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?