‘Affective Computing’, one of the most trendy words from CHI this year, was used in a number of papers to describe their technological guideline, and raised up many times by the audience as a challenge for the ‘next step’ researches. The ‘Calming Technologies’ workshop brought the fruits from various spheres to the table and left people excited with a promising picture of stress-free future living.
It feels to me that ‘affection’ itself is not a subject but a methodology through human-centered research. ‘Calming’ is not a status to be pursued with the aid of new inventions, but in the course of one’s daily tasks and assimilated by the common technologies already in use.
‘Calming’ within a sensed context
Minimalist Gmail. Readability. Ommwriter. Less distractions is always better? But how do we deal with the changing tension between the need for minimalism and abundance, say, when the writer is seeking for a diversity of inspirational materials online? It seems that before introducing any technology that affects our emotion, a feasible way of sensing the necessity to the occurrence should be investigated. Some discussions that followed the workshop was that how location/context aware technologies can be combined in the ‘sensing’, to make ‘calming’ happen in a desired situation. It is an interesting point, thinking how one’s calender events or geographical location are taken into account to determine the time for triggering the ‘calmer’.
‘Affective computing’ may find its convergence with Ubiquitous Computing. A majority of bio-sensing and emotion influencing prototypes being introduced at CHI are essentially therapeutic inventions which don’t promise applicable scenarios for daily use. They yet requires extra devices and self-discipline for operations, e.g blood sugar level check. While external devices have limit, personal objects (mobile device, hardware accessories, sport gears, etc.) may be the new technology carriers that diminished the ‘unnatural’ interactions.
Content management, an output of ‘cognition’
A CHI paper ‘Now Where Was I? Physiologically-Triggered Bookmarking’ shows a useful scenario for bio sensing technologies: detecting distraction and pause the task one is currently working on and resume it after the interruption. I like the paper in a way that it illustrates ‘affective computing’ can be something as simple and effective as marking the media content on view, a common task for people working virtually.
On the last day of the CHI conference, Dustin and I were juggling about whether to attend the ‘Tangible’ session or the ‘Critique on Design Research’ panel. And with the final decision we made, we agreed that the latter has made our attendance worthwhile.
It is not just because only then did we get down to some more-than-apparent discussions on design’s impact on technological innovation, but the ideas also resonate among the perennial problems with the CHI research method.
Ilpo Koskinen (one of the panelist) quoted Andrea Branzi’s theory of second materiality when addressing the societal context HCI is situated. Technology innovation will become more reliant on perfection of design, as our consumer groups mature in the appreciation for ‘beyond the functionality’. It somewhat indicated to Apple’s absence at CHI, who turns out to be the biggest celebrator of art and design in product innovation, without hosting a house of scientists and ethnographers at all. The charm of design often lies in its subjectivity and personality, something that is naturally attractive and doesn’t defy scientific analysis at all.
The panel also revolves around the absence of designers in ‘geeky’ communities. Are the papers written by designers seldom got accepted to CHI? Or the submission is too few? The answer to the question, however, is firstly about the fundamental criteria of paper writing at CHI.
Increasingly, the long-standing scientific method based on data evaluation, has shown its insufficiency for actionable inventions. Overtime, researchers become hallucinated by the notion that data explains everything and at the end of their experiments, a positive conclusion supporting their hypothesis is more likely to be drawn. The CHI experience left me with an intensified sickness for the word ‘user testing’. It is so difficult to surrender myself to the statistics from the testing within a small and generic group of people. E.g the presentation ‘Situating the Concern for Information Privacy through an Empirical Study of Responses to Video Recording’ as part of the Privacy session, the author distills four types of concerns to digital privacy via user survey, as a guideline for designing HCI interfaces. But when questioned how we design not just to acknowledge what the users are concerned but also what they should be concerned about, the presenters excused himself for the narrowed purpose of the research in understanding the users (which is a common skill for most of the presenters to shy from harsh questions). But then how can we innovate without reference to the commercial climate and historical trajectory of technology evolution?
A number of findings and conclusions drawn upon user behaviors and insights in CHI papers fundamentally reflects ‘design thinkings’. For example, using experimental psychology method to understand the drawing from participants, one will be able to draw the flow of affection in photo sharing users, instead of categorizing the opinion of participants themselves, which is inevitably biased.(Paper ‘A Photographic Affect Meter for Frequent, In Situ Measurement of Affect’).
Another questions being raised is how to arouse sense of responsibility for designers in field to influence HCI inventions and researches. There comes then, the common ‘working habit’ of designers, who enjoys making more than simulating what they are making, and who trust their intuition over rationale. It relates to the long-standing tradition of design educations: the over-emphasis on developing sensual languages. Therefore, deeper levels of thinking and the ability of ‘writing up a paper that makes sense to larger audiences’ become the new design techniques that will truly spark the innovation for HCI.
Among the craziness of graduation, a bite of delight:
With the project Active Tribes winning the 90th Art Directors Club Award, I was asked to enter a 20 sec winning speech for the publication. This is what I made, with the help from Scott, Sara, Jerry(our rockstar security guard) and Daniel. Thank you guys!
When months ago Intelius launched its new service that lets you track who has been using your personal data for marketing purposes, it was a promising sign that protest can be claimed by millions of common users vulnerable to data mining with the help of data brokers. We can start redeeming ownership to our information by filtering marketers and even help them increase data mining efficiency.
The good thing about these services is they create active management of data. Though it can mean that restriction should be made first to create the value of giving. For example, Allow Ltd. helps one erase personal information from as many marketing databases as possible, to ensure the scarcity of the data source provided by itself. It sounds like a huge cleansing job but at least we start to consider drawing a line to the ever-expansion of useless personal data.
The potential concern for using data broker is the reliability of the service provider. The monopoly of personal data by a third party keeps the stake of its own credit extremely high. Like in many philanthropic organizations, once a case of corruption is reported, it can take forever to earn back the trust from the public.
Data brokers are making the transition for online privacy service, turning a vulnerable user to an proactive one. Now it attracts users by making their data sellable to advertisers, but as the overall skill of privacy management increases, the users may finally get rid of them and to start a negotiation directly between their private data and people selling them products.
This is a difficult but useful assignment given Molly Wright Steeson, one of my thesis adviser, to audit the latest position I’m in with my thesis research. The requirement is to list everything I did regarding the thesis on the index cards and to write a question each of them asks in relate to one single message at the very heart of the project. The message in this case being: Designing a social network for the future that affords the creation of the impossible, the improvable, the plausible and the invisible user identity.