Lecture Liveblog: 10-11-07

We are always already on philosophical foundations and deploying those philosophical systems in our systems and interactions.

Philosophical foundations determine the limits of what can be done.

  • Hierarchical menu structures assumes that the world is hierarchically structured and relationships can be reduced to a static mapping.
    • Produces interfaces like Windows Explorer.
    • Breakdowns like “was this research in the HCI or sociology folder?”
  • Intelligence is a logical manipulation of symbols.
    • Creates room for expert systems and artificial intelligence.
    • Breakdowns on tacit knowledge, embodied action and everyday experience.
  • Intelligence is embodied, situated, contextual and ecological.
    • Studying real users in real situations.
    • Breakdowns on generalizations, modeling and predictions.

The purpose of understanding different theories is to deconstruct the things you know and assumptions you make to help open up new avenues of thought.

Jeff’s favorite bed time story is “The Phantom Toll Booth.” He reads it regularly.

Activity Theory

Foundation of activity theory.

  • Unity of consciousness and activity. When you are doing something, you have a goal or a purpose.
  • Social nature of the human mind.

What is an activity? (Activity is the unit of analysis for activity theory.)

  • A goal oriented action engaged by a person.
  • Actions (present-to-hand?)
    • Conscious mini-goals
  • Operations (ready-to-hand?)
    • Unconscious, unrecognized stuff

Activities support and depend upon disturbances (breakdowns).

  • Strategy as a designer using activity theory is to look for breakdowns.

Activities are mediated. Tools are not just neutral things used to achieve a goal. Tools shape the activity and therefore shape your thinking.  Tools transform the activity and reciprocally activity transforms the tool.

Activities happen in social contexts.

  • Communities
  • Roles
  • Distribution of Labor

What does activity theory claim to do? Where is its value? What are the limits?

  •  Helps designers understand how design can help people with their goals.
  • Excellent at analyzing embodied and situated activity, but does not offer a model of human activity.
  • It is an epistemological act that aids understanding of activity, but does not make an ontological claim of activity.

Blog Fodder

What does activity theory expose as the limits of earlier ways of thinking about problems?

What philosophical functions replaces which other (earlier) philosophical functions?

  • Phenomenology replaced Cartesian mind-body dualism.

How did AT overcome those limits?

What new limits are introduced by AT?

How could we overcome them (by adjusting our philosophical foundations)?

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