Do you think you will be a different person? This was a very often question I heard from friends and family after deciding to start a Sociology specialization in late 2017. Like many other people, I only had access to social studies when I arrived in college for my Marketing and Advertising bachelor's degree. Although we have some great universities and world recognizable Brazilian sociologists, we had a considerable lack of social sciences studies in Brazil's education system.
Philosophy and Sociology classes were banned from school during the Brazilian dictatorship in 1971 and returned only in 2008. Nowadays, we still have several people, including politicians, who believe there is no need to include these types of social and critical studies as part of our regular education.
Sociology is the science that studies social facts. Precisely because it is a science, so it is always based on data. For instance, work, violence, migration, and racism are topics (social facts) that sociology can study.
I studied Sociology at FESPSP, a very traditional social science college in Brazil. I was part of a very diversified student class, and my colleagues had interesting and distinct backgrounds. Most of them focus on preparation for a Master's or a Ph.D. However, the class also had some curious (like me) studying with personal motivation. That incredible diversity provided good debates and broad perspectives on almost every topic we discussed.
I remember in a specific Urban Sociology lesson, we were analyzing data on inequality in Brazil. We used official statistics from the IBGE (Brazilian Institute of Geography and Statistics), the UN (United Nations), and other trustable data sources. Based on that, we discussed the inequality implications on people's access to fundamental rights, such as health, sanitation, and decent housing.
For the first time, several of my colleagues and I had access to and discussed that data in depth. Although my colleagues and I already had a personal view of Brazil's inequality issues, it was clear the problem was so much bigger than our biased personal perception.
At the beginning of the course, in my first three months of studies, I came home so exhausted, and with so much new information on my mind, it was sometimes hard to sleep.
For sure, I personally changed, and this impacted the way I work as well. After finish the specialization, even if I wanted to, it would be an immense effort to see a digital product just as a systematized artifact built with a bunch of lines of code and displayed through a user interface. After so much reading, discussing, and critical thinking on so many different topics and social issues, it became inevitable not to think how that software I helped to build would impact people's lives on a daily basis, for good and the bad.
The ability of asking better questions
This video has a great explanation about critical thinking and why is so important these days.
"Critical Thinking is all about asking questions, the right questions that help you assess both the meaning and the significance of claims and arguments. Building these skills and applying them in your life makes it easier for you to assess evidence, evaluate arguments and adapt your thinking so you stay switched on and engaged in different situations.
Critical thinking involves stepping back from a situation to enable you to see all the angles before making judgments or taking decisions, it means identifying the key points analyzing the sources of information weighing up different types of evidence. Just as a judge and jury would do in a court of law, and putting it all together into your own independent thought through point of view."
A possible path for innovation
Early in my career as an experience designer, I learned that it could be a huge mistake not to properly understand and consider the users' usage context and analyze the data available before starting something. Nowadays, I understand that it is also essential to challenge our personal perspective, looking to comprehend a bigger picture. Certainly, this can amplify our perspective in business, design, technology, and other things.
For most of my working life, I had enough money to take taxis in São Paulo. However, the truth is I only started using the taxi service after the recent popularization of the apps. Who I am (as the Brazilian society sees me) and where I used to live were two social factors that directly affected my lack of access to the service. Generally, I needed to take taxis at night, and I always had enormous difficulty getting on even in the taxi station. It was extremely annoying.
This is a personal example, but not mine only. Several people faced similar issues with the taxi service in other places, even after popularizing the apps for this. Recently, inspired by Uber, residents of Brasilândia, a poor district in São Paulo, created in 2018 the JaUbra, which is their own taxi service.
Economics, politics, and the whole social context impact our work and business decisions as well. We all have seen how the world is quickly changing with the Covid-19 situation. Studying sociology enhanced my critical thinking and made me gain a broad vision of several facts and implications that I didn't know anything, or had never considered as part of my work analysis.
Race, gender, ethnicity, inequality, cultural aspects, history are just some examples of this. Certainly, our customers can be divided into much more characteristics than only "our customers" or "our users", and this influences a lot the overall experience.
A few examples considering gender, race, and ethnicity:
Digital experts community accountability
I have designed mobile apps, enterprise systems, and digital products for the last eight years. However, I didn't launch anything to the world alone. In every place I had worked, a project I led, or the user interface I designed, it was always a collective work in the end. Nowadays, I feel much more integrated into the whole digital technology ecosystem than I used to be. I do not consider myself as just a designer but a very privileged and specialized person, a member of the digital experts' community.
We are helping to shape the present and the future for several people around the globe. The way people buy, talk, travel, pay, and more. However, the reality isn't perfect as it sounds. Every day, we also create new digital products that can be responsible for worsening social issues in a non-digital world.
As members of this community, we also need to acknowledge the possible negative implications of our work. Seeking improvements in our critical thinking is beneficial for all.
Also, it can make you a better professional with a broad vision, useful in any type of business.