In this post I shall be reflecting on my reading of the article titled “Designing the Connected Everyday” by Elisa Giaccardi of the Delft University of Technology.
Although Elisa herself mentions that this is not something she is concerned with, I feel that her opening paragraphs eloquently and effectively raise the issue at hand. It is said in the article that “Our daily routines often incorporate tweeting, facebooking, and the use of other online platforms while in the company of friends” and this is certainly true, as we become more and more focussed on the interactions we are having online opposed to our physical interactions with the people literally sat with us.
She goes on to talk briefly about how this is beginning to be combatted by both individuals and tech companies. She talks about how friends are trying to distance themselves from their technology and communication devices whilst in a social setting, suggesting the need to “make them fit more neatly around our lives.” She continues:
Many companies realize this need and are exploring solutions such as glasses, watches, and a menagerie of smart devices. These devices will allow Facebook or Twitter notifications (or whatever other notifications we will receive in the future) to appear “discreetly” as an icon in the corner of our eyesight, or on our wrist, rather than on our phones.
Again, Elisa says she is not concerned with this, but she later mentions exactly why I believe so many people attempt to shun their phones during social interactions;
…we often feel overloaded, distracted, and fractured in our social engagements, with notifications that pull us away from our lives…
In 2015, Pew interviewed 3000 Americans about cell phone usage, and found that “82% of respondents say that using a phone in social settings hurts conversations, at least occasionally” (Pew, 2015).
In fact, the same study found that the most common reason (61%) people check their phones at a social gathering is to read a message, while 52% of people said they also replied to messages. (Rainie and Zickuhr, 2015)
These facts together to me say clearly that the reason why people shun their phones in social interactions is not because the physical act of checking your phone is the distraction, as suggested by Elisa in saying that the solution to this is to make notifications more discreet, but that the communication with entities outside the current social gathering is the issue instead. Therefore no amount of discretion in the technology we’re using to communicate with the rest of the world can hide us from the fact that we’re still focussing our attention on something besides the current social gathering. It is the disconnect between the “digital” world from the “real” world.
This seems to be the position Elisa takes also, talking in depth about the need to “design for commensurability” – to make the interactions we are having through technology (and the internet) proportionate in meaning to any given situation as the physical interactions we are having in said situation.
The Three Design Principles of Commensurability
Elisa, in her article, talks in depth about what she calls the “three design principles of commensurability;”
- Create a rich texture of material experiences.
- Ground flows in the practices of everyday life.
- Arrange practices in ways that are open-ended.
The first principle, regarding textures and material, speaks volumes to me about differences between what real ubiquitous computing should look and feel like, and what companies and designers in the industry seem to have a vision for.
On the surface of it, the current direction that internet of things things seem to be taking is one down which internet connected devices become either a novelty or an extension of an existing system or object. The Apple Watch, arguably the most popular and contemporary IoT device, is in my eyes little more than extension of the iPhone, simply moving notifications from your pocket to your wrist – notifications that remain in the same format of icons on screens. However, in moving the notifications from our pockets to our wrist, I believe the Apple Watch (and smart watches in general) fit into Elisa’s principle somewhat by turning the act of receiving notifications – a fundamentally digital experience happening over a networked connection – into a more “bodily way of knowing and doing” of a simple glance at the wrist.
Elisa’s writings of textures and materials sparks the imagination to ideas of much more interesting interactions that can be made between the physical world, the user, and the digital world. The “texture” of networked things spilling into the physical world makes for exciting thinking.
Meanwhile, the second principle of grounding the thing in the practices of everyday life provokes the imagination even further. The act of “sharing” your meal over social media (an example also made by Elisa) has become a cliché, or even a meme, in society. Disregarding the inherit vanity this interaction often entails, it is often regarded that in taking and sharing a photo of your meal removes value from the meal itself and instead shifts focus away from the physical and into the digital. An interaction between wherein sharing your experience over social media in fact enhances your meal rather than takes focus away from it would probably be regarded by many as a welcome addition to their social gathering; those who want to share can do so without “breaking the material bond” as Elisa says, whilst potentially improving the experience for those around them. Such an interaction is not easy to imagine, but it hasn’t stopped my mind from trying.
The final principle suggests to me a longing for the capability of things to have more intrinsic meaning and functionality than we currently enjoy from our devices. Phones and computers have a huge range of applications, sure, but the applications themselves often fit a very specific purpose. Devices and applications serve a purpose and aim to fulfil a request or desire efficiently, quickly, and in a familiar way every time (just look at the amount of uproar Facebook receives every time it moves a button in its UI), while nondigital objects and interactions feel much more fluid, dynamic, performative, “real”.
Arranging practices in ways that are open-ended means creating a constellation of objects, practices, and values capable of adapting and changing depending on the situation at hand.
Again, my imagination begins racing in attempt to imagine a connected object or thing that has been designed in such a way that it can be interacted with in ways in which even I as its mental creator wouldn’t have conceived. Such an object truly would exemplify the meaning of the Internet of Things.