Flow, Interaction Design And Contemporary Boredom

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Avoiding Boredom and Wasted Time

Wasted time leads to frustration because people are put on hold with nothing to do. This is boredom.

Boredom is a leading case of death in teenagers and senior citizens. It removes one from the pulse of life, of meaning, of action and a sense of purpose. Videogame consoles come in to relieve the human subject of that boredom. Text messages and emails and other things come in to help.

If one is not stimulated, their subconscious and role in society is faltered. In the natural world, this would be cause for elimination. Having some sort of stimulus is important in keeping one's sense of belonging to society. Else, people will turn to destructive space-filling activities. Smoking is a long-lived tradition of space-filling activity. Alcohol affects the flow of time and heightens one's experience. other drugs do the same.

E-mail, Internet and games are alternate realities where action and importance reign. They are places where one is a center of attention operating on their external self and reality.

Notes on Flow, Interaction Design and Contemporary Boredom by Nicolas Makelberge

Flow, Interaction Design and Contemporary Boredom was Nicolas Makelberge's Masters Thesis in Interaction Design and was written through the Chalmers Department of Computing Science at the IT University OF GÖTEBORG in Gothenburg, Sweden in 2004. After graduating, Makelberge went on to become an Afro-beat / Pop musician.


Flow is the mental state of operation in which a person in an activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity. Proposed by Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, the positive psychology concept has been widely referenced across a variety of fields".[1]

"Just as a medicine is useless if it doesn’t help the patient get rid of a disease, philosophy is useless if it doesn’t help people with their suffering of the spirit. The same could be argued about interaction designers. We are useless if we don’t increase the quality of life of a user, because that’s what we are here to do".[2]

A simple but good example of this phenomenon could be an electric corkscrew: Let’s say we have an electric corkscrew and a regular old-fashioned one. Which one would be better from a flow perspective? If we’re going to examine the benefits of an electric corkscrew compared to old fashion ones we not only have to look at the obvious benefits from a “way of the least resistance”, efficiency perspective. Where does the user have the biggest chance of having a flow experience?

The challenge of opening a bottle of wine with an old fashioned corkscrew is as follows:[3]

  1. Screwing the corkscrew in by hand.
  2. Getting the screw to penetrate the cork as vertical as possible to minimize the chance of getting cork into the wine.
  3. Getting the cork out of the bottle without soaking your dinner guests yourself with the contents of the bottle.

The challenges you have from opening the same bottle with the electrical corkscrew are as follows:

  1. Place the electric corkscrew on the bottle, and press a button.

I don’t argue that an electric corkscrew is completely useless; it’s useful for people who need them for physical or mental reasons. For the rest of us who like overcoming the challenge of opening a bottle of wine, these electric corkscrews can be devastating. The old fashioned corkscrews invite greater challenge and therefore satisfaction in handling obviously compared to the electric one, even if it’s minute. There’s also a greater element of satisfaction, and danger of dissatisfaction. I guess it’s like with all truly rewarding activities: as the risk of failing is greater, so is the satisfaction when succeeding. It’s sometimes worth there being a risk of dissatisfaction than there being no activity or challenge at all".[4]

Thea author writes that he "actually like(s) washing my Gee (costume worn by various martial practitioners.) by hand in my tub. I find this quite awkward as I’ve always seen myself as a lethargic person when it comes to daily chores. I find it highly pleasurable to wash it by hand as it takes me at least an hour. A peculiar enjoyment fills me in watching how clean it’s getting, and how dirty it was. I Rinse, change water, and scrub the fabric with my hands in the warm water as I listen to a vinyl record, first the A side, then the B side without jumping from one song to the other".[5]

The example of the automated cork popper fits well here. Because there was some work involved and a potential for risk of success or failure the rewards of success were much higher.

"Where people have the freedom to choose interaction design projects to work on you often see the projects being influenced by the personalities of the designers. Gather a bunch of gaming enthusiasts to design artifacts and they will be “gaming like”, if you have a bunch of children, the project will often be what we grownups call “childish”. If you could gather a bunch of apes as designers, the projects will be “apelike”, probably involving various fruit and so on. Therefore it’s not very strange If you have designers not to oriented with true human needs designing, that their projects won’t be very helpful for the rest of humanity at all times."[6]

Makelberge goes on to say that,

"If there where a smarter species than ourselves walking this planet today they would probably look at us and see all this potential of computer science going to waste because we don’t know how to apply it in its most beneficial form. We basically don’t know any better. They might even find that we used pretty advanced technology for trivial problem solving and entertainment. Maybe future generations will look back and condescendingly question the way we applied computing technology: “did you know that humans used all that potential computing intelligence to keep track of their laundry and not like we do now; understand our surroundings, live with and understand the balance with earth, help our fellow man to a better future, be outdoors and have rich real physical experiences and finding the unlimited powers contained in our souls?”[7]

Ironically, those creatures smarter than us might have been in the past --closer to our society's general problems because they were closer to each other and not mediated by materials and assemblages of global networks delivering us food that we don't even see until it arrives on our supermarket shelves.

Lao Tzu, in observing a river, understood fundamental physics that governed everyday life and we are often surrounded by so many artificial material process, and for some that purchase new things before they wear about, never see decay. While all the time there is an entire other world of decay that surrounds those in poverty whose only experience is that of decay. It is an interesting contrast, this stark difference between renewal and decay.

"Why have we exclusively seen very efficiency focused products and projects within the computing sciences until recently? I believe the personalities and backgrounds of the people developing them have played a major role in their appearances. The “barriers of entry” associated with computing sciences such as programming knowledge and expenses associated with computing at early stages probably deterred a lot of non technocrats to venture into the world of computing and computing sciences, until now the computer sciences field has been congested with groups of way to techno-centric people who has programmed software and created artifacts of technology that respond, or are heavily influenced by their own lifestyles. By doing so they have achieved great things, although not the most user-friendly and useful applications of technologies at all time."[8]

For many, building things to fulfill certain tasks such as speeding up mathematical calculation and other information service were necessary and needed during the time period of the rarely computers. They were theoretical, almost -- tied inexorably into mathematics departments of research universities and the military. At the University of Utah (where my grandfather worked at the intersection of the two as ahead of the math department during the 4th node of Arpanet era), they were tied into the graphics department for the visual display of information.

There was no need -- no design to bring these concepts and processes into everyday consumer life. Even a startups began to pour into Silicon alley and the modern computer industry was born people did not see behind the scenes of technology as they worked on the stock exchange and later ran credit card exchanges through Tandem computer machines (Sp?)

It did not blend into actual society in a way that could be built until the Apple II and homebrew computer, and Altair.

"Regulations have just come around as we gain knowledge of the effect of a lot of the products/artifacts that corporations want to sell and incorporate in our lives. Brief measurements are slowly taken towards corporations trying to inform us what we need to make our lives better, letting us know in our own best interest of course. Sooner than later we will probably see the same measurements taken with new technologies as science discover the pitfalls of comfort and hyper-consumption of pacifying technologies. Maybe it’s not to long until we will see warning labels informing us in what way a certain technology will alter our behaviors?"[9]
“WARNING, this GPS mounted in your new Volvo xc90 might get some passengers bored from lack of stimulation previously received from map reading; please install VCR’s so that the passengers can at least enjoy poor third person entertainment.”[10]

"Playing doesn’t seem to be as fun as players aren’t given the same opportunity to play an as varied and entertaining game".[11]

This was something the inventor of the game PacMan was well aware of. When he first made the board, he filled the entire screen with food, but then he knew that one would not enjoy spiritually the idea of repeating action without variety, so he put the food in a maze. This made it an interesting experience to the user, but he knew that there was a sense of urgency that was missing. Thus the ghosts were created to create a stimulus and a time limit, so that the user would have to navigate through the maze while also dodging the ghosts. But the creation of the ghosts was also something to be worked out, as he thought tough ghosts would make a hopelessness in the human sprit. He then made the ghosts have different capabilities, with one more aggressive than the others, to give the user a challenging chance. This difficulty increased over time, allowing the challenge to increase with each person's skill level, so one could have triumph and also build up slowly over time, like a well-constructed series of middle school math problems starting at ease and then becoming more difficult so that tithe users learns a bit with each access.

"I was looking for some form of psychological model that I could refer to which could portray the treacherousness of highly passive and excessively comfortable lifestyles have upon human happiness."[12] ---

Preforming no work means receiving no rewards. While there is less risk involved, there is less potential happiness available in the system.

As more of these situations remove themselves from everyday life, we find ourselves in horror films and at amusement parks, and watching entertainment so that we might live through a third parties' trials and errors and work for psychological stimulus without having to take the risk of experiencing it ourselves. Of course, since we are living it through a third party, the time involved in experiencing the third party risk must increase. Instead of an intense, 5-minute chase scene through a jungle, we have a long, drawn-out horror scene embedded into a storyline that tricks our minds into feeling as if we were there.

"When trying to help someone else, one first looks to in which way oneself would want to be helped and then try to help someone else, much like I described in the “subjectivity of the designer” chapter. The interaction design community and any technology development in general work basically more or less in the same way that we by our design, use non verbal rhetoric to convince people into changing their behaviors and lifestyles into what we perceive are better ones, or as Richard Buchanan put it in his essay “Declaration by design”.[13]
“By presenting an audience of potential users with a new product - designers have directly affected the actions of individuals and communities, changed attitudes and values, and shaped society in surprisingly fundamental ways. This is an avenue of persuasion not previously recognized, a mode of communication that has long existed but has never been entirely understood or treated from a perspective of human control such as rhetoric provides for communication in language”[14]

This is a very important point. By simply declaring that something is there, or available, or exists, or that an idea exists, can change the actual fabric of thought and perception and behavior around a set of interactions and activities.

This gets into Bruce Sterling's territory of Design Fiction, where simply coming up with an idea of a design can change how things work. the design fictions inherent in Star Trek changed how we thought of connectivity and inspired cell to cell communications like we have in our cell phones. Watching The Next Generation one can easily see all sorts of tablet computers available and smaller devices full of sensors and processing power that communicate directly with the ship, which is simply a processing server and holding tank for all of that data. Indeed, Data himself is a bot that interacts between the ship and the humans -- a human manifestation of the owe that is already given to us by the Internet.

In some episodes, one can even see characters such as Captain Jean Luc Picard hide behind their iPad tablet shaped device if they wish to avoid eye contact. It is a plaything of idle time, ada processor for tastes a n a reading device.

Often the front of the devices is not shown, just the back, giving no ideas of how the actually work or what buttons and sensors exist on them. The face to that they are almost ubiquitously used and just work is exactly how these tablet devices work today.

And just as in real life there are the three screens present in all of the communications and work. There are the smaller tablet and phone-like devices for mobile communication and data entry. Then there are the screens on one's desks and counters. These are the small computers on swivels that can be turned around to share information with the viewers. Third, there are the larger displays for communication and discussion from one to many, and many at a time.

A tablet may be passed from one officer to another, but these larger presentation screens are useful for demonstrations during meetings. these screens are seen on the main brig of the ship as well as al of the rooms where meetings are present. Finally, the hidden screen is the ship itself. the computer database of all information available to the computer that can then be pushed out to all of the devices whether they are mobile or presentation of data entry work desks thought the ship. This is precisely the model that we have in place for our own computation today.

Reducing Displeasure

When it came to challenges in peoples day to day lives, one of Europe's most prominent philosophers of our time understood that “satisfaction in ones life will not be reached by avoiding setbacks and misfortunes, but by accepting it’s natural function as a step towards everything good.”[15]

As stated before, without the challenges and risks of everyday life and those of uncertainty, it becomes all too easy to become set into a mediocre but perfectly functioning traps of displeasure set admits a landscape of monochromatic psychosis regularity and pleasure. Most of the time those with perfect lives who do not experience decay because the replenish material anther material wares and surroundings long before they wear out create their own form of decay and displeasure in order to fight through it and experience some form of psychological feedback, neural stimulus and the heightened physiological stimulus that comes with those altercations.

These manufactured periods of chaos serve as self-regulating feedback loops again boredom and the resultant suicidal tendencies of being detached from meaning or understanding of society. The natural order of things is to fight and work to accomplish something or die out. Not needing to fight or having any stimulus means naturally that one is not even in the field of play - and thus when no stimulus comes in, they do not have a competitive chance. Over human development time, many things have come to take the place of this need for stimulus. It has taken the form of sports or sports bars, entertainment in Gameboys and videogames, "We don’t dare to act on our convictions but rather spend hours every day watching actors pretending to be in an adventure and having meaningful experiences." (28).

E-mail and phones, nicer or lesser vehicles and television shows and theme parks as safe but stimulating spaces that provide some semblance, however weak or imaginary, of one's role and participation in the field of natural play and competition. As society increases it's predication upon material items, so too will its need to feel stimulus vicariously through external items, or systems within those material goods. Entertainment will increase as spaces of boredom and waiting increase, and as the ability to not be able to internally feel or wait on the slow build up of the natural games and accomplishments of real life will fade for much of the population.

Mass culture, mass entertainment and even forms of culture if you engage in it passively and of external reasons, are parasites in the mind. They consume mental energy without giving you strength in return. They only make us more exhausted and weaker than before.”[16]

This is the reason why America is an entertainment capital of the world, and design (in the case of Apple) because it is used to these material goods forcing the population to seek vicarious interchange, risk and stimulus from external safer mechanisms such as television and now the connectivity of the Internet. In choosing between something that might incur a potential risk with a high reward vs. a non-risky venture with a similar but smaller potential benefit, the non-risky venture is becoming an increasing choice for many modern people.

Even though many know that to take a more difficult class in college is where much happiness and knowledge will occur vs. the easy one, whose resultant crippling boredom will lead many students to actually get a lower grade, from the onset it is more likely that one will choose the easier rout,e thus missing the neural-stimulal benefits of success or failure in the face of a challenge. It is why one in a comfortable job with a mortgage and suburban lifestyle will is not likely to go into a space of risk, lest those comforts and pleasures disappear and are not able to be returned.

It is for the same reason that this complacency and displeasure and boredom from a life of same commute and endless domestic lifestyle build up over the years and often suddenly snap for many middle-aged people, resulting in a "mid-life" crises where values and understandings of life are suddenly broken awake, where neurostimulus re-echoes its greatest levels since teenage, where experimentation and risk-taking is supported by society.

There is an entire genre of film dealing with this American ennui and crises of status quo, Fight Club (as discussed by chalmers.se, et al -- the main paper cited in this essay) American Beauty, City Slickers, Brazil, As Good as It ets, etc.

Much of these films are about general people breaking out against the Ennui of everyday complacent reality. And of course, they are third party reactionary films through which one can vicariously break out against society through watching them with no risk whatsoever but a brief 2 hours of one's time and then be returned seamlessly into their previous reality with no risk. Angry Birds is another such game (angry birds going against capitalist structure vicariously rebelling through purchasing a commodifying experience in a safe environment of protest. These moments of protest can be easily shared with one another as a tribe of people who use them. It is a global protest movement that isn't a protest at all. It's a protest against boredom and structure played in the spaces and failings of structure.

"The interesting thing about Nietzsche is that he realized the important correspondence between his view upon life and hiking in the alps. Life is a struggle he figured, much like life in the alps with valleys and peaks, life shouldn’t be too comfortable as you will never appreciate your arrival onto a peak. Nietzsche figured that from a peak one can look down upon life with satisfaction and primitive enjoyment to be alive, be satisfied to have the privilege of viewing down upon the beauty of the world. Nietzsche said:

“As you stand at the edge of the cruel glacier it’s hard to believe that the glacier has played a role in the development of the green grass and fertile areas down in the valley, to understand that something that obviously contrary to life, can be responsible for the fertileness of a blooming meadow.”[17]

The purpose of great HCI design is to create

"…systems which purpose is other than just effectiveness and productivity, they mention systems and artifacts that have added features of being “satisfying, enjoyable, fun, entertaining, helpful, motivating, aesthetically pleasing, supportive of creativity, rewarding and emotionally fulfilling”.[18]
"A very strong focus today in interaction design is on technology helping us to receive flow, or any positive experiences in the artifact, not in real life".[19]

Real life might be boring and filled with waits and other periods of boredom and ennui. Rewarding someone for going to a device and using an interface increases one's worth and will drive them back to the app. If real life is suddenly +1 comment, +1 follower and +1 friend, suddenly the rewards of virtual reality are seamlessly merged into everyday reality.

"I see flow playing an important role in interaction design and computer sciences in two distinctive ways. Those are explicitly or implicitly. Explicitly in a way where a user will receive a flow experience with the technology itself, much like with a Gameboy or Playstation, and implicitly in a way where one is assisted by a technology to receive flow experiences in real life, much like Laserdome where the focus of attention is on the real life activity, not the technology itself".[20]

Here I disagree with the Laserdome, and would like to replace it with Fousquare or Gowalla which do not have to be used at one specific place but can be experienced at many. The most important parts are to look at explicit and implicit technologies and see how to blend the two together. To make real life feel like that experience one has inside the device and so on. To speed up and make easy the flow of everyday life.

The author finds that "the explicit role to have a bigger responsibility to be exciting and stimulating in itself than the implicit one, where it’s merely serves as a tool to achieve flow in real life and therefore should also be as transparent and unobtrusive as possible."

The best interfaces are invisible. They get out of the way and let people live their lives.

When designing, one should keep in mind for which of these two you are designing. Am I designing an artifact which should in itself be entertaining and aiding, or am I designing a tool which aids in a stimulating an already existing activity? Mixing up these two could have undesired consequences. Therefore designing a website to be challenging for a user to navigate is not a good idea*

In this case, a website that is an exciting game or piece of art, or contest -- something that invites excitement, offers reward, and inspires exploration, would be considered explicit, whereas a good website's traditional role - the role to which it is best suited - is that of an implicit one - something that is a tool to achieve flow in real-life activities. Entertainment websites do not fall under this category. Infotainment sites do.

"*As comment to using flow theory in web design I would like to add that there are two reasons why people browse the internet, for pleasure and entertainment or for performing a certain task. When performing a task, the website works as a tool and should be as efficient as possible, therefore the tools design shouldn’t have any added challenges to “entertain” a user. Just like when you’re in your garage to repair something, the tools don’t need to be designed in a challenging way to put you in flow, it’s the activity repairing that puts the user in flow, although an understanding of flow and the role of the artifact in flow activities should always be present when designing."[21]

Probably the best piece of the essay is the following paragraph, in which the types of interactions on the web are discussed:

"When browsing the web for leisure / pleasure, one can safely conclude that the four most popular activities on the web right now is probably file sharing, gaming, emailing, and instant messaging. Why people love these things is because they are flow activities. Writing an email put a person in flow, searching for movies and files to download is a flow activity, playing games where your abilities are challenged continuously is surely a flow activity and messaging / communicating interacting with other has always put us in flow. Nor here is it interesting and entertaining graphical interfaces of these application that put people in flow, it’s the activity in itself. The only thing a designer can do to help, is to make the application or website support these activities as well and trouble-free as possible. What does it mean when an artifact “support an activity as well and trouble free as possible”? Well always meant that it’s user-friendly, so all the hype about “flow in web-design” is just good old user friendliness."[22]
"Flow could although be considered to be designed into tools when the activity performed is boring and monotonous to increase chances of positive experiences and implicit flow. One could for instance design a timer onto a lawn mower to challenge a user or several users in cutting the lawn the fastest or dust-measurers on vacuums to see whom can vacuum the most dust at one time. These commonly perceived as boring activities would suddenly turn stimulating, and invite for flow experiences more effectively than acquiring a self vacuuming robot would".[23]

GPS and Flow

"In one way a GPS can be positive and from another flow perspective it can be negative, it’s all about how it’s applied. A GPS used as a tool of navigation in cars and boats can have a negative impact upon flow experiences of a navigator as none or minimal skills are demanded from the navigator, hence less chances to experiencing flow, while the same technology added to an outbound adventure as a tool for “Geocaching” (see www.geocaching.com ), a high tech treasure hunt, may increase flow experiences in an activity tremendously".[24]

Because no up-front skills are required of the user to use GPS , the rewards and benefits or capability to get into the flow when using GPS are not present. It is a convenience which takes away he challenge and rewards of navigation. Technically the risks of not defining a location are larger than the rewards of using the GPS, so even if the experience does not lend well to flow, it is a better alternative for many drivers.

"The objections I have towards projects like the RFID chef is that they’re a bit to task oriented, too detached from a bigger behavioral perspective. I find that hasty conclusions and naïve generalizations has been drawn to dive right into technicalities and complex technological gadgetry, any tech nerds’ wet dream."[25]

The idea of RFID chef is a game that adds complexity to cooking instead of letting the user slide into the flow is very similar to markets and tech developers simply adding "gamification "to apps as is the trend today. Without tying it at all into real life or providing incentives, this process of adding complexity and unnecessary design on top of the purpose of the process is what Foursquare c-founder Dennis Crowley called "cargo cult technology" where a process was simply placed on top of an existing process - -just for show. In other words, integrated into a technology without understanding how the tat game words.

“RFID Chef” and is a “prototype application in the household domain that is used to experiment with various technical and methodological aspects in ubiquitous computing. It uses radio frequency identification (RFID) technology to connect real-world artifacts, like groceries, to a digital representation".[26]

"RFID chef is basically a computer which calculates what kind of recipes you can cook from a selection of groceries that you put on a counter in your kitchen".[27]

"I find a lot of projects in interaction design to be McDonalds solutions to a perceived problem. The technology not being good for the “users” in many cases, it might pacify, make us bored, isolate us and getting us further away from our natural balanced selves and diminish our flow experiences in our daily lives."[28]
"Humanity has undoubtedly produced great technological solutions to many problems in our daily life, insinuating anything else would be preposterous, although we wouldn’t loose so much time and produce as much junk in coming up with very helpful artifacts for people if more attention was put upon more deeply investigating the “technological cures” that we so hastily throw at them. We might even save peoples time by not misleading them into believing that there’s always a technology for any difficulty in life".[29]

2.12.1 Our Lives Seen as Jobs

Another problem that the RFID chef so beautifully portrays is seeing our lives from an efficiency perspective, very much like the tennis rackets. This is what the developers of RFID-chef say about their project, and how they approach the “problem”. “Non-technical environment: In contrast to classical office environments where people have long since accepted the presence of technology, a kitchen is a social space where so far manual labor has played a dominant role. In order to be accepted, technology needs to be combined with tangible interfaces [ 7 ] such as knives, pots and pans, or counter tops.” [30]

"The reason why technology has penetrated the office environment, or “space” as we interaction designers so fashionably would put it, is that the office is a place for work, not pleasurable spare time, while the kitchen still often is. You want to be as efficient as possible at a place where you have mostly negative experiences and monotonous work tasks, to basically get the job done. You want to get whatever you are doing out of the way. That is not really how most people perceive the kitchen and cooking, and shouldn’t according to me. People worldwide see cooking as a great source for flow experiences and pleasurable spare time, that’s why automating technology hasn’t penetrated the kitchen as much as the office. A lot of people just don’t want the whole cooking and eating experience “out of the way”, sometimes they do, but surely not always as all Jamie Oliver apprentices across the western world show us. Too much atomizing technology would basically spoil the fun and get in the way of their flow experiences. Plenty of people would probably disagree with me as they probably see the kitchen as a place where one doesn’t spend more time than necessary, to return to ones counterstrike computer game or football game on TV, but for the rest of humanity, cooking isn’t always seen as something negative".
Cooking is a rich source of flow experiences as we see when comparing to some of the requisites of flow. Cooking is an excellent source for flow because it has clear goals and rules upon which to act. Find the right recipes, something that you and others can appreciate, finding the freshest ingredients at your local market or grocery store for the right price. Cook something that doesn’t look like a disaster that people hopefully appreciate to put in their mouth and swallow. Well, as you cook you can smell and taste how you are performing, and usually as people start to eat you’ll get all the feedback you need to draw conclusions upon your cooking skills and your performance. Cooking also encourages concentration, lots of it, especially if you don’t like to loose your pinkie in the salad or put fire to the kitchen. It’s also a challenge that takes skills to master that a person can improve upon, which explains people glued to the television when the naked chef is on and all those exotic cooking classes given to people of all ages. Why do you think people buy cook books like mad, because they want to get cooking “out of the way”? Do people buy books about what they are doing at the office every day and enthusiastically read them on their spare time? Some might, but I have to be a bit subjective and claim that most people don’t. People have always wanted to use their skills and feel good about them and are going to continue doing so. We as interaction designers can choose to hinder or support this phenomenon".[31]

But tech has hit the kitchen in the form of stoves and microwaves, blenders and fppod processors, timers and utensils, its just not as computerized as an office because ppk often dot make money from their home cooking. The cookbook example is very valid, though.

"How do you understand what a good experience is, and how do you design for such? Moses meant that humor is an important tool to use as you design new objects. The designer has to imagine how much fun it is to use an object and design according to that".[32]
"The artifact will probably change behaviors and the surroundings in many ways, and it’s up to the designer to take these into account".[33]
"Silvia asked herself the question, why do we design for stereotypes like men in their twenties, women with children etc? Why don’t we design for depressed people, bored people etc? Basically changing or including categorization of users to include a broader spectrum of possible users."[34]
"Silvia said that fixed design solutions shouldn’t be the goal of a designer. “Instead of offering a fixed solution, leave the space open”. Users should be given the opportunity to personalize the artifact and not be forced to a certain form of usage. She meant that the user should work as a form of co-designer, whom should be participating in the design of the usage of an object".[35]
"An example of a system with this kind philosophy is Lego’s “bricks” where the user is participating in the design of the usage. The reason for the user to work as a co-designer when it comes to the usage is because without this openness for ways of usage the interaction will be boring and uninspiring usage and users. Silvia’s view upon technology in general was one where the technology in itself shouldn’t be in focus. It should rather serve, inspire and support real life activities."[36]

Another example today would be Twitter. By not designing it for a specific use, people have found ways to use it for all sorts of interactions, types of people and methods of communication.

"An important issue to consider when it comes to the design of an entertaining interaction was according to Silvia to keep users motivated. She claimed that the best way to make sure of this was by observing users. The best way is to observe and to really try to understand how the user confront and interact with the system. Interviews are less effective in this case because of the users not knowing what they find lacking or what kind of experience they want. Ethnographic tools are therefore very important. Users should be involved in the design as we are trying to understand what motivates them."[37]

According to Silvia, it’s important to ask oneself the question; when do we have fun, when are we entertained? Silvia concluded one of these answers to be when something unexpected occurs. An example of such occurrence could be John Maida’s investigations at airports where he has observed a majority of users responding in a positive way to deliberate error messages on the check in monitors. In such case a very dysfunctional piece of software could be quite inspiring."[38]

I think it may be because such large systems always seem so perfect and profitable that we laugh and they become human when we see their flaws. Seeing systemic flaws brings them down to Earth. It means that even though everything is so isolated and modern and computerized that somewhere, somehow, there is a human behind something. Seeing an error message on an airplane departure screen lets us know that and makes us laugh in a shared understanding that computers don't rule the world.

Sometimes when systems apologize to the user for failing, it is also okay. To know that everything is not omnipotent or knows everything, or can always do everything. Star Wars was approachable for it's flaws. Spaceships had dirt. Planets had real people, and characters, robot and human alike, had character flaws. Because of this, it was possible for viewers to identify with machines and humans, as well as a fictional future that seemed so much like their own reality.

The people don’t want to know the tool, just reach their goal [..] there are some goals that people have in terms of having something that is very satisfying to use and that satisfaction is not specifically the goal they are trying to achieve but one of the things that helps them achieve it in a way that make them happy”.[39]

"The advantage one gets by using a service is related to the obstacles of using it. If using a service or artifact is to complex or strenuous compared to what you get out of it, the user soon loses interest and motivation to use it".[40]
"I think you always design with some idea in mind of how it would be in society. How it really is then, is another thing".[41]
"A good example of this is according to Keith, SMS that initially just worked as a communication tool for telephone-mast assembly and repairmen. SMS was later on adopted by the broad public as a tool of communication".[42]

An amusing aside on patronizing technology and underestimating users in the following scenario from the author's interview with Keith:

"Keith’s fundamental attitude concerning interaction design was: ” I design it for my self and if you’re lucky you like it to.” and he believed that today’s “smart technology”, has a patronizing relationship to most users, which in turn make the user feel unintelligent. He meant that;” Why don’t we use the intelligence of the people and make the robot stupid? Then people will be happy to use their own intelligence.” Much like one project of his where they’d try to the “smart-tech-thinking” upside down by creating a robot that couldn’t take care of him self, in much need of users to manage him. This robot was a camera-robot without any mobile qualities. It could nevertheless speak and interact with users by asking users to accompanying him in performing various tasks. The user suddenly became a central part in the scenario and had to invest a part of his own intelligence to help the robot in carrying out whatever he’s designed for."[43]

Makelberge relates the requisites defined by Csíkszentmihályi for flow experiences:

Requisites for flow experiences:

  • Clear goals
  • Unambiguous and immediate feedback
  • Skills that just match challenges
  • Merging of action and awareness
  • Centering of attention on a limited stimulus field
  • A sense of potential control
  • A loss of self consciousness
  • An altered sense of timeAn “auto telic” experience.
"Many seem to prefer that you either drink or you don’t, that you either go shopping at the mall every weekend or you don’t shop at all. I personally think it’s better to do something than nothing at all. And that it’s better to try to make this world a better place than not trying at all".[44]

"Once again the discussion comes down to if there is just enough employment of technology in ones life, not if technology in itself is bad or good. Elderly people growing up with less timesaving technology often choose not to use a technology, doing things the old-fashioned way because they don’t always see the daily chores as obvious negative element of their lives, they might even enjoy them."[45]

Here I might add that they also know processes for doing them in a way that their grandchildren might not have known, as they often grew up with some semblance of automation and much busier parents. Children have a better mapping of their psychological and even physical selves to the concept of an extended self, and thus find that a place to go to first before going to analog spaces. Without this mapping, the act of sitting in front of a machine in and of itself quite imprisoning when one's physiological stimulus has not been tied to a machine. It is more difficult to experience flow in the virtual space when one's physiological state is still attached to the physical embodiment of doing tasks and experiencing them.

Just as their grandparents and parents found doing physical activities were primary and learned to play in physical spaces such as backyards, climbing trees, getting hurt and going to playgrounds, children's parents may sue schools over kids getting hurt in the physical world, and crime rates and physical play is restricted to small suburban backyards. It is no wonder that the vastness of the digital backyard is a far more freeing place for children to explore, testing their wits, how far they can go, competing with others their age and learning to express themselves virtually, growing into their psychological and physical selves through how the portray themselves virtually. For them, physical and virtual are one in the same.

"To relate this to interaction design one could argue that if designers in the community really want to help people to save time they should make people enjoy and appreciate their activities and not constantly take activities away from them or reduce them. A lot of the projects I observe within interaction design don’t help you enjoy or appreciate elements in your life, they take them from you to save you time".[46]
"Another way to perceive and approach computing, and for this technology to venture into is what I call “computing for self-actualization”.[47]
"Humans have a great variety of needs, like explained by Maslow, and it’s time to let technology respond to the greater spectrum of these needs, not only our need of physical comfort. On of these new ways in which computer technology and HCI artifacts may wonder into in a present future could be what I call computing for self-actualization".[48]

But the key is not to make people subscribe or pay for these needs, as most do. In the beginning, humans found and swept out their own caves, figured out a language , made their own spaces and killed their own animals. In doing so, they owned their own shelter, their own sustenance, and even their own communities If they did this well, they were able to reach self-actualization.

Chris Messina gave a speech at Open Source Bridge in Portland 2009 where he talked about subscribing to each element of Maslow's heirarchy.

Today, we rent a house that we will never own a home even if we mortgage it, and subscribe to a food service buy going ever 1-2 weeks to a local grocery store. If we are lucky we live in a place owned by our family and near a marketplace. Now we don't even have identity because we subscribe to a employed self. This could go on and on.

"Our inventions have already succeeded in satisfying our most basic needs and by adding more comfort technology, upon more, doesn’t necessarily mean that our happiness multiplies, just like Epicurus concluded. It might even be that we are making our lives poorer and ourselves unhappier in the process as we get less experiences out of life".[49]
“For most people on earth, their goals in life are quite simple: to survive, to raise kids who’ll also survive and if possible do it all with a contentment and pride [..] But as soon as these fundamental questions of survival are no longer an issue, it’s not enough that people have food and some place to live to feel content and happy. New needs arise, new desires appear..Despite the evidence that most people are trapped in this spiral of increasing expectations, there’s some who have managed to get out."[50]
"Despite the evidence that most people are trapped in this spiral of increasing expectations," he goes on to write "there’s some who have managed to get out. Those are the ones who independent of their material predisposition have managed to increase their quality of life and satisfaction. Those individuals live very vivid lives, are open to different kinds of experiences, continue to learn new things until the day they die and have strong bonds to that unite them with other people and their surroundings. They appreciate everything they do even if it’s bothersome or difficult; they are seldom bored and take life as it comes. Maybe their biggest strength is that they have control over their lives“.[51]
"I believe in many cases that people who’ll acquire technological artifacts to get their lives more comfortable will be more disoriented when it comes to self-actualization than the people who won’t, and for those people we have to be extra clear in our design rhetoric. We all know examples of miserable people who’ll mindlessly shop to wallow themselves with all kinds of modern gadgetry, not because they need to, because they’re dissatisfied with their life. Therefore as we use the full force of our design rhetoric to convince people that our product will help them, we should make sure that our artifacts unambiguously illustrate the extent of its use."[52]
“You get a 30 day money back guarantee if this product fails to improve you quality of life within this time period”.[53]
"Interaction design is about creating or modifying behaviors. Designers and technology developers persuade users with design rhetoric to change their current behavior into what they find a better one, hopefully also what the user find a better one. But is there enough emphasis put on assuring that new behaviors being superior to old ones in interaction design today? I say that there’s not. What I find lacking is a deeper and more profound design process where sociological, psychological aspects are taken into account; to if not guarantee but increase the possible positive affects in users lives, to guarantee that what we develop is truly functional for the users."[54]
"Functionality is generally considered to be a trait that is good, positive, and good for humanity. The interesting thing is that we can turn guns, systems for missile launching, shots for narcotics, waste station systems, dustbins, a shopping mall parking; user friendly. It doesn’t intrinsically mean that we are making the world a better place. Sometimes I get the feeling that designers are more focused on the functionality of what they are designing than on why they are designing".[55]
"The interesting thing about industries and commercial areas is that people seldom see the problem of the dysfunctional system; they see the problem of one of the size of the roads. Just like they see their body as the problem when they get a headache, not the system (lifestyle) or surroundings that they live in. If they saw the system as a problem, they would relax, change stressful situations in their life and so on, but instead a majority pops an aspirin and continues their lifestyle. If they wouldn’t, there would of course be no market what so ever for aspirins".[56]

Time and Space

"In much the same way there’s a big demand for internet messengers today as we are getting distanced from each other, a need that probably wasn’t as great in lower-tech societies where people had more face to face, normal communication, and often lived and worked closer to friends and family".[57]

We subscribe to these technologies because of our distance because of mechanized society, because of the spearing out that the industrial revolution allowed us to be. Instead of watching TV one way, we communicate with each other. The information wave stitches back together the reality and geography that the industry revolution speed out.

We use technology to reconnect and stitch ourselves back together to the village level, to supersede geography, bend time and space so that it seems like we are as close to each other as in the same room. We tele-operate our personalities to other's phones and screens and minds form far away.

Dump out the contacts in anyone's phone and you will find their village. It's just not near to them in physical space. We pay to subscribe to our villages by a monthly fee. We pay to create and express our totems and identity through mechanical objects that carry a human image or voice. We pay for service that serves that human essence at a higher resolution at a faster way and more at a time so that we can deal with all of the industrialized spaces that have no humanity and nothing in them. The airports, the shopping lines and highways, the decaying city streets and suburbs.

The box stores were we go to be with others we do not know and check out at registers who are human service agents. No wonder so many choose to shop online.

"Highways, hours in traffic, fluency of labor and industries may be functional from an economic and productivity perspective, maybe not from a human".[58]

Anthropologist Marc Auge calls these places Non-spaces.

If, as the author writes, "the thoughts surrounding experiences similar to flow experiences are becoming more and more common in interaction design and computer technology field"[59] then people will increasingly go into spaces of technology as an scape from these non-spaces. Already, these technologies provide places.


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