Friday, November 19, 2010

Buying Propaganda and Fragmented Social Spaces

Buying Propaganda
    Watching the video on Bernays and Freud that Ethan sent out was highly revelatory. So much so, that I went home and told my roommate about Bernays.  To have one figure start the mass consumerism that our country now engages in is quite astounding.  I had always taken for granted that people wanted things they did not need, but connecting that to our psychology in such a way as to invoke the ego and the id takes this manipulation to another manic level. 
    Both this aspect of human interaction and The Media Equation deal with a level of mindlessness.  That is to say that the average individual is not being mindful on a day to day basis (not being aware of actions and consequences on a profound level).  The human being has evolved certain heuristics over time that are not necessarily compatible with our current society.  As technology becomes more ubiquitous and pervasive, we, conversely, have to be more mindful.  Taking our roles for granted is no longer acceptable in such a fast-paced and wired community.
    One example that enters into this comes from an article that came out recently in the Stanford newspaper which said that those who engage with social media extensively are less compassionate in real life. This fragmenting can only be combatted with mindful behavior. 
--Christine Rosakranse

Friday, November 5, 2010

Implications of Self-Representation in Video Games and Virtual Environments

    In some ways, it’s scary how much human beings are changed by the technology in their environment because we tend to interact with those technologies in a very automatic and trusting manner.  We do not consciously reflect on the fact that the affective capability of any technology represents serious implications for the design and use of that technology. Given the amount of media of various forms that the average individual intakes, even weak effects can make strong contributions over extended periods of time.  From television to video games, exposure is leading to a change in the mental architecture of the individual media consumer.  Discovering the positive and negative consequences of these effects is important for determining what content is “fit” for consumption, in that it entertains without being detrimental to the well-being of the individual. 
    Of course, conceptions of words such as fit and well-being vary, but we understand that certain values are considered universally beneficial. However, in studying video games, due to the interactivity and self-representative properties of avatars, we have a new paradigm for study that involves a medium that provides an unprecedented level of individual engagement. Strong levels of arousal can be attained in a gaming environment because those avatars in the game actually become a representation of the individual to whichever extent that person is engaged with that virtual environment. Sociological analysis provides methods for measurement.
    The positive aspects of a video game come in many forms.  “When my team wins, we all win.”  This sense of community and teamwork is often unrivaled in most work places.  Being able to reproduce that in a real-world environment would provide the benefits associated with unselfish motivations.  The research must study the affective capability of video games and then perpetuate that sentiment.  
    The negative implications are also abundant.  For example, being able to reduce aversion to negative valence can be both positive and negative.  In training individuals to become better soldiers, the individual learns to shoot a rifle while in a stressful situation.  This is good for the soldier, and not good for the person at the other end of the rifle.  However, these methods of decreasing aversion can also treat PTSD, which is purely beneficial.   More research on affective capability of video games and virtual environments is called for, but what we already know from other fields can definitely help to inform the direction of this research to reduce the automaticity of the user and inform prosocial design. 

Friday, October 22, 2010

Online Worlds and Compassion

    Cultivation Theory, Agenda-setting Theory, and the Spiral of Silence(1) represent some of the most salient theories for our current interests in media communication studies, with each of these theories representing a facet of influence that can direct research. Cultivation Theory as applied to video games and virtual online communities is interesting because it confounds the normal social roles and behaviors of the individual with unrealistic or hyperreal occurrences.  As Williams mentions, online worlds differ offline perceptions(2).  It may well change the way our society evolves.  In the vein of my interest, compassion potentiation, there is not much apparent “good news” that can be drawn out from competitive and violent games.  While the multi-player games that involve teams going on missions foster cooperation amongst their group, any outsiders are still seen as enemies.  It would be interesting to relate the concept of compassion fatigue to online worlds where there is no reward for compassion and no other need for any reciprocity of kindness.
     Much in the same way that Gerbner and Gross theorized that television caused an “enculturation” in the individual by changing their perceptions of reality to match those presented through television programming, the video games that individuals play may change the perception of the players.   This has implications for both negative and positive changes to human behavior.  Our virtual selves do not suffer the same consequences that our real-life bodies do, but the information that is presented to us in a virtual environment does make an impression on the way we think and interact with others in the real world.  Therefore, if negative actions are awarded in the virtual world, this can have an effect on the way we think, even if only to a small extent.  Conversely, if positive (prosocial) actions are rewarded in the virtual world, that may be able to reinforce those cognitive modes of kindness, empathy, and compassion in the real world.      

Griffin, E.M. A First Look at Communication Theory.  (7th ed., 2009) (Chs. 27, 28, 29)
Williams, Dmitri.  Virtual Cultivation:  Online Worlds and Offline Perceptions.  Journal of Communication ISSN 0021-9916.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Project Compassion

This past Friday the Dalai Lama came to Stanford for a colloquium called "Compassion, Science and Technology."  CCARE and Project Compassion presented research projects in a format much like sharing there findings with the Dalai Lama in his living room, but in front of 1500 or so people.  In my upcoming foray into research, the following findings and determinations will inform the design:  (a) in education modeling provides a methodology for teaching compassion and (b) we can experience a cognitive reappraisal of emotion that circumvents the "feeling" aspect of empathy to generate a direct pathway to compassionate behavior. 

I believe that in order to bring compassion and altruism into our daily conversation, we must integrate these prosocial ways of relating into the all-pervasive media we utilize every day.  In this way, our habitual behaviors become a way to strengthen our mental acumen towards a more positive dynamic.  Eventually, this overrides the standard goal-oriented (attachment-based) mentality in favor of a shared view of humanity.  Several possibilities exists for digital media based compassion potentiation.  Paralleling techniques for school curriculum, we can use the concept of modeling (in combination with using models that individuals wish to emulate) to change behavior.  People watching instances of selfless acts, generous moments, etc. enacted by models of similar status may follow those behaviors.  Similarly, priming for compassionate action is also an available role for digital media.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Integrating with Humanity

    One morning this week I went to go get coffee and while I was waiting for my large cappuccino I performed a small act of research concerning nonverbal communication.  At one of the tables near the sandwich refrigerator, a young man was talking to his computer quite animatedly using his hands to gesture at the screen (or the camera right above the screen).  He was speaking in Italian, so there were not many verbal cues that I could depend on, but I could decipher that he was emotionally aroused, debating with the person on the other end of the internet.  In deference to the medium, he was gesticulating within the visual bounds of the camera, really trying to get his message across without letting his hands fly too far away from the line of sight.  His intention, most likely, was to provide information to the other person and to accentuate his position, though I have seen a person driving, with a bluetooth headset, gesturing to the person on the other side of the phone.  In that case, the automaticity of talking with one’s hands overrides the practicality of the conversation methodology. 
    This, in one way, reflects the concept of expressiveness as defined by DePaulo and Friedman (1), a concept that is culturally dependent and runs in families.  DePaulo has also found that “expressive people are often regarded as more attractive than unexpressive people”, which feeds back to the man at the table, talking to the computer with his hands.  Is he more attractive than if he were just talking?  I will probably have to go back  some time this week to test that particular hypothesis. 
    The other interesting idea from the readings of this week concerns Bandura’s work on Social Learning Theory and the paper on “Imitation of Film-mediated Aggressive Models.” (2) I am not current on the aggressive modeling role of media, but I am interested in the degree of “compassion fatigue” that these communication methods engender.  Does someone who sees crime regularly in the media become jaded toward that topic in general?  Which intervening variables alter the system?     

(1) DePaulo, B.M. & Friedman, H.S. (1998). Nonverbal Communication. In D. Gilbert, S. Fiske, & G. Lindzey (eds.) Handbook of Social Psychology, 4th edition. Boston: McGraw Hill, Vol. II, pp. 3-40.

(2) Bandura, A., Ross, D. & Ross, S.A. Imitation of film-mediated aggressive models. Journal of Abnormal and Social Psychology, 1963, 66, 3-11.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Implications of Implicit Cues for Cognition

    Social Judgment Theory as it applies to real-world applications is one of those theories that makes sense to the average person, and has intuitive value.  It says that when we experience an instance of communication, we judge the source of that communication, placing it on a spectrum of trust.  Coupling that with the priming factors in our daily life brings to light a wider range of implications.  If we are constantly exposed to stimuli of a certain valence, we bring those biases subconsciously into our everyday activities.  Noticing this correlation can inform how we go about interacting with others without bringing awareness into our actions.
    Bargh, et al. studied behavior with initial priming as well, researching if activating thoughts of the elderly has participants walk more slowly after towards the door. Race attitudes have also been studied. Being able to test subconscious beliefs using experimental trials has provided some non-intuitive trends.
    This also feeds into and draws from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, in that we are uncovering central versus peripheral effect, though in the case of priming, the peripheral communication is implicit rather than explicit.   The amount of cognitive load someone is willing to undertake reflects their attachment to that issue and/or a generalized “need to know.”  Following the central route of comprehension and influence creates strong changes in the participants, whether for the positive or negative  of the argument.  However, implicit information and cues circumvent the central route and have widespread implications. 


Griffin, Em.  A First Look at Communication Theory, Seventh Edition. The McGraw-Hill Companies, Inc, 2009, Chapters. 14, 15.

Petty, R.E. & Cacioppo, J.T. Motivational approaches (Chapter 5). In Attitudes and Persuasion: Classic and Contemporary Approaches. Dubuque, IW: Wm. C. Brown, 1981 (pp. 59-94 & 125-161).

Bargh, J. A., Chen, M., & Burrows, L. (1996). Automaticity of social behavior: Direct effects of trait construct and stereotype priming on action. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 71, 230-244.

(Beneficial Priming?)

Friday, October 1, 2010

Symbolic Convergence Theory and the Osgood & Schramm Circular Model

    One of the most useful convergences that Griffin describes in chapter three of his Theory of Communication is the overlap of objective and interpretive metrics for gauging the validity of a theory (1).  While this Venn diagram reminds me of the connections between these two apparently disparate approaches, another diagram also comes to mind, Osgood and Schramm’s circular diagram with communication forming a looping process that travels between two individuals (2).  One key element that was introduced in that work was that each piece of information travels through an interpreter.  Language, of course, provides a wonderful opportunity to practice methods of helping divergent thought processes find a common path, often through interpretation.       With a little semantic openness, objective theory’s qualification of “explanation of data” becomes interpretive theory’s “understanding of people.”  Similarly, the scientific need for “relative simplicity” becomes a more nebulous sounding desire for “aesthetic appeal”, but they do of course refer to the same thing.  Convoluted, overly pedantic work is not appealing to a reader and reveals a certain pompousness and/or dearth of expressive ability.  
    Using Ernest Bormann’s symbolic convergence theory as an example also helps the reader to partially define where their theoretical allegiances lie and gives the creative mind a chance to defend or negate some of the constructs, depending on the perceived importance of validity gaps. 

N. B. On a side note, symbolic convergence theory reminded me of inside jokes and the way they help a group bond.  I am sure they form a subset of Bormann’s “fantasy chains.”     

(1) Griffin, E. M. (2009). A first look at communication theory (7thd ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill.
(2) McQuail, D., & Windahl, S. Basic models, pp. 13-37. In Communication Models for the Study of Mass Communication, New York: Longman, 1993.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Response to "A First Look at Communication Theory"

Chs. 2, 4 Ed. 7
Objective vs. Interpretive,
Quantitative vs. Qualitative

What is the Truth in Communication?

Everything a human experiences is mediated through certain filters, be it biological, cultural, physical, or ethical. Sitting on the Caltrain traveling south, a rather uneven piece of safety glass separates me from San Bruno. From prior experiences I have developed a strong belief that the trees are not rippling like water as I pass them. Similarly, I believe that they are not covered in tiny white scratches that happen to fly across them at the same rate that the train travels. These are conditions imposed on the scenario by the mediating filter of the glass. Objectively, I can test this hypothesis by measuring the accuracy of my perceptions. However, it seems that the greatest space for emergent thought within the realm of analysis comes about through the interpretation. Not to undermine the seriousness or rigor of an objective approach, but the possibilities provided by an analogic approach do provide a certain richness of vocabulary and description not otherwise available.
In Chapter 2 of Em Griffin's A First Look at Communication Theory(1), he states that “Interpretive scholars seek truth as well, but many interpreters regard truth as socially constructed through communication.” The field of communication in this regard can be defined as largely subjective. On the other end, purely objective traditions circumvent the transcendent properties of human interaction and communication.
The theories that serve to inform the field of communication fall along a spectrum from purely objective to interpretive. Griffin lists the major theories in communication as grouped by level including interpersonal, group and public, mass, and cultural communication. In Ch.4, he maps the seven traditions onto the objective versus interpretive spectrum as well. 
According to Robert Craig, with all these apparently disparate approaches the field seems to be overly differentiated, but coherency is possible if we think of the field from the standpoint of a “practical discipline.” Each tradition has its merits, of course, or they would have long ago been revised or dismissed. As for a definite approach, the question becomes one of focus and intention. It is not only a matter of which grand question you are trying to solve, but also why you are trying to solve that particular question. Both of these facets of research design would inform which approach and tradition would be most applicable. Or we could just call it the field of socio-cybernetic-politico-anthro-mass-public-personal-inter-communication and call it a day.

(1)Griffin, E. M. (2009). A first look at communication theory (7thd ed.). NY: McGraw-Hill.  

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

The Role of "the Mindful Brain" in the Development of Empathic Concern (Part One)

In researching methods for the development of empathic concern, we find that the syncretic nature of visceral, affective, somatic, and cognitive interactions creates a complex system of emergent emotional phenomena.  Accounting for these intricacies within a research design becomes problematic without first determining the proper vocabulary to accurately represent the nature of this system.   Drawing from the realm of mathematics provides one source for descriptors.  Daniel Siegel, in his book The Mindful Brain, using complexity theory specifically, explains the logic of our human systems by writing that “an integrated state enables the most flexible, adaptive, and stable states to be created within a dynamical, complex system.” 

Only when this mode of thinking is combined with the constantly growing lexicon provided by evolutionary biology and advancements in brain research can we begin to express the interconnected nature of neurological development.
The development of empathic concern itself involves several facets of interaction that build upon each other, an evolution both psychical and physical.  In addition to initial instances of secure attachment, later stages of life include the development of a self-regulating equilibrium. 

Siegel later describes a triad of mental well-being as including “coherence of mind, empathy of relationships, and neural integration.”

To be continued....

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Defragmentation of the Empathic Space

One unfortunate consequence of the increasing sophistication and ubiquity of technology has been the reduction of empathy and compassion in everyday life. Due to the distracting effect of mobile computing, the average individual disconnects from his or her immediate environment and the people within it in favor of communication with a small network of nonadjacent friends, either through phone, text, chat or e-mail. They are not necessarily engaged with the space around them and do not actively pay attention to, empathize with, or feel compassion for others in the immediate vicinity.

In order to reverse the trend of empathic fragmentation that leads to lower levels of everyday compassion, the neural mechanisms behind compassion development must be revealed and methods for augmenting compassion must be designed and researched. This would then allow us to introduce a new level of social awareness into our technological dynamic by way of an ambient intelligence that leverages intimate media to effect both the level of concern and intimacy felt by an individual towards others.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Using Intimate Media to Parallel Traditional Compassion Development Methods with Implications for Ambient Intelligence

(some note on importance culturally/socially and technologically/scientifically.  more to come.)

The generation of a compassionate mood rests in two dimensions: concern and intimacy.  Concern can also be called caring or more specifically empathic concern. Intimacy can also be understood as the level of connectedness one person feels with another or with the process itself of compassion development.  Therefore, it must be taken into account that intimacy in this case refers to both the nature of the media presented for constructive reflection and the space or environment in which it is presented. Both have implications for research design. 

Neurologically, it is interesting to note that the very mechanism which allows us to function in everyday life by allowing us to realize that others can hold views contradictory to our own, called the Theory of Mind, keeps human beings from fully being able to see another as self.  This separation, key to social development and lacking in autistic individuals, provides a boundary that cannot be overcome.  Complete autonomous functioning would then be the other extreme of the connectedness spectrum. 

Monday, June 7, 2010

Report on "Love hurts: An fMRI Study"

Report on "Love hurts: An fMRI Study"*

How much we relate to someone else or engage with them correlates to the amount of intimacy we feel when interacting with or thinking of that person.  We are more intimate with loved ones than with strangers and this translates into how much empathy we feels towards them and how much compassion we can generate for that person.    Cheng, et al.  in their article “Love hurts: An fMRI study” describe the mechanism of intimacy “as including the other in the self...” They specifically studied empathy of pain, looking at the neural network involved in the “pain matrix”. 

They discovered that not only does imagining a love one in pain cause greater activity in the pain matrix, but it also causes less activation in those regions associated with distinguishing self from another, such as the medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC) which is involved with an individual’s Theory of Mind, “allowing overlap between self and the other”.

From the direction of compassion development, one obstacle to empathic growth towards strangers rests in difficulty of evoking a stranger's perspective.  Specifically, as those portions of our neural network are dampened in activity when we think of strangers, how can we overcome that in a productive way in order to foster compassion development?

* Love hurts: An fMRI study
Yawei Cheng a,b,⁎,1, Chenyi Chen a,1, Ching-Po Lin a, Kun-Hsien Chou c, Jean Decety d
a Institute of Neuroscience, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
b Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, National Yang-Ming University Hospital, Yilan, Taiwan
c Institute of Biomedical engineering, National Yang-Ming University, Taipei, Taiwan
d Departments of Psychology & Psychiatry, and Center for Cognitive and Social Neuroscience, the University of Chicago, IL, USA
a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t
Article history:
Received 15 September 2009
Revised 10 February 2010
Accepted 16 February 2010
Available online 24 February 2010

Friday, May 28, 2010

One method for compassion development that parallels traditional techniques

Response and Addendum to Intimate Media and Ambient Intelligence

One method for compassion development that parallels traditional techniques:

After a participant is exposed to an initial stimulus of a picture of a “loved one” or their closest associate (mother, best friend, etc.), they are then asked to perpetuate the feeling of compassion (at the same intensity/valence) while viewing pictures of friends, strangers, and “enemies”.

In order for this system to have the greatest efficacy, the pictures must be drawn from the participant’s life. The creation of an interface that leverages readily available intimate digital media, such as pictures stored online, combined with categorization methods, such as tagging and grouping, is the first step.

Research Set-up:

Setting: Initial studies are to be performed in a lab setting, with the ultimate goal being integration into the home environment through a computer interface or digital photo frames.


Participants are asked to go through their photostream, tagging each photo containing a person with the level of compassion they feel towards that person. In order to avoid complex interference, only those pictures with one person should be used. Level One would represent those closest to the participant (center point in the diagram, see diagram). Level Two represents friends. Level Three are strangers (which are pulled from random pictures, not from the participant’s photostream). Level Four are “enemies”, those people to whom the participant shows an aversion.
The tags will allow the application to show the participant Level One pictures first. It is important to have the participant reflect on the feelings that are aroused by the picture, specifically that of compassion.
After a preset period of time, the Level Two pictures will be shown and the participants will be asked to perpetuate that initial level of compassion to these pictures, as well as they can. In order to most closely parallel traditional techniques, the first sessions should only include Level One and Two pictures.
Once the intensity of compassion for Level Two draws near that of Level One, then Level Three pictures should be introduced and so on to Level Four.


Self-reporting measures will be used to track the participants’ progress, as pictures change in level of compassion felt. A more rigid study can be performed using fMRI readings to quantify the change in neural activity of those regions of the brain associated with compassion.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Findings On Finding Flow

Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement with Everyday Life

When high skill and ability meet challenge it creates space for mental growth. Csikszentmihalyi writes that this is exactly where “flow” experiences happen. Autotelic is another way of describing these experiences, which means self-satisfying, something you engage in for its own sake. Key to this is focus and motivation, namely doing tasks that are consuming and progress your ability. This places us in “flow” and pushes along a progressive learning path where we increase complexity and order.

Csikszentmihalyi also states, “Persons whose lives are autotelic help to reduce entropy in the consciousness of those who come in contact with them.” Interactions with others become more simple, less congested, when you’re in a flow-state. It becomes a matter of developing a playful seriousness about your goals and life. He states, "Thus each of us is responsible for one particular point in space and time in which our body and mind forms a link within the total network of existence."

One of the big ideas that I particularly enjoyed from the book that the author shares comes from Buddhist philosophy - “Act always as if the future of the Universe depended on what you did, while laughing at yourself for thinking that whatever you do makes any difference.”

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Pink’s Drive on Motivation and Its Implications for Interactive Media

Until quite recently, I always assumed that people would naturally wish to engage with an interactive art piece. Plonk them in front of some exhibit and they are bound to let their childlike curiosity take over and lead them through a wonderful experience. Right? Not always. Even when faced with something as provoking as a massive fire-breathing sculpture, quite a few people pass over the chance to press the button and make the world a little more brightly lit, if only for a short period of time.

The question becomes one of engagement and motivation. Daniel H. Pink’s Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us approaches these topics from a business perspective, but his revelations also touch on other aspects of human interaction. He differentiates between two categories of behavior: Type X, dependent on extrinsic motivation, and Type I, dependent on intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic motivation is the if you do this, then you get this type. Intrinsic, on the other hand, relies on “the inherent satisfaction of the activity itself.” Remember when you were a kid and you finished a puzzle, just because. And how that felt was...? Cool, aka inherently satisfying.

You can’t make someone engage with an artwork through an external reward system. The desire for engagement must be drawn out from intrinsic qualities and the key to the development of an optimal experience through intrinsic quality is flow. Mihalyi Csikszentmihalyi worked towards developing a conceptual framework for this facet of experience. Pink says, “Most important, in flow, the relationship between what a person has to do and what he could do was perfect...That balance produced a degree of focus and satisfaction that easily surpassed other, more quotidian, experiences. In flow, people lived to deeply in the moment, and felt so utterly in control, that their sense of time, place, and even self melted away.”

The implications for flow in interactive media are complex when taking meaning, context, and interaction design into consideration, but some tenets drawn from Pink’s work can provide a basis for further conversation. He describes three elements for optimizing one’s work life: Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose. Translating this into the realm of interactive digital media requires a certain flexibility of thought.

Autonomy relates the amount of control the participant has within the system. Having a definite order to the interactions delimits the potential of a piece to an experience akin to turning pages in a digital book. However, the very nature of an interactive digital experience as a piece of engineering as well as art places real limitations on the design.

Mastery means being able to improve. In the case of interaction, this could mean “getting the hang of it.” But, on the level of cognitive reconstruction, this could also mean developing an understanding as to the intention of the artist/engineer with emergent goals becoming possible after multiple instances of interaction. This approach also becomes more palatable when we include Pink’s annotation to mastery, that it is an asymptote.

Which leads us to purpose. This could include living an optimal life, connecting with other members of humanity, intuiting, or all of the above. This is difficult to define because the purpose of art and the purpose of someone interacting with art is up to debate and interpretation.

Perhaps the role of art is to share a purpose.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Compassion Augmentation Manifesto Intro

Manifesto Intro:

While compassion may or may not be our “natural” attitude towards others according to differing traditions, it can be noted that societal constructs, on the whole, do not necessarily support compassionate behavior, favoring instead a market/perceived worth-based social structure. Compassion, however, can be promoted and developed within an individual’s mental architecture through various means.

In regards to certain academic traditions, these particular means can go by other names such as “facts”, in the context of Lewin’s field theory. Those “facts” which are capable of changing a person’s mental state towards a more stable meta-mood of compassion have not yet been fully explored.

Within the realm of developing technologies and interactive digital media specifically, those factors regarding interaction, user experience design, content, context, intimacy, and empathy are of special interest.

The complex nature of multi-faceted interaction towards compassion augmentation provides an exciting milieu for further exploration and study.

It is the responsibility of artists/engineers/scientists to develop and reinvest knowledge continually within an iterative process towards the augmentation of the human intellect as well as towards the augmentation of compassion, as the two act to balance human evolution towards a sustainable future.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On Russell's "Appropriate Expressions of Intimacy: Lessons of Digital Jewelry and Large Displays"

As computing becomes more ubiquitous, questions regarding propriety and intimacy come to the fore. Exactly how does one distinguish between private and public information displayed in a public space? As social networking continues to grow to include more personal sharing, what defines publicly available information anyway? In Daniel Russell’s paper “Appropriate Expressions of Intimacy: Lessons of Digital Jewelry and Large Displays” he draws conclusions related to these issues from two ends of the ubiquitous computing spectrum.
At the USER Lab at the IBM Almaden Research Center, his team created “e-rings” with LEDs that display information based on one’s “personal state.” This could include a wide range of inputs from receiving an e-mail from a certain person to stock prices. A digital jewelry box serves as the device interface for changing display behavior. E-rings display information in a public way, but the definition of the display (what a certain color means to the user) remains private. This is one way of creating a boundary between public and private information as opposed to a pager, which provides public information only when the user acknowledges it (beeping, flashing, etc.) and hides the exact message in the display.
Before entering into the discussion of large displays, Russell shares one interesting insight regarding the social signals provided by pagers (which could easily include smart phones). Russell writes that looking at a pager “connotes a sense of importance about an information feed into the wearer’s life that exceeds the need to pay complete and active attention to live, face-to-face interaction.” Of course, this can also be related to someone’s perceived ability to multitask effectively.
To test the manner in which users interact with a large display, Russell and his team created IM Here. While instant messaging is normally considered private, this method of display clearly draws these conversations into a public space. In the case of IM Here, in order to create a sense of intimacy, the chat sessions are allocated a small portion of the overall display space.
Russell determined that positioning, scale, physical design, and societal norms defined the “public vs. intimate characteristic.” Implications from this can inform design for ambient information systems as well.

Questions for the reader:
To what extent are public spaces capable of intimacy?
For which experiences is intimacy required and to what extent?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Review of Techgnosis

With densely packed sentences leading down complex paths with authority, making fascinating connections in such a way as to mimic the brains' method of cognitive development, Techgnosis makes for quite an intellectual ride. The concept of what constitutes an information technology definitely creates an interesting space for conjecture. Such everyday components of life, our alphabet and writing, are rarely truly analyzed for their deepest meaning, but they have changed society in fundamental ways. Techgnosis reviews, amongst other remarkable connections, how the alphabet led to the possibility of monotheism, how it changed our memory from an internal datastore to an external one, and how those facts contributed to future information technologies.