Tag Archives: technology

Ignite Toronto: Designing for Social Selvess

For those of you who caught my Ignite TO presentation, here are the slides. For those of you who missed it, below is a text summary that goes with the slides.

I’d like to give thanks to my teacher and friend, Dr. Karen Anderson, whose scholarly work underpins many of the ideas in this presentation.

Slide 1:

This presentation about is the self, that it is a social phenomenon not a biological one. Most theories of the self don’t give us a social angle but only a biological one. This has an impact for technology design.

Slide 2:The self is an uniquely human phenomenon. It is the internal private reality of the consciousness. It is not anatomical or physiological. It is not a body.It is only meaningful in social situations.

Slide 3: So we have this internal, private reality, this consciousness. Biological paradigms to explain it are inadequate. Bodies are the containers of selves, not the actual self. Containers matter. But they are not the only thing that matters.

Slide 4: Victor, was a “feral child” found in France. He would not wear clothes. Or Use a bed. He farted. He did not have a social self, but a biological one.His body functioned; his self did not.

Slide 5: HAL 9000 has a self. He is socially competent. Aware of his inner reality. He imagined that Dave and Frank were plotting against him. Victor had no inner reality but HAL did.  HAL understood the social.

Slide 6: All too often we think of the self as a piece of hardware, or an emotion chip. Unfortunately, most of our ideas about the self are really about our hardware.

Slide 7: For example, Sigmund Freud. Freud thought biological experiences created the self. In the form of ego and the superego. We learn about our anus and develop a self, but this doesn’t explain Victor or HAL’s development.

Slide 8: Even psychologist Piaget put biology first. Piaget’s theory of child development relies on sensory experiences. Not social experiences. For Piaget, learning starts with a bodily interaction, not social interaction.

Slide 9: Yet socially successful human beings must master the meaning of symbols. Symbols have fine nuances, depending on the context. Hand gestures are anatomically similar but mean different things at different times, in different places.

Slide 10: Social interaction is built upon symbols, not biological impulses. We are aware of our internal realities by interpreting social symbols. The degree of force in a gesture matters. Who gives it matters.

Slide 11: We interpret symbols, not react to them. We are not Pavlovian dogs who salivate at the sound of a bell. We are not somatically driven beings, but socially driven beings. Our bodies have influence over us but they are not the self.

Slide 12: George Herbert Mead offers us a theory of a social self. The “I” is what Victor has: a purely instinctual consciousness. The “me” is created through social interaction. “I should sit on a chair; it’s more socially appropriate.”

Slide 13: The “generalized other” is when we realize there is a whole world out there. That we then internalize into our own private reality. We begin to imagine what “others” might say about our actions. Our self imagines what other selves think of it.

Slide 14: Often we design technology to be USABLE, not to be SOCIAL. We don’t enable social selves to use technology without an awkwardness, or embarrassment.

Slide 15:  Google Street View. This technology has created a few embarrassing moments. Google’s face blurring does not solve our embarrassment of interpreting this image. Street View is functional, not social.

Slide 16: Facebook continually fails to sense what selves need. This self posted a picture of himself smoking. Unfortunately, his mom recognized the room. This is embarrassing.

Slide 17: If we design for selves, not bodies, we think of everyone’s internal private realities. Bodies need ergonomics, usability, accessibility. Selves need to be shielded from embarrassment, awkward situations, and social breaches.

Slide 18: Technology designed for bodies is like an awkward dinner party. The technology we design should provide a consistent, social lubricant. We must design technology like we design great parties. Where the right people sit in the right seats.

Slide 19: Socially meaningful symbols must be present. This can be discovered through contextual inquiry, Selves also require the ability to control their presentation to others. And finally, the social “place” of technology must be clearly demarcated.

Slide 20: In the end, we design our world for selves. Technology designed for bodies just gets in the way. If technology is designed for bodies, selves change to meet the needs of technology.

I would prefer that have technology adapt to selves.

Thank you


The difference between analogue and digital Part I: Text

I have been thinking a great deal lately about the transformative effects of digital phenomena (See an earlier post I wrote about music on cell phones).

Digital text differs greatly from analogue text. For example, see my text below.

Analogue Text

I wanted to complete this post entirely in analogue format but I found entirely too labourious. So add that to my list. Analogue text is:

  • Not searchable
  • High fidelity
  • Full of personality
  • Able to be hidden
  • Labour intensive

Designers might wonder what this post has to do with design or with design research. Ask yourself: how do you share your work? How much of your work is a mashup? How much of it is findable? Would you rather it be hidden or out there for the world to Google?

Context, time and technology

Sometime ago I wrote about designing for time use. I’d like to expand on that post and discuss how contextual cues frequently are erased by poor technology design.

Poorly designed technology is like Vegas: you don’t know what time of day it is because it treats every minute exactly the same. Humans don’t experience time this way and good designers should recognize that.

As most qualitative researchers will tell you, context matters in research. Designers would agree: great design solves contextually contingent problems. One hidden contextual aspect is that of time. Technologies have a way of transforming time that designers should be aware of.

Digital technologies “calculate” time: Blackberrys, iPhones, iPods and Microsoft Outlook provide precise measurements of time. We know what 15 minutes is because our Outlook calendars tell us with the ubiquitous pop-up message.

But the human mind does not “calculate” time, it experiences it. Sometimes this is slow, sometimes this is fast. We know that great experiences have a “flow like” timeless quality about them, mostly because our minds do not record events in precise minutes and seconds. Instead, we “lose track of time” when we enjoy something, or time drags when we do not.

Contrast these two “timescapes” and you can see how disruptive technology can become. Humans don’t know how long 15 minutes is, so we organize our lives through contextual signals like “lunch time” or “bed time” or even “banana time.”

Blackberrys count minutes, seconds and even milliseconds. They tell us precisely when it is 3 p.m. EST, but they cannot tell us if it’s “time for lunch,” or “time to get a coffee.” Humans organize themselves around these subtle, contextually contingent cues and digital technologies disrupt the natural flow of time when they “count” time instead of monitor it.

Good technology design goes beyond usability to managing this fissure between human time and digital time. Indeed, research has shown that well designed technology offers flow-like states.