Looking for astronauts

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March 7, 2016 by Kate Bowles

We’ve begun our investigation of research practices for (future) media and communication professionals looking at curiosity as a fundamental quality that good researchers, and good research communicators, share.

Students are writing on their blogs about their own experiences of curiosity, thinking about how this connects to learning for them. There’s no one answer to this (although a significant number of references to cat fatality).

At the same time, I’ve fallen down a curiosity rabbit hole of my own, to do with astronaut selfies. I found one, and then another, and then found that there’s a whole genre of astronaut selfies. By association, this took me back to The National’s beautiful Looking for Astronauts.

And the point about this connection is that it makes no sense; strictly, it’s not a productive connection. Curiosity is associative: it’s a practice of pattern making and trail finding, that’s common to the way that human curiosity and the internet itself both work. Our brains make associations through keywords, musical phrases, scents, memories, fragments of colour—and this is why the process of learning-through-rabbitholing is purposeful but rarely tidy. It’s a special kind of distracted attention, or attentive distractedness.

But what matters about curiosity as a research quality is that if the driving force is personal, then what we end up is distinctively ours.

(Australia has an astronaut, as it happens, without having a space program. His name is Andy Thomas, and he’s from Adelaide. See?)

So here are some writers that caught my eye this week.

Lauren writes about becoming fascinated by wedding catastrophe videos, and got me thinking about curiosity as a guilty pleasure. Don’t we all love to see the bridesmaids collapsing into the ocean? Really, it’s just me? (And Lauren, obviously.)

Mel was one of a few who wrote about animal curiosity as a way in to thinking about curiosity and the risk of danger. What I love about this post is the transition from not being able to figure out what to write about curiosity as an abstract concept, and then being sparked to life by a memory and a story.

Chris has a gorgeous post that asks hard questions about authoritarian cultures (including families) where curiosity isn’t encouraged. This has me thinking about curiosity as a practice of resistance.

Jack tells a childhood story that had me thinking about how much more effective younger children are at being curious, and again I’m thinking about the role of family and schooling in enabling or disabling curiosity.

Daniel introduced me to the figure of the serpent that eats its own tail, in a compelling reflection on curiosity as a kind of mythic presence in our lives–a whole being. I had seen this image, but didn’t know it has a name. See, now you want to know.

Keiden describes a process I’m familiar with: starting with something (on Wikipedia, say) and then being drawn forward by the “actual gathering of information” itself. What really interests me about this post is that Keiden describes this process as “organic”. Are we becoming fused with the internet and its algorithms that direct our attention, so they that feel organic to us?

Ruby, a journalism student who’s on exchange here from Shanghaitells a story about becoming curious about the water quality on her home campus, and what happened when she pursued this. Ruby defines curiosity as a “cure for boredom”, and this has me wondering about what happens when browsing for information itself becomes a kind of boredom.

Like Ruby, Jade also takes her curiosity into practice. See what happens here in Jade’s changes to a dying art — so beautiful. Monique looks at curiosity in the body, and as I’m fairly obviously not a dancer, this really appealed to me. It’s like learning about astronauts: the lives of others are really what make our own lives rich.

Still curious? Here’s Lily on curiosity and language learning, Tom Donohoe on curiosity and travel, TomvsTheWorld on curiosity and career planning, Ellenie on curiosity and choosing a uni degree, Matt on video games and his dad, Jesse on curiosity, the NRL and waiting to know, and Zoe on fixing a hole.

These and more are all on Twitter at #BCM210. It’s been a great week — thank you all so much. What I learned from browsing, reading and commenting is that there are layers and layers to curiosity, and also a sense of ambivalence around it. We like to think of curiosity as good, and yet we also know that it leads to risk and harm.

And dead cats. What’s with that?



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