Framing Time


In an earlier post, I discussed adolescence as a metaphor for HCI research.

One thing that’s especially cool about this metaphor is the way it inspires thinking about time increments and their implications for knowledge growth. For instance, we might not expect a discipline “in its adolescence” to have a substantial body of theoretical knowledge. Consider, for example, the way Kit Fine riffs on this idea in the abstract of his text, Mathematics: Discovery or Invention?

Mathematics has been the most successful and is the most mature of the sciences. Its first great master work – Euclid’s ‘Elements’ – which helped to establish the field and demonstrate the power of its methods, was written about 2400 years ago; and it served as a standard text in the mathematics curriculum well into the twentieth century. By contrast, the first comparable master work of physics – Newton’s Principia – was written 300 odd years ago. And the juvenile science of biology only got its first master work – Darwin’s ‘On the Origin of Species’ – a mere 150 years ago. 

A mere 150 years ago…!

One thing that’s especially cool about this is the different conception of time that arises when one sees the world from the perspective of a field or discipline. It becomes possible to see something 150 years old as an infant or toddler (not even an adolescent). And so HCI can be framed as a discipline not even close to its adolescence!

This is a crucial insight given that some researchers in HCI evaluate its theoretical adequacy as though the field is mature beyond its years.

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