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Showing posts from August, 2006

From Reality Studies to Data Studies

One of the most fascinating changes that we are experiencing in the world of research is the move from reality studies to data studies. This is, of course, a result of the ongoing, expanding and accelerating digital transformation. In all areas of human activity the sum of digital material is growing. This growing amount of digital material is supposed to help us understand, control, and oversee the world we live in. But, there seems to be no way to keep up with the rate that this transformation is taking place. It seems as if the amount of digital material is growing faster than we can make use of it. And, we are only at the very beginning of this digital transformation.

One of the intriguing consequences of this development is that we can see a shift from reality studies to data studies. This shift manifests itself as an increasing interest in dealing with the digital material itself, leaving the "source" and the "real" reality outside the focus of study. One exam…

"..the possibilities are endless."

In the same issue of Interactions that I mentioned in my last post, one article ends with the words "..the possibilities are endless." The article is written by Lars-Erik Holmquist and is called "Tagging the World". It is an interesting article that once again pushes the idea of a world where the physical and the digital are blended. Holmquist is correct in many of his observations and has good knowledge in the field. However, I do have problems with research that has as its major argument for existence that "..the possibilities are endless." Possibilities have always through history been endless. Humans have through history only explored a fraction of what have been our possibilities. We also know from history that all possibilities are not equal when it comes to how they influence our lives and our planet. Expanding the space of possible futures and especially manifesting some of them are ethical actions. I am certain that we will explore the "tag…

Dogmatic Advise and Thoughtful Design

In the july+august issue of the ACM Magazine Interactions, Don Norman argues that doing user observations first is wrong. Usually Norman is man of wisdom, but this time he argues against a dogmatic view (that user observation should come before design), while unfortunately pushing another dogmatic view. As soon as someone argues that "this is the way to do it" we have to be careful. In Norman's case, it is of course quite easy to find example situations where it is a good idea to do user observations first, as well as it is easy to find situations where it is better to start with design. No rule, no process advise is always "true", it all has to do with intention, purpose, context, and judgment. This is the background to my (our) book "Thoughtful Interaction Design" in which we try to describe a way to approach design that in a serious way takes "intention, purpose, context, and judgment" not as problems in design but as preconditions. Base…

"The Traveller"

Reading the book "The Traveller" by John Twelve Hawks is a good way to experience a possible and to some probable unfolding "big brother"-society. It is a novel that combines technology science fiction explorations and some pretty serious conspiracy theories. Apart from the qualities of the book as an exciting reading, it manages to raise some important and interesting issues on the surveillance society. I realize while reading it that the way we design our systems makes up what in the book is called the "vast machine", which is the total system keeping us all under close watch.

The questions that arises are for instance if it is possible to use the digital material to build systems without ending up with "digital traces" that connect people with actions and over time builds human digital imprints stored in numerous databases? Is it? The question is not easy to answer. Most people want to say that "yes, it is possible", which is natur…

Focal experiences and interaction design

I am a person who wants to know the temperature outside. In my present apartment I have no outdoor thermometer. This has been a problem for me. But since a while back I have used a widget on my computer that tells me the present temperature in the place I am living. So, without turning away from my computer I can check the weather outside my window. Another way is of course to go to the balcony door a few feet away, open the door, go out, and experience the weather (of course I do that too).

It is obvious that the two ways of finding out the weather are extremely different. The information is different, the bodily experience is different, and I probably value the weather differently.

This is maybe not an important observation, however it reminded me of Alfred Borgmann's concept of focal things and focal experiences (for definition, see an article I wrote with Anna Croon Fors). A focal experience is an experience that has a deeper connection to something bigger or to something "…