Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Unwellness, Moods and 'Flat' Systems

I'm not feeling very well at the moment: a post-Christmas cold and a general sense of irritation with the world are weighing on my judgement. However, I find that in such states I get things done. This is often because nothing seems good enough. Everything needs more attention. Consequently, I tend to take (rather ill-tempered) action to try and move things along, fix things, etc. Although I can't see it at the moment, I have a feeling that when I am feeling better, I will be pleased I took some of this action (although the results of my lack of temper might have some consequences!).

Everyone has down-periods, and our moods generally have an enormous impact on our creativity. Since so much effective agency has to do with timing and seizing the moment, shifts in mood, psychological well-being, and physical wellness  all have a bearing on the unfolding of events. Yet we rarely acknowledge it. Our systems have to be designed as though people inhabited flat 'mood spaces', where there are no fluctuations of feeling. Yet, having designed flat systems, we should not be surprised if the actual behaviour with those systems is a little erratic. The danger for us is to assume that behaviour is as flat as the intended behaviour that is presupposed by the flat system.

To make such an assumption is basically to fail to anticipate what is likely to occur, and consequently to lose control of the situation in which the system operates. Yet, in our thinking about socio-technical systems, we need not be so poor at anticipating the behaviour of people. Only a terrible teacher would ever make such an assumption about their class - and they would be destined for a rather vexing experience! 'Flat systems' present us with an opportunity, because for all the other unknowns about human experience, we can rely on the fact that the system will always behave the same (I always thought this was one of the most interesting things about Learning Design).

But we need richer models of people, and within those models, it would be reasonable to think not only of the 'well' person, but also of the 'unwell' person; not only of the 'good' person, but of the 'bad' person; not only of the 'authentic' person, but of the 'inauthentic' person... and all  the shades in between. Psychological models are unlikely to help (at least on their own): ecological models are needed. And whilst it seems ambitious, it is not impossible to begin to model the shades of being in social situations.

I believe that we posses a rich array of cybernetic models of forms of life, and that these models are often commensurable. The Viable System Model, Luhmann's social systems model, Bowlby's models of attachment, models of anticipatory systems and eigenforms... the dynamics behind these mechanisms are sufficiently rich for us to conceive of both wellness and unwwellness, of authenticity and inauthenticity, and the relationships between the viability of an organism, the communications it makes, and the attachments it maintains.

And curiously, as I write this, I feel slightly better (still coughing though!). It is as if through the effort of looking upwards, of dragging myself back onto my feet is at once transformative of my perspective and the communications I make, but also predicated on the depression which I seeks to escape. In other words, the unwellness is fundamental and constructive in the process. I'll have to stick that in my model and play with it!!


Paul Hollins said...

Mark you need a long stiff drink

Mark Johnson said...

that's what got me into this state in the first place!