Session 1, Stream 1
Converging and diverging realities
Deborah Maxwell: University of Dundee, UK
Mel Woods: University of Dundee, UK
Drew Hemment: FutureEverything / Lancaster University, UK
Ruth Aylett: Heriot-Watt University, UK
Geraint Wiggins: Department of Computing, Goldsmiths, UK.
The roundtable participants have set up this wordpress site to be a record for the roundtable discussion. They encourage audience members to use the site to ask questions and interact with the speakers before, during and after the roundtable.
As our modern lives become dominated by technology and assisted by mobile devices, the interfaces between physical and digital are increasingly seamless and fluid. Yet beneath that smooth veneer, issues of privacy and data collection lead to questions about the longevity and permeability of our self-documentation, and concerns about how our digital footprint is stored. Despite this, adoption of digital tools (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, weblogs) are widespread and well received and used. The next generation of storage, cloud computing, has seen widespread adoption with increased storage offered in ‘free’ anonymous servers (e.g. Dropbox, Google drive). From a user perspective, we ask why the unquestioning adoption of these technologies has become the norm, and not only that, almost expected? Is it purely convenience (mobile devices are close to hand) or is it because companies now have so much data to glean our habits and triggers, to design rewards and new models to hook us further. Alternatively, has UI design for mobile finally come of age? Is it better understood that smoother, more efficient digital experiences can be created, whilst downplaying the darker side of the digital experience? Is it now time for Slow Technology – a design paradigm to embed users even more fully into technology – and does this present an opportunity to educate and co-create more holistic, ethical digitally-mediated experiences?
This roundtable will lead debate on the roles artists, designers, and developers could and should play on ethics and openness of mobile technology. Drawing on the Slow Technology and Open Source movements, we will provoke, prod and produce via co-creative software during the debate, providing a digital trail during and post event, encouraging virtual and physical interpretations and responses. Paradoxically, these trails will embody the very concerns and concepts under discussion, namely of provenance, authenticity, trust, and privacy.
The potential for aesthetics to influence human experience has been explored across many disciplines, from HCI with regards interface, interaction and usability, to Art and the role of beauty, the sublime, affect, and more provocative issues such as trust, identity and provenance. In business, aesthetics are an integral part of product development and branding, and are employed to invoke key qualities and experiences for products and services.
Many technologies now present opportunities for interactions not restricted to the visual realm, making use of a range of affordances and modalities and furthermore are social machines, visualising data and giving alternative views through which compelling narratives can be developed.
However, visual appearance does not necessarily represent the systems that underpin our interactions, and furthermore can be deliberately misleading, for example by mimicking, intuitive interaction styles that draw inspiration from nature (eg Galaxy S4), and social interactions that engage empathy and humility (eg Siri).
Computation power infuses our lives through the technology we carry with us in our pocket, and as objects and devices become more connected they bring man and machine closer then ever before. The surface and the interface of these devices, which include touch, gesture, affect and the patina of objects, guide our intuitive sensemaking but can we still trust our innate and intuitive affective instincts, and do we require new values and ethics to guide the design of future technologies, services and spaces?
Humans, for the most part, find it difficult to imagine processes that they cannot see: the scientific method of Popper, Lakatos, etc., is, in part, a response to this deficit, supplying a rigorous framework in which the invisible and abstract can be addressed. Applied mathematics serves similarly, as a tool kit that allows abstractions of often hard-to-observe physical processes to be written down and usefully manipulated. Logic and stochastic reasoning are comparable tools for representation and manipulation of meaning, underpinning many successful quasi-intelligent computer systems.
Arthur C. Clarke, the science fiction author, made (at least) two wise remarks on these matters. First, he argued that
“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”
and then warned
“Before you become too entranced with gorgeous gadgets and mesmerizing video displays, let me remind you that information is not knowledge, knowledge is not wisdom, and wisdom is not foresight. Each grows out of the other, and we need them all.”
People are often content, and even keen, to believe in magic; indeed, human dependence on religious and supernatural myth betrays a desperate need to explain, combined with a startlingly gullible tendency to believe whatever is told them loudly and often (and often by an old man with a long beard and theatrical manner, wearing a sparkly ballgown). They believe it no matter how severely it contradicts either itself or what they see around them.
In the SerenA project, these issues are at a premium: knowledge about people is used to support them, to challenge them, and, potentially, to lead them astray—but in positive ways. The idea of inspectable user models, borrowed from Susan Bull’s AI/education systems and used in SerenA, is a key way of enabling users to engage with the information stored about them, and edit it. Such openness, embodied as encouragement to understanding, is rare in knowledge-rich computational systems, but is to be encouraged as social IT develops.
Chattr is an artwork and design experiment that investigates how far we will accept private conversations being captured and shared online in the design of new systems. We live in an always online world, and are growing accustomed to our online interactions being saved, stored, and sold by global online companies, in exchange for a free service. In Chattr spoken conversations in public spaces during the FutureEverything Summit are recorded, transcribed, and published as indelible text on the internet. The team observe users negotiate this ‘choice’, modulate their behaviour, play the system, or navigate and stretch the boundary between public and private.
Visitors to the FutureEverything cafe are presented with a choice of whether to participate in the Chattr lounge or not. They are asked if they agree to have their voices recorded, transcribed and published on the internet, and are then asked to accept a Data Use Policy. The cafe uses a colour tagging system to remind visitors of their choice. Only visitors who have accepted to have their voices recorded and published are allowed to access the Chattr lounge, offering comfortable social spaces, city views and other perks to participants.
The ‘lovely veneer’ of technology can be interpreted on many levels. One of them is that design is simply a glossy overlay to beautify and potentially obfuscate underlying system concepts and data gathering. ‘Usability’ and ‘interface design’ have given way to the term ‘User Experience’ (UX) and this shift is heartening in some ways as it suggests a more holistic approach, yet we should still question the terminology of ‘user’. User implies a simple, one way, consumer relationship, rather than the increasingly blurred interactions between consumer and producer, both in terms of content (e.g. YouTube, Path) and development (e.g. Git, SourceForge). Active ‘users’ involved in any part of a development process should be valued more than ‘users’, ‘participants’, or the even worse ‘informants’.
Mobile devices are now used more than ever, consequently the design of these always on, ever present smartphones and their software must be considered with respect to their environment and aesthetics, as well as usability and functionality. This reframing of HCI and mobile design is part of the growing movement of Slow Technology created to support and develop longitudinal user experiences and relationships with technology. These reflective technologies are not “time consuming but time productive” (Hallnäs & Redström 2001). Allied with this movement, it is now time for a new ethical approach towards design and development cycles, embedding design and embracing openness at the heart of the process, engaging with stakeholders in a mutually beneficial process, whether in an academic, research context or otherwise.
Why has it all become the norm? Not only convenience: that it is ‘free’, that is, you don’t have to pay money for a lot of this. But of course it is not actually free at all – there is no such thing as a free lunch. Users do not understand that they are selling their privacy, much as they do with a store loyalty card.
Whether this is a sustainable business model remains to be seen – it is being tested, possibly to destruction – on Facebook.
Longevity is out the window. I can read a 15thC will in the UK National Archives Reading Room. The digital scan of this document, which means I can read it almost anywhere, will last for how many years? Not 600, I am willing to bet. We can read the collected correspondence of a 19thC poet; but who will be able to read our emails in 150 years?
And this mitigates the privacy issues somewhat: nothing that has gone onto the internet is private but neither is it necessarily long-lived.