Archive for category HCI General

Digital footprints and memories

After this long delay… here is another post. I think I decided to re-start with shorter ones to keep the activity more lively…

The term digital footprint was another concept extended in the “Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the year 2020” report. It reflects the fact that our daily dealings with digital artifacts leave traces. The term was initially used to consider how our presence in the “web” could leave a track. Some concerns were obviously raised regarding privacy and the stealing of digital identities. However, the “Being Human” report draws our attention to the impact of other technologies (sensor networks, CCTV, RFID tags etc etc – see for example, http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8280564.stm) and how these extend our digital footprints.

Digital footprints can also be connected with the idea of external memory. We can definitely recognize very distinct external memory aids, supported by different technologies. The interesting bit is to try understand what digital artifacts bring new.

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The growth of techno-dependency

Humans have been creating technology and inter-twinning their existence with it since… hmm, you guess. The construction of tools is something we are good at. In fact, so good that Andy Clark (2003) argues that this close coupling makes us “natural-born cyborgs”. However, it also seems that current trends regarding our living with technologies deepens dependencies, or, at least, establishes more complex relationships and susceptibility to disruptions. Just think what would happen to the world economy right now if the web stops functioning for… a day… a week… a month? The authors of the “Being Human” report also point out another important issue: some sorts of technologies also develop particular relationships between themselves, so the chains of dependency become even more complex (just consider the increasing autonomy of robotic technologies and software agents…

Reflecting on this framing makes us consider the need to understand, evaluate and decide over a range of issues. Questions concerning people’s skills and knowledge that are affect by the utilization of the technologies are important. The discussion regarding workers de-skilling by the introduction of new artifacts is not new. However, the ever increasing insertion of digital/computational artifacts in schools for the learning highlights the dangers over the acquisition of competences: we need to understand how to design technologies that foster comprehension and not just skilful but shallow manipulation of information.

Another important issue concerns the development of trust: not only trust on the technologies themselves but also how new stuff changes the way people develop trust in different contexts (virtual, real world, transitions between the two…).

Reflecting on the digital divide, the authors of the referred to report consider the need for designers to address this particular problem and efficiently propose solutions for inclusion and fairness.

Finally, all these issues make me quite aware of the problem of understanding how people, groups, societies, can consider accountability regarding creation and use… does it make sense to think of a charter of principles? Well, not really new questions but it seems that there is an increasing pressure to act decisevely…

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The end of interface stability

Well… J commented that I was late for my weekly post… and I am (in fact, he added I kept talking about my delays, which is also true). It just seems that my relationship with blogging is still not fully established. I suppose my comments about this issue are part of my personal take on this particular “place” 🙂

So, the theme today concerns what Sellen et al.  (the original report lead to a ACM paper) consider to be “the end of interface stability”. Basically, it is quite obvious that today we can find a plethora of different devices and corresponding ways of interacting with the representations they convey. The boundaries of the actual interface between the device and the person is being re-shaped (for example with wearable computational devices or even embedded in our bodies), but also the progressive trend to include computational power/properties/opportunities in everyday objects. Furthermore, the authors also draw the attention to the increasing inter-relationship between the devices themselves, with, quite obviously, its own consequences to the user.

For an interaction designer these are exciting times, since to some extent, it seems one is free from the closed space of strict guidelines etc etc. As people get used to being experimental with new devices the opportunities for creativity seem to increase. However, I also wonder what are the commonalities “hidden” in distinct devices and interfaces… what makes it immediately “transparent” for action? Recently I was observing my 8 years old daughter picking a mobile phone and start to do stuff… well, I remember when I had to read the manual to start using it.

In relation to the values, all these advances pose challenging questions regarding users’ ability to control, own, and publicize. Not long ago I was in a conference where one speaker pointed out that privacy could soon be turned into a commodity. Although I must admit I did not feel confortable with the idea, to the very least people must be fully aware of the choices, and be able to explore these boundaries. It is not enough to be usable, the consequences of use need to be transparent as well.

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Changes and Transformations

Late, late, late…

Here is the start of some comments concerning the Microsoft report “Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the Year 2020.

The report starts by giving an overview of recent developments (and foreseeable trends) of computational artifacts. Changes are visible from the simple number of available devices and the “relationships” with their owners to the ways of interacting, keeping trace of activities, being creative and pro-active in terms of content production, novel ways of communicating and staying “in touch”, work, learn,everyday home/leisure activities etc etc. In fact, I have to confess that I am frequently surprised by new incursions of computer devices into people’s lives.

After the initial setting of the scene, the report goes on presenting what the authors term “five major transformations”:

  • The end of interface stability.
  • The growth of techno-dependency.
  • The growth of hyper-connectivity.
  • The end of the ephemeral.
  • The growth of creative engagement.

I will try to discuss each of these transformations in turn in the next posts, but just let me give you a flavor of the remaining points made. The authors argue that the design of future computer products will have to incorporate an analysis of the implications of use from a “human values” perspective. Such new perspective will have an impact on how designers conceptualize the user, the design cycle, the methodologies employed not only when actually developing but also when doing the evaluation. But of course to define human values and their relationships in value systems is not an easy task (at a personal or societal level).

I found the report inspiring and posing a new set of challenges to the field that for sure will change its shape. It seems to me that the broadening of scope will stress once again the profound multi-disciplinary nature of HCI (or Interaction Design) and for a dilettante as I am that is always good news because it gives me the chance to explore other areas and domains.

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