I think of my life and work as being guided by three core values: depth, delight, and connection. I use these values as a way of reflecting on the choices I make, and identifying the underlying reasons in case such a choice feels “off”. This reflection helps me get back on track, and make the difficult decisions that are sometimes required for this. In my experience living true to my values is a continuous process that is never flawless. There is no fixed recipe that tells me how to translate a new situation to my underlying values. And sometimes I only realise much later what I could have done differently to better support these values. Yet with every such step it feels like I connect to myself in a deeper way. As the motto of my PhD thesis (2006) says in a quote from a book about the life, thinking and work of Dutch architect Gerrit Rietveld:
The ultimate goal in life is the growth of self, the expansion of consciousness. The ultimate happiness lies in the joy about this growth, in the feeling of becoming more human.
– Bertus Mulder, Gerrit Thomas Rietveld: Leven Denken Werken (1994, P69)
Rietveld refers to this as “healthy egoism”: an active engagement with developing the self without hindering other organisms. Since using this quote in my PhD thesis, I have connected this focus on self development with my desire to contribute to something larger: to be of service to society through my work as a scientist. I can give to the world by fully developing and using my talents.
My values come together in my vision of Intimate Computing: the beauty of deep intimate connection.
Depth is about getting to the heart of the matter. This may be why I like to employ formal semantics as a research method. It requires you to be very precise about what you mean, which can uncover hidden assumptions and bring new insights. Sometimes this means striving for simplicity, and temporarily leaving out anything that does not contribute to understanding the problem at hand. But that is not the whole story. As I wrote in 2015: “during my years at TU Delft I have come to believe we can really start making a difference in people’s lives when we expose simple ideas to the messy world out there. In my experience, the resulting friction can spark ideas that go above and beyond their original starting point. This gives them a sense of “wholeness” and depth that is otherwise difficult to obtain.” It is this back and forth that underlies the research approach we take in my Vidi project.
Delight is about beauty. A beautiful theory, beautiful code, a beautiful idea. Some of the most delightful moments for me are when pieces of the puzzle are starting to fall into place. Whether it’s in constructing a semantic framework (which can feel like building a house for which you are constructing the bricks in the process), writing a project proposal, or developing a joint vision with a project team. My vision on Intimate Computing is driven by an intuitive sense of beauty in our relations with and through technology.
Connection is about “bridging”. Bridging different fields of research, connecting people by bridging their individual viewpoints to arrive at a coherent joint vision, connecting people and technology, connecting my research with society, and connecting with other people in a way that is grounded in values. For me, engaging with varying points of view is essential in sparking creativity. I cannot think outside the box when I’m sitting inside it. Connecting with others allows me to see the box I’m in from the outside, which forms a stepping stone for opening it.