Are we attempting the impossible?

Well let me say first of all I have enjoyed reading all your posts this week and last week.  I don’t always have something meaningful to say (that doesn’t stop me a lot of the time, but I DO love how there has been some conversation going on) so I don’t always respond.

A recurring theme for me for many years, even before I began my trek back to grad school was the idea of a computer and/or technology as an enabler, and augmenter of the human condition.  I saw poorly designs in “productivity” software (if one could call it that),  and in entertainment applications.  I was frustrated.

On Tuesday and in some of the entries we have talked about a “Material without qualities.”  What is the material of our designs, the 1s and 0s, which are merely minute gates with only two settings?  Is it the chipsets and protocols, the OS, the BIOS, or rendering engines?  We talked about tools, and how what you can do with a particular tool will heavily influence the types of designs that you can implement, such as the example of Erik’s friend who made whole pieces of furniture/art with just two very rough tools.  Surely the same kinds of constraints exist and if one were to only use a low-power tool such as one that is available for free from YahooGeoCities or Googlepages then one would also have huge constraints, but that doesn’t mean that one couldn’t make something beautiful and useful with it.  But having incredible tools doesn’t mean we can make incredible things.

Back to my previous thought though, surely the way that people work and play can be made better, more pleasurable, more efficient (or inefficient depending on your aims), more productive, or more whatever right?  The medium of human thought and motion, namely our cognitive processes and “embodiedness” (and other more individual factors) surely also impose constraints what we can do.  Maybe I’m overreaching, but can we find a way to design with these kinds of things in mind?  Does MSOffice 2007 really reflect the way people work, or a good way for people to work?  Does a google calendar reflect the way people manage time?  Should a theory of interaction design, or the language of such include factors like these?

This reminds me of the question Marty was asking with the treachery of images, this is exactly the kind of constraint I’m talking about.  We see an image, and to our minds it is the object, not just an image.   How do we leverage these kinds of things in our design vis-à-vis the human condition and the tools at our disposal and the material we are working with?

I guess that’s why this whole thing is so slippery… we’re trying to pin down and make a theory about how we as humans do things, which tools/how to use those tools (and the tools are updated every 2-3 years), what the materials we are using really are even though they too are constantly wearing out, upgraded to new standards, and made with plenty of planned obsolescence in mind.  Maybe we are the medium as Christian seems to be saying, but even what we are today is not what we were last week from a knowledge, cellular, or experience point of view.

Are we attempting the impossible?

What do we hope to gain with these theories and our understanding of them and interaction culture?

Any ideas?


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