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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Saturday, May 26, 2007

academics are boring writers

from a review of Mapping Biology Knowledge by Kathleen Fisher...

Surprisingly, as academics, the authors write pretty well - crisp, succinct, and most of all, not boring.

wow. even though I've been accused of using this blog as an excuse to sound stuck up, I hope my academic writing can break what is apparently a trend of being boring.

speaking of writing, back to the survey paper...


Sunday, May 13, 2007

conceptual HCI

a couple weeks ago, I was in a workshop at CHI on HCI and New Media Arts focusing on methods and evaluation. the whole thing was very interesting and brought out some interesting tensions between what it means to evaluate HCI and what it means to evaluate art. one of the more interesting notions that came up drew on the notion of conceptual art to ask if something similar could exist in HCI. could you have conceptual HCI, or a conceptual UI, that wasn't just bad HCI?

the one example of which I thought was a click-free interface called don't click it (thanks Matt), that is, a GUI where one doesn't click at all. if there is such a thing as conceptual HCI, this probably comes pretty close. I don't know if it could ever work on a large scale, but the whole point of rethinking the modality of point-and-click interfaces to just a point interface is, I think, a potentially useful one. in a point-only interface, what other interesting methods of interaction might you have? does this possibly open up more space for gestural inputs? are there existing devices that don't offer an input analogous to clicking that could benefit from such a framing?

if something can get us thinking along lines like these, I suspect it qualifies as conceptual HCI.

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Wednesday, May 09, 2007

what, panopticon? you don't say!

(via Ars) according to Viktor Mayer-Schönberger from Harvard's School of Government, argues that, due to the ways digital technologies are used to record tons of minutiae about people's daily lives, society is headed towards a Benthamist panopticon. this is not a particularly surprising argument, and others have touched on this theme quite a bit. the suggestion in this "modest proposal" is that technologies be built, by default, to forget. that is, logging technologies, e.g. those on the iTunes music store website that collect customer info, would automatically wipe that info after a legally prescribed period of time, say, a couple years. files created by digital cameras would self-delete after a set time period, where the user of the camera gets to determine the length of that time period. it's true, forgetting is a very important part of the way that our society functions, and plays a role in smoothing over lots of possible awkward social situations. when you stop forgetting, you stop being able to levy plausible deniablility arguments about, say, what you were or weren't doing when your significant other claims to have caught you emailing another lover. furthermore, if everything is remembered, then memories lose their preciousness. it doesn't matter that I remebered your birthday, because I didn't actually remember, my electronic daily planner emailed me to remind me that it was your birthday. I think there are all sorts of aspects of memory that cannot be emulated by digital technologies, especially those parts of memory associated with subjective experience, so I doubt that the preciousness of human memory will ever be totally eroded.

the problem is, I'm just not convinced that what we need is a technological solution to this technology-induced problem. when the technology of writing was introduced, it fundamentally changed the way human memory functions. no longer did we live in an world of fleeting and ephemeral spoken word, but we could capture and preserve that word. print technologies only further reified the word as an object rather than a spoken event, and remembering became less important. were there similar debates when writing came about? indeed, Plato argues through Socrates in Phaedrus that writing, among other things, destroys memory because it allows things to be written down rather than simply remembered, and that writing is inhuman because it does not allow for the natural give-and-take of verbal communication. similarly, with the advent of pocket calculators, teachers and parents argue that children's mathematical abilities would be dulled by their reliance on the calculator as a crutch. in Orality and Literacy, Ong argues that while these things may be true, in the case of writing, by not having to remember everything, humans were able to engage in previously unachievable analytic thought. science, he argues, would not have been possible without writing. Ong goes into a much greater exploration of the subject in his book, as well as making some conjectures about the potential impacts of digital technologies (some of with I quite disagree with). it's worth the read if you're interested in such things.

back to the matter at hand, I'm not arguing that we need to just sit back, accept the fact that everything is remembered, and figure out how as a society we are going to adapt to this change. I would agree that computational systems are fundamentally different than the technologies of writing and printing with respect to memory. namely, writing and print allow us to record things, but digital technologies enable retrieval, and at continually improving speed and accuracy. thus, while we might have been able to remember things externally with books, search-type technologies enable an entirely new form of access to these external memories. essentially, the question becomes, how do we decide what gets remembered, and when do we decide to remember it? Gillian Hayes has done some really interesting work on systems that constantly archive everything, for example social interactions in a public space, but automatically delete the archives after 30 minutes if no one says, I want to remember that. her work is really top notch, and I highly recommend checking it out. while it might not always be possible to know that you want to remember something until after the fact, it certainly has benefits over the common alternative. that is, the approach of archiving everything, but only allowing people to find something specific for which they are looking. this later take leans much more on the side of the panopticon, but you don't run the risk of accidentally not remembering something important. neither approach is perfect, but I think both are better than devices that forcibly, automatically forget after a specified amount of time.

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Sunday, May 06, 2007

CHI - experience evaluation SIG

last week was CHI, and there are about a bajillion things that came up that I really want to blog about. the first one that's actually made it out of my head and onto my keyboard was about the SIG I went to on evaluating experience-based HCI, organized by Joseph 'Jofish' Kaye, Kirsten Boehner, Jarmo Laaksolahti, and Anna Ståhl. due to delayed Caltrains, I didn't get there until a half hour into the SIG, so I missed pretty much all of the introductions. however, it was a nenjoyable, exciting thing of which to be a part, and I feel like there was some truly useful discussion. the participants at the SIG broke up into 3 small groups, each of which chose to address one particular question. my group (including, among others, Michael Muller, Janet Vertesi, Ryan Aipperspach, and Sara Ljungblad) took on, "What are good criteria for an evaluation of experience-focused HCI?" essentially, this is a question of meta-evaluation, that is, how do we evaluate our methods for evaluating experience-focused HCI. the first bit below is a number of criteria that our group thought would be good for evaluating evaluation methods. below that is just a transcription of my notes from the SIG. most of these are from little comments jotted in the margins of the sheet of paper they gave us, so they come in no particular order. the regular type face are my actual notes, and the italics are comments I added after the fact.

What are good criteria for an effective evaluation method?

- Does it highlight the role of the researcher? of the observed?

- Does it elicit rich stories? think descriptions? (I think there are interesting problems with elicitation here that tie back into the first point)

- Does it help to construct a faithful analysis or account or report?

- Does it inspire users/designers/researchers/companies?

- Does it open up interpretations? (closing out isn’t necessarily bad)

- Does it make sure not to generate graphs?

historicizing objectivity – Daston and Galison (Representations, 40, 81-128) describe how objectivity means different things at different times

standpoint epistemology and The Voice from Nowhere

experiences in the moment vs after the moment. how to get people back into the moment after the fact? can use reflective visualizations. rather people to discuss around an artifact

highlight the reflexive nature of technology (is/can technology itself be reflexive? reflective?)

challenges and opportunities for subjectivity

expose subjectivity

the process of an experience vs the product of an experience (I suspect this might be a distinction between having an experience and the memory of the experience. hm, is the act of remembering an experience itself, possibly quite different and distinct from the original experience being remembered? in experience-focused HCI/design, perhaps we could/should support not only having experiences but also the experience of remembering those experiences)

evaluating experiences as storytelling, plumbing a collection of episodic memories (the notion of stories and narratives came up a lot in our small group)

elicit multiple, different stories. different experiences for different users. retain multiple persectives. (emic perspective, multiple realities. there’s almost certainly a connection here to something a whole lot bigger about multiple thought styles, epistemological pluralism, different cognitive framings, etc.)

literary theory often evaluates texts over and over. why do we not return repeatedly to the same UX to understand it more fully or in different ways? (perhaps this connects to the above point, in that HCI doesn’t particularly value having lots of different perspectives, so studying the same thing again is seen as a waste of time)

often talk about the “representative” user. how is a particular user representative? statistically? politically (e.g., elected union representative)? who chooses the representative and how?

different criteria to evaluate different evaluation methods for different experiences

evaluation as developing a sensibility rather than determining progress – “the tyranny of progress” (a distinction that came up in the HCI and New Media workshop in which I participated was that of evaluation vs analysis, that evaluation might be more along the lines of judging something as good or bad, while analysis is more about understand something. those perhaps might not be the right terms, but I suspect it might be an important distinction to make)

process of presenting results of experience evaluation: exposure -> awareness -> empathy -> advocacy -> change

a member of another group said “when we’re in flow, we’re having an experience,” that flow can be one indicator of an experience (this raises the interesting notion that we might sometimes be having an experience and might at other times not. I’m not sure how much I’d agree with this notion that we might at some times not be having an experience, but I’d certainly agree that we have different types of experiences at different times, and that when trying to evaluate experience you might only be interested in certain types of experiences.)

I'd love to hear others' thoughts/comments/questions about this stuff. I feel like it's an important direction for HCI to pursue, and I think that having discussions about how to pursue it most effectively is an important aspect of making experience-based evaluation more accepted and central to the HCI community.

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