22.38, Wednesday 23 Feb 2005

Maybe you can help me figure out what to do next.

When I was 15 or 16, I had to collapse my 10 subjects of study down to 3 or 4, and I was planning to do a mixture of science and humanities. But then I found out that to get into the best universities, I'd be expected to specialise: art or science. It was pretty much a flip of a coin. How it got resolved: I did better than I expected in my English (lit and lang) GCSEs, and worse than I expected in Chemistry. I was cross about my Chemistry result and decided to take it for A-level. Since I'd already decided to take Physics and Maths, this meant I was now completely science oriented, and the decision was made. (I hedged by taking English at night-school.)

Since then, it's been a matter of unfolding rather than decision-points. All science for A-level meant science (Physics) for university. I ended up doing new media stuff - that's a whole other story, how that happened - and have moved into doing social software, consultancy, speaking, a book, and so on.

Now I'm trying to decide what's next. My interests: design, embodied interaction, social software--and the subjects surrounding this: philosophy, anthropology, ethics, HCI, and a topic I'm going to call (social) psychological ergonomics. I do my best thinking from a combination of talking, reading, and doing.

The question is: Should I go back to college or not? I'm considering doing a masters for the next year. It has to be in London. I think, if I talked to all the people I know, I could find funding. But should I go somewhere where I'm given freedom to write a design research dissertation (with access to making), or instead a place where I make stuff and the reading is secondary? Or should I stay in industry?

In my head I see a dissertation pulling together all the subjects I talk about and, simultaneously, a popular book on the same topics. As Mind Hacks has caught the wave of the current popular interest in neuroscience (we saw it coming), HCI will be the new pop science (in 2007/8 or so).

What I'm scared of is missing the next bubble. I missed the last one because I was still in education. I don't want that to happen again--although it doesn't matter so much if, as part of the academy, I'm able to play a part in shaping the boom. I'm also nervous of not being able to make and do, and of not being around the right people. Maybe design isn't the field for me (maybe it's not multidisciplinary enough); maybe academia isn't right for me; maybe I'm not looking in the right places; maybe I'll get typecast in a position I don't enjoy.

This feels like my most significant decision for the past decade, and the one that will most shape my life for the coming ten years. I've no idea what to do. Last time I tried to make a decision was last year, but then the book came along and I did that instead. Before then there was another offer too good to refuse. This time I really have to decide, the time is right, because even if I decide to keep to the status quo, this time that means I'm staying in industry, pretty much for good. And whatever happens now is significant because of my age, and because the subjects I'm interested in are coming to fruition both with people and technology, and because of all kinds of other externalities (funding bodies and so on)... But I can't work it out, and I need to make a decision, I think, in the next few weeks--not only which way to turn, but which college, what focus, which subjects.

Maybe you can help? Advice welcome.

A little more context: I quit my job at the BBC. I have a couple more weeks there, at the end of March, but - apart from one project I'm doing right now - I'm now a free agent.