Thursday, June 08, 2006

HCI research and the common good

When reflecting on CHI2006 there are some things in the academic field of HCI that I find problematic. Maybe the most pressing issue that raises many questions is the relation between research and development (I am not using "design" here for specific reasons). Many academic fields have the purpose of building universal true knowledge, and some also have the purpose of building knowledge that is "useful". This is true in the fields like medicine, health, and others. In these fields it is quite easy to see that research and development (i.e., inventions and innovations of new artifacts and procedures), is aimed at serving the common good. Improving health is always a valid reason for doing research (or?). But, what about a field like HCI? What is the common good? What is the goals, the intentions, for research that in a similar way is obviously for the greater good? Are new technological artifacts for any purpose in itself a worthy outcome? With what intention and purpose should we study new interaction technologies? Is the benefit for organizations and companies in general (efficiency, effectiveness, userfriendliness, etc) worthy intentions? Or can we use the same reasons as for health, so our research should support people's wellbeing? Depending on how we frame our purpose and our "clients" we will be facing different "measure of success". If true universal knowledge is our foremost goal, then the procedures of science and its "measure of success" must be taken more seriously than today. If the aim is to support the greater good, then we really have to get into some serious discussions about what that purpose stands for in our field!

[Of course we have to do research for one obvious purpose -- that is to expand and improve the knowledge and skills of professors in a way that supports their teaching. Research hopefully forces anyone to broaden perspectives, challenging ideas and views. These are outcomes that (in the best of worlds) will benefit the students at any level.]

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