In some situation, you really need to tune your interface yourself, write down which buttons will do what. Seen the other day in a pottery factory in the south of France.
Re-reading “Paris: ville invisible” by Bruno Latour, I re-encountered the notion of “oligopticon” that he also defined in his “Thought Experiments in Social Science: from the Social Contract to Virtual Society” (on the 1st of April 1998):
“That is not what sees everything, but what sees a little bit, which is what “Oligos” means in Greek. For instance what is interesting, and we have in our book lots of these examples, is a series of pictures on the Meteo, the French Meteorological Organisation around Paris. Now what is amusing is that what we see from the office here is not the weather. We see just a little bit of the weather, much less than what we see when we look at the map, which is published and printed by the machine; a little more when we get at the instruments, which are in the garden. Now what is interesting in the notion of Oligopticon is that when you get outside, what you see outside your office is nothing. You start to begin to see something just by looking on the screen of your computer. It’s a reverse of Plato’s Cave Myth. In Plato’s Cave Myth you had to get outside of a cave in order to see anything. Nowadays when you go outside, you see less and certainly not the weather of France as a region.
it’s an Oligopticon which is in the middle of a prefecture of Paris surveying the whole of Paris activity.
Cables of information here. The water and the information are actually connected to it. In a big Virtual Society synopticon you can see the whole of the water of the Montmartre region going on and up. Now if you multiply all the sites inside a City like Paris, which gather, which accumulates the mass, the whole of Paris under one little auspice, under one little line – water, gas, electricity, telephone, peripherique, circulation, police etc, you end up re-localising this notion of Society that has escaped us for so long, before the computer“
And in “Paris ville invisible”: “As big as the oligopticons visited in our inquiry may be, they occupy only a few square metres, and if they spread everywhere, it’s only through very fine cables that the slightest trench dug in the ground for the flimsiest motive“.
Why do I blog this? Being interested in spatial representation of different sorts of phenomena (call them social or the flows of people in building/cities), it’s interesting to trace this notion back in time and see the considerations someone like Latour discusses about it. There is lot to draw from both the book and this conference verbatim. The re-localization of the (very Latourian notion of the) “social” is intriguing as it offers an opportunity to grasp and make explicit group behavior; some would argue that it even allows to investigate individual behavior, which I am not sure about.
Moreover, beyond the reference to Plato, it’s important to discuss the implications this sort of device has for the way we experience the world (in/out the cavern) and that the expansion of our perception of the world limit are different than it used to be. Also, it’s not very present in the quotes but the notion of localization of power (who have access to these date? who acts upon them?) is of considerable importance in a world where these dataflows are ubiquitous.
This classy HiFi equipment that I encountered yesterday on the street made me think about the importance, at a certain point in time, of revealing certain technical characteristic. The presence of the graphic equalizer displayed on the device definitely gives some cachet and might have created some interesting conversations by users.
Revealing this sort of information is also intriguing as most users (in general perhaps not the target group of that device in its time) are not always versed in the art of tuning equalization. Perhaps the aesthetical effect is more fascinating; I remember a friend who use to like the representation of equalizer on his device as it looked “futuristic”: are mathematical visualization still classy now?
How Bodies Matter: Five Themes for Interaction Design by Scott Klemmer, Björn Hartmann and Leila Takayama (DIS 2006) gives a relevant overview of different themes of interest for interaction designers focused on tangible/gestural interactions. It covers a broad range of topics concerning how our body is fundamental in our experience with the world.
Drawing on theories of embodiment in philosophy, psychology and sociology, they came up with 5 themes:
“The first, thinking through doing, describes how thought (mind) and action (body) are deeply integrated and how they co-produce learning and reasoning. The second, performance, describes the rich actions our bodies are capable of, and how physical action can be both faster and more nuanced than symbolic cognition. The first two themes primarily address individual corporeality; the next two are primarily concerned with the social affordances. Visibility describes the role of artifacts in collaboration and cooperation. Risk explores how the uncertainty and risk of physical co-presence shapes interpersonal and human-computer interactions. The final theme, thickness of practice, suggests that because the pursuit of digital verisimilitude is more difficult than it might seem, embodied interaction is a more prudent path.“
What does that mean for tangible computing? see what the authors say:
“ we should not just strive to approach the affordances of tangibility in our interfaces and interactions, but to go beyond what mere form offers. As Dourish notes, “Tangible computing is of interest precisely because it is not purely physical. It is a physical realization of a symbolic reality”. For a combination of virtual representations and physical artifacts to be successful and truly go beyond what each individual medium can offer, we need a thorough understanding what each can offer to us“
A current research project about the user experience of the Nintendo Wiimote lead me to investigate that last theme concerning the “pursuit of digital verisimilitude. Some excerpts from the paper about it:
“It may seem a platitude, but it is worth repeating that, “if technology is to provide an advantage, the correspondence to the real world must break down at some point” (Grudin). Interaction design is simultaneously drawn in two directions.
This section argues that interfaces that are the real world can obviate many of the difficulties of attempting to model all of the salient characteristics of a work process as practiced. This argument builds on Weiser’s exhortation to design for “embodied virtuality” rather than virtual reality. Designing interactions that are the real world instead of ones that simulate or replicate it hedges against simulacra that have neglected an important practice.“
Although I fully, “interactions that are the real world” are not so easy to design depending on the technology one have: the hand movement captured when playing Wii tennis is only a basic representation of the complex hand movement when playing tennis. Therefore, as I observe in different field studies, if the interaction per se is relevant for Wii players, there are often misunderstandings between the expected events on the screen (based on what gestures the players felt she did) and what really happens in the game. So what I mean here is that “digital verisimilitude” is also hard in tangible computing as capturing movement is definitely tricky. Think about human physiology, the fact that movement is a dynamic (and capture may imply statefulness), the role of context, etc.
A long time before Beatriz Da Costa’s blogging pigeon, Dr. Julius Neubronner patented, in 1903 a miniature pigeon camera activated by a timing mechanism. Equipped with the cameras, the pigeons photographed a castle in Kronberg, Germany, around 1908.
(Photographs courtesy of Deutsches Museum, Munich)
More recently, Terraswarm Brooklyn Pigeon Project also deployed that trick as “an effort to confront the limits of this grid by creating an equally rich disclosure of the city from the vantage point of a flock of pigeons.” Benjamin Aranda, one of the author of this project gives more details in that interview.
Why do I blog this? documenting the intersection between two fields I’m interested in: urban computing on one side and “new interaction partners” (or the participation of animals in social computing) on the other. Plus, it’s always fun to trace back the beginning of s-curves (new interaction partners in that case).
Why do I blog this? currently writing a book (in french though) about locative media, I am gathering some updates about locative media classification. Some interesting elements in that table, especially the broad definition of locative media, now considering broader range of participants (non-humans such as pigeons) and clearly beyond boring pizzeria-recommendation applications.
2000, 2001… all these famous years depicted in science-fiction and anticipatory media pieces were so pervasive that they shaped brandings lots of cultures (Peru above, France below). At certain times, 2000 evoked flying cars, neural connections or Mars colonization (and certainly not Y2k angst).
Fascinated by the use of these elements, it’s often stunning to ask the question: What’s the 2000-year of today?”. If you read french, this is the topic addressed by Marc Augé in last book “Où est passé l’avenir?” (where is the future?) in which he describes how we’re stuck in a sort of perpetual present.
(Picture taken from Wired Magazine Artifacts from the Future)
Peter Morville at findability has a nice short overview of Stuart Candy‘s “guerilla futurist” research which takes the form of artifacts and experiences “from the future”. He basically used “postcards from 02036 and plaques honoring those who suffered and died in the great pandemic of 02016“. The point of this, is as follows:
“these exercises in ambient foresight and anticipatory democracy are intended to engage the public in creative thinking about possible and preferable futures.
By creating immersive experiences that provoke an emotional response and are difficult to ignore, futurists can elude the dryness that can be associated with the two-dimensional text and statistics of traditional scenario planning.
These experiments are also answers to a question at the heart of Stuart’s research: how can we study human behavior in contexts that don’t yet exist?
This question is clearly relevant to those of us in the design world as well. Our work requires both insight and foresight. Whether the design horizon is three months or five years, our deliverables bring imaginable futures to life.“
Why do I blog this? as a researcher in the field, I am both interested in the relationships between design and foresight as well as how to engage people (be it entrepreneurs, designers, researchers, “users”, policy-makers) with the “future(s)”. Artifacts such as the one crafted in the examples above are interesting way to achieve that and it serves what Candy calls “the interweaving of user experience strategy and futures studies”.
(Images from Jason Tester at the IFTF)
Having visited the Institute For The Future several times, it echoes with what Jason Tester (former design student at Ivrea Institute of Design) termed “human-futures interaction“. It emerged from the “prolific experimentation with formats for sharing our forecasts and processes for engaging groups in discussion of their implications”
“We’re building maps in different structures to convey a future shaped by multiple interwoven trends, we’re illustrating new possibilities with provocative artifacts-from-the-future and movies that give our forecasts an up-close, human perspective, and increasingly we’re crafting experiences that immerse participants in future life or simulate important new behaviors and skills.
a larger framework is starting to emerge. (…) As a concrete example, there are two fundamental processes within human-computer interaction that I believe would advance human-future interaction—the important and linked ideas of user testing and rapid, iterative prototyping. “
This is very close to some recurring thinking at the near future laboratory as the possibility to prototypes and try out new things is at the core of the think/make design practice. It does not mean that the created artifacts should be evaluated to regular usability testing, but instead that it can be used to explore reactions, acceptations, détournement and re-appropriation or the probability for people to wish for other avenues, as well as simply engaging a conversation about alternatives for the future.
The general attitude wrt to technologies when you read press or overhear café du commerce conversations is that cell phones, the information super-highway, the Wikipedia or the invention of the wheel cause automatic and inherent “impacts”. People talk about how X or Z (replace X and Z by whatever tech you might be interested in) is reshaping our cities or creating new neural networks in our brains. Worse this kind of saying also make people think that technology pursue its own goals; in french people are use to say “On arrête pas le progrès” (“We can’t stop progress”), as if techniques were some sort of autonomous being, creating its own necessity and leading to its own design outside society.
David Nye in his chapter “Technology” gives a very interesting (and quick) overview of theories that concern the relationships between technologies and culture. Although he accounts that old theories by McLuhan which described automatic impacts of technology are passé and fallen into disfavor, Nye highlights how the press and certain engineering researchers make deterministic utopian claims that technology is a “natural” force. In his overview, he describes 3 possibles approaches: externalist, internalist, and contextualist.
“Externalists examine a machine or technology within a cultural system or ambience, including studies of the reception of new machines, examinations of workers’ response to new methods of production, comparative work on technology transfer, or studies of how a new machine or process changes hierarchical relations or social practices. In such approaches, the technical characteristics of machines usually are treated as subsidiary matters, and in some cases (but by no means all) technology may again seem a deterministic force.
Internalists reconstruct the history of machines and processes, with an emphasis on the role of the inventor, laboratory practices, and the state of scientific knowledge at a particular time. They chart the sequence that leads from one physical object to the next. (…) In contrast to the general public who often believe that “necessity is the mother of invention,” internalists frequently find that inventions were not initially perceived as needed.
most technology scholars now tend toward contextualism; they see machines as integral parts of the social world. If technologies are shaped by the concerns of society, at the same time they have a reciprocal, transformative effect on the world around them. For contextualists, technology is not merely a system of machines with certain functions; it is deeply embedded in the social construction of reality. Technologies are not implacable forces moving through history; they are inseparable from social processes that vary from one time period to another and from one culture to another.“
I don’t know whether this classification is accepted in the field but I found quite convenient to get a summary like this, which makes sense of past readings in sociology and anthropology.
Why do I blog this? I have worked in the externalist frameworks in my undergraduate studies, and I’ve moved from this to more contextualists paradigms during my PhD but it was still very externalist. Especially if I judge form the vocabulary I use, or that I had to use because it was part of an HCI program in which cognitive sciences was important (and cognitive psychology is clearly not contextualist, in its most rigourous inception). Now I have clearly a more complete overview (not only with Nye but the ton of other books and papers by Latour, Simondon and others) and definitely use another vocabulary. And I try to take that into account in my work, be it when writing about locative media, teaching design research, organizing the LIFT conference or working on field studies.
“I believe that cities are all about difficulty. They’re about waiting: for the bus, for the light to change, for your order of Chinese take-out to be ready. They’re about frustration: about parking tickets, dogshit, potholes and noisy neighbors. They’re about the unavoidable physical and psychic proximity of other human beings competing for the same limited pool of resources….the fear of crime, and its actuality. These challenges have conditioned the experience of place for as long as we’ve gathered together in settlements large and dense enough to be called cities.
And as it happens, with our networked, ambient, pervasive informatic technology, we now have (or think we have) the means to address some of these frustrations. In economic terms, these technologies both lower the information costs people face in trying to make the right decisions, and lower the opportunity cost of having made them.
So you don’t head out to the bus stop until the bus stop tells you a bus is a minute away, and you don’t walk down the street where more than some threshold number of muggings happen – in fact, by default it doesn’t even show up on your maps – and you don’t eat at the restaurant whose forty-eight recent health code violations cause its name to flash red in your address book. And all these decisions are made possible because networked informatics have effectively rendered the obscure and the hidden transparent to inquiry. And there’s no doubt that life is thusly made just that little bit better.
But there’s a cost – there’s always a cost. Serendipity, solitude, anonymity, most of what we now recognize as the makings of urban savoir faire: it all goes by the wayside. And yes, we’re richer and safer and maybe even happier with the advent of the services and systems I’m so interested in, but by the same token we’re that much poorer for the loss of these intangibles. It’s a complicated trade-off, and I believe in most places it’s one we’re making without really examining what’s at stake”.“
Why do I blog this? simply noting the interesting and straight-forward rhetoric in Adam’s proposition about urban informatics. That being said, the notion of “city are about difficulty” clearly echoes with what Fabien and myself try to express in Sliding Friction: The harmonious Jungle of Contemporary Cities opus; namely to reveal the complexity of the environment as well as the frictions of the digital and the physical.