Thursday, May 03, 2007

Culturally embedded computing and HCI challenges

At Chi 2007 I met with Lucian Leahu, researcher from the culturally embedded computing group at Cornell University. The group researches on affective computing by considering the cultural context in which people are in while interacting with computers.

We analyze, design, build, and evaluate computing devices in cultural context. We analyze the ways in which technologies reflect and perpetuate unconscious cultural assumptions, and design, build, and test new computing devices that reflect alternative possibilities for technology. We are part of a community of critical technical practices [as coined by Phil Agre], or practices that integrate technical system-building with cultural, philosophical, and critical reflection on technical practice. We have a focus on reflective design, or design practices that help both users and designers reflect on their experiences and the role technology plays in those experiences. We work with collaborators in the Affective Presence coalition to develop an approach to affective computing in which the full complexity of human emotions and relationships as experienced by users in central to design (rather than the extent to which computers can understand and process those emotions) (...)

For instance, their ongoing Fear Reflector project aims to support emotional self-reflection of people while they expect to confront their fears. Using a combination of biometry and camera input, it takes pictures of situation in which the user "fears". People are then given the possibility to reflect on these "fear" contexts.

The group had a few papers being presented at Chi 2007. I attended a very impressive talk from their group How HCI Interprets the Probes. They discuss the research techniques of Bill Gaver called Cultural probes that uncover people's values and activities. They discuss how the HCI community craving for flexible design methods adopted and adapted the probes in their research. By Kirsten Boehner, Janet Vertesi, Phoebe Sengers, and Paul Dourish (from Irvine), How HCI Interprets the Probes.
.Pdf of the Paper.
Also a nice interview of Bill Gaver on Designing Interactions for reference.
Another very inspiring take on HCI is to look at Situationist art practice. The authors specify how the Chi community can be relunctant to consider these methods, or by reducing them to comform to Chi's ones instead of using the richness of these methods.
.Pdf of the Chi'07 paper by Lucian Leahu, Phoebe Sengers, Claudia Pederson, Jennifer Thom-Santelli and Pavel Dmitriev.
Of course, nice references on situationism with video and sound recordings of Guy Debord on Ubu. The most famous and studied book-movie of Guy Debord being Society of the Spectacle.

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