Saturday, August 19, 2006

"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 natural, because otherwise we must leave the whole digital project behind and find other ways of organizing our reality. For me, it is a design problem. The challenge is to find out how to design systems that work locally, that can exploit global information and communication, without causing the "vast machine" to know everything about us?

Interaction design, as a field, must start to accept this as a real and immediate interaction design challenge. It is not only a problem for security experts and database researchers and administrators. It is ultimately a question of how we want to interact with our environment. What kind of environment do we need, want and desire? We should not only think about human-computer interaction, we have accept that we are involved in an ongoing human-environment interaction design. Every interaction design decision probably has a greater impact on the future "vast machine" than any pure technological improvement. It is about time that we focus on what we desire and how we design our reality in relation to those desires.

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