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.

Theory in Social Science

In Making Social Science Matter, Bent Flyvbjerg examines the possibility that “the study of social phenomena is not, never has been, and probably never can be, scientific in the conventional meaning of the word science; that is, in its epistemic meaning,” and he explains why other fields tend toward such strong natural-scientific theoretical ambition. There is a logical simplicity to the natural science paradigm and the natural sciences have impressive material results.

Chapter Three, Is Theory Possible in Social Science, includes a brief exploration of the argument that natural science is “historically conditioned and requires hermeneutic interpretation” (p. 28). Flyvbjerg characterizes social science as “pre-paradigmatic” in the Kuhnian sense, which means that it “is in a state of constant reorganization, characterized by a multiplicity of directions” (p. 30). He then dispenses with the pre-paradigmatic argument that, with enough time, the social sciences can achieve the status of paradigmatic science.

Flyvbjerg argues that social science is no closer to achieving cumulative progress and that some natural sciences that are younger than social science already display such progress. He cites the hermeneutic/phenomenological argument. In social science, individuals and groups dialogue with researchers who themselves acknowledge the situatedness of their research activity. They are not separated from their subjects.

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Sharing Ideas and Failing Up

If I had to identify one thing I do well in the classroom, it’s this: I create an environment where it’s the norm to take risks, fail, and explore half-baked ideas.

My guess is that I model all three of these things. I fail up pretty much all the time, and I’m in the habit of sharing ideas before they’re well formed. And I think that’s great.

How else does an idea become fully formed or baked unless it’s subjected to questioning and critique from a smart group of students? Yes, it feels awkward, but I think it’s a mistake to wait until you have something to say. How will you know when to stop waiting if not by sharing what you have so far and learning from the reactions? The sooner ideas make it into a conversation the sooner they become stronger.

Lately, I’ve developed a strong interest in children’s books (cf. Martin Salisbury’s research) and the important role they play in shaping crucial perceptions and actions later in life (e.g. seeing artificial constructs as natural or treating certain subjects as taboo). There are two related to the concepts of idea sharing and failing up that are worth a read. I hope you find them as interesting and important as I do:

 

what do you do with an idea
image link: https://i.ytimg.com/vi/tJg3dgW0BQk/maxresdefault.jpg

… and…

the book of mistakes
image link: https://picturebooksblogger.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/c5dygncwqaan0ac.jpg

Lumio

My wife (and daughter) gifted me a Lumio last week. I love it. It’s beautiful and fun. It sits on my desk next to my laptop and I find myself reaching for it several times a day. Each time I open it up, I pay attention to different details: the quality of the light filtering through the paper, the sound the paper makes as it expands and contracts, the feeling of the wooden cover on my fingers, the flexibility of the spine. Sometimes I turn off my desk lamp and I just sit for a little while enjoying the light.

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IASDR 2017

Some additional good news to report. I submitted an abstract for a short paper to the upcoming IASDR conference in Cincinnati about some early-stage research that I’m working on with Erik Stolterman, and the abstract has been accepted! So now we’re writing the short paper and creating a poster to present at the conference.

Here is the abstract we submitted:

Scholars in a variety of academic disciplines have studied the peer review process. There are examinations of the biases that pervade peer review (Lee, Sugimoto, Zhang, & Cronin, 2013). Other studies propose tools or methods that might be useful for improving or standardizing the peer review process (Hames, 2008; Onitilo, Engel, Salzman-Scott, Stankowski, & Doi, 2013). Still others examine the kinds of criteria that ought to be relied upon in peer review processes, and in some cases these criteria are widely known and agreed upon. In the natural sciences, for example, we might say that there is a relatively stable set of criteria that can be used to assess the rigor, relevance, and validity of a scientific knowledge contribution. In this paper, our aim is to examine the process of peer review as it pertains to research through design. We aspire to build an understanding of the criteria scholars use when a design or prototype is the main contribution. How do reviewers evaluate designs as knowledge contributions? Is there any uniformity or stability to the review criteria? Are criteria from other fields (e.g. scientific criteria) used to evaluate designs? Toward this end, we report the outcome of a survey conducted with a group of meta-reviewers (n=15) from the design subcommittee for the 2017 Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) Conference, which is the flagship conference in our field of expertise. The design subcommittee reviews papers that “make a significant designerly contribution to HCI [including but not limited to] novel designs of interactive products, services, or systems that advance the state of the art.” Our findings suggest that there is little agreement on a common set of criteria for evaluating research through design.

I look forward to sharing more as this important project moves forward!

Conferences

I look forward to the day when more conferences in my fields of interest offer alternative forms of presentation. I recently received an email from the IASDR conference, which will be held later this year in Cincinnati. Part of the email states that:

“To allow all world citizens to participate in the IASDR2017 conference, every effort will be made to accommodate alternative forms of presentation such as recorded video or real-time online video conferencing.”

I was really pleased when I read this, and my hope is that others will make similar efforts. No one should miss out on the opportunity to present research because of backwards policy..

Fear

When I think of the charge to write what I’m afraid of, these are two things I fear: (1) failing to pass a plateau and (2) mistrusting of my own past experience. I have passed plateaus before, so why do I disbelieve that I can/will do it again?

I started meditating a few months ago, and, as with any new practice, there was a period where I think I enjoyed tremendous progress. I was calmer and more focused throughout the day. I was effective at noticing when I started to daydream or worry and refocusing on whatever task I happened to be working on at the time. And I was enjoying some deeper and more refreshing personal interactions with friends and family.

But like many (if not all) new practices that I start, this one also proved to have an initial period of reaffirming progress followed by a gradual plateau-ing. I still notice when I get distracted but less so than when I started. And re-focusing can be a bit of a slog rather than a simple breathing exercise followed by a gentle calming of the mind.  And this aspect of it makes me afraid. And the fact that it makes me afraid also makes me afraid.

 

On the Amazon Echo

Note: This is an old post that I guess I never published. Hence the 2016 Labor Day reference.

 

Over labor day weekend (2016) I had some trouble with Alexa. But that’s all I know. I don’t know anything about the cause or anything about possible solutions. Here’s what happened.

On Sunday morning I asked Alexa to tell me the weather. The blue ‘listening’ light appeared and bounced around for a few moments longer than usual and then.. nothing. No ‘flickering’ lights to indicate that she was processing my request and no telling of the weather. What the heck?

And then an ominous red ring of light pulsed a few times and Alexa spoke. Something about how the echo had lost its connection followed by silence followed by “I’m having trouble understanding right now, please try again later,” or something along those lines.

No matter what I requested (or when I requested it) this same sequence of events played out so many times during the day Sunday and Monday. And I have no idea why! I opened the Alexa app on my phone to see if there might be anything helpful there. Nope. Nothing. The app gave me every indication that the Echo should be working. While it was frustrating enough that things were going wrong, it was even more frustrating that the most straightforward way I had of finding out what those things might be (the app) contradicted the fact that there was even a problem.

I use the Echo mostly for banal stuff like getting the news, weather, playing music, and adding items to digital shopping lists. I do have it paired with a smart thermostat, though. What if the Echo were an integral part of how I manage my day-to-day life and what if I had it paired with other smart devices (lights, a fridge, a car). It would be like multiple colleagues being out of the office without having giving any reason thus requiring you to change your schedule and take on a bunch of tasks that you no longer do. Not cool.

I don’t know what the takeaway is here: feedback is important, it’s better to know than not know, the Amazon Echo gives poor feedback, nodal point amenities (I’m making this up this stuff as I go along..) can make day-to-day life just a little bit better but when they fail they can induce anxiety and stress. Somehow I think this relates to the concept of faceless interaction. In the middle of the day on Sunday, staring at that broken cylindrical speaker in my kitchen, I wished, oh how I wished, for a screen.

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