s cold, right?” I decided to question him when he was spending a way too long time putting the jacket on Chibi. “Yeah, I know. But it’s way too cold outside. She can’t handle this weather. She will get sick.” I let my parents continued their doing. What do I know about dogs wearing clothes anyway? And who am I to judge when I see people riding NYC subways with their dogs in baby strollers?

This week’s reading–“Anthropomorphism and Anthropodenial” seems to open me up a bit. First, it has provided me with vocabularies and definitions for behaviors I’ve had an understanding but not clear ideas about. It helped me finally define what my parents’ behaviors were and why they would do so. Although they aren’t animal ethologists nor behaviorists, they spend so much time with Chibi, so it makes sense for them to relate to Chibi based on their own assumptions. Besides, they had so much experience observing Chibi’s actions and responses then interacting with Chibi, they must be animal-centric in the matter of caring for Chibi’s needs. Secondly, the reading has granted me an insight when it comes to how I should prepare myself for the course of designing for wild animals. I never had much practice in UI/UX design, and I thought designing for animals would be an absolute interesting angle as I would need to shoulder off my prejudice and try to understand subjects that I’m not familiar with and I can’t really relate to on a personal level. However, I was right and I was wrong. According to the reading, it’s extremely important, working with animals, to discard labels as labels have too much emotional or psychological connotations enforced from human behaviors and interpretation. So I was right that the prejudice needs to come off and vocabularies and terms we will use along the way need to be reexamined. We will always need to make sure our angle of empathy is humbly placed right, and not to make simple conclusions or assumptions based on our past human behaviors. It’s all new and different. Where I was wrong about was thinking I wouldn’t be able to relate to other animals on a personal level. That’s anthropodenial where I totally isolate my race from other animals, thinking human-centered user experience would be utterly distinctive from an animal-centered user experience. Depending on who we will be designing for, ultimately we aren’t that different from other animals compared to our difference with computers and other hard-shell machines. Maybe it’s not that wrong to consider or relate to my own internal feelings or instincts. We can’t be totally right, but we can’t be totally wrong either. The most important part, also the hardest part, in my opinion, is to find the right balance in the “workplace”. And I know I will have a better grasp of how that balance ought to be like once we move further into the semester. I’m very excited.