As an interaction designer, I realized how much our current design disciplines focus on the formal and functional aspects of objects. During "work time," objects are expected to work safely, consider ergonomics, embody appropriate haptics, and be effective. Because of this, we have high expectations towards these objects and are impatient when they do not work. From this insight, initial inquiry asked "why can't we accept imperfection of electronic objects?" Becoming more convinced that electronic objects are allowed to expose behaviors and personalities during their "freetime," I came to the conclusion that we could shift the master-servant relationship we have with our objects to a more meaningful one.
Through research, experiments, and various discourse with the people around me, I was able to identify some restrictions, methodologies, inspirations. I developed more questions based on the initial inquiries:
• Can we bond with technology without making machines easier, powerful, or attractive?
• Can the blur between "work" and "play" be applied to technology as an interesting analogy?
• How smart have electronic objects become?
• Can imperfections in technology be seen as unique affordances, giving more meaning to different objects in different situations, to different people?
• Furthermore, would we be able to feel connected to machines and be able to extend the shelf-lives of objects despite consumerism?
Feel free to trace my thesis journey on my Thesis Blog: http://blog.haemiyoon.com/
Sub-fields of experience design, haptic feedback, ergonomics, and usability to name a few, all look at how we interact with objects when we are giving them full attention. I'm interested in the fact that we could still be interacting with technology in our absence—"interaction" in the sense that technology can do something that may impact us in a meaningful way.
The idea of "idle time" being transformed to "free time" opens a several doors.
• What does it mean for objects to reach sentience? Could they feel bored? Would we have to entertain them?
• Can electronic objects be utilized as means of "leisure" during their "down time?"
• Can meaningful uses of "free time" change the way we use, perceive, or deal with objects?
• Can "behavior" and "interaction" become core criterions for object-oriented design fields as "form" and "function" are?
• Like pets, can our electronic objects reflect ourselves?
Only when we are able to enjoy the richness of material culture does a functional and expressive piece of technology come alive. Beyond giving electronic objects playful uses during their down time, I believe interaction designers can create an alternative relationship between the owner and the object through designed interactions and behaviors that could potentially create serendipitous experiences. I believe with the advancement in technology and the appearence of "smarter" objects, we as makers should speculate possible future scenarios and think about the consequences to our decisions.
Image caption: http://www.entrepreneurs-journey.com/
A lot of this project is based on a line of insights. From product design, I've identified that objects are developed with their formal and functional qualities—my thesis focuses on exposing and exaggerating behavioral qualities. What if we could sense discontent or excitement from objects? Would we be able to see them not as mere tools and appreciate their imperfection?
Another thing I was looking into was the one-size-fits-all electronics objects that are the major players in our technological advancement. I realized that unlike hammers and scissors, the function of laptops and touchpad-enabled cell phones are far harder to guess simply based on their forms if we had never seen it before. It became more of a mystery as to why we should confine ourselves and our activities in these little shiny boxes.
From here I adapt the idea of science fiction and imagine a world, approximately 50 years from now. I thought of a world where people grew up with highly "advanced" electronic objects since the date of birth. Surely people from that era would have attitudes towards electronic objects that differ from ours. What if electronic objects were not scary or luxurious anymore? What if people grew up playing with and treating electronic objects and natural objects the exact same way? Do they still see electronic objects as tools? Do they have the patience to enjoy the errors and quirks of electronic objects? Can they personify electronic objects the way we personify clouds and rocks? Do they treat electronic objects as if they were a new kingdom of life?
From this, I wrote a 2-page research report which became the premise for my thesis.
Image caption: image still from David Merrill's "Siftables" Demo @ TED
Now the big question at this point is "why should we shift the servant-owner relationship we have with our objects?" My answer is simple; because we are already doing that and it will only happen more with the advancement of technology. We already seek gadgets that fit our "styles" and "personalities." We already name our gadgets, older objects like cars more so, but it is happening with newer technology such as computers as well. We already seek companionship entertainment from machines. Don't we enjoy watching TV? watching TV on computers? watching TV on cellphones? Aren't we amused with Aibo's, Hexbugs, and Roombas?
This project is not interested in supporting the concept of singularity, but is focused on how people perceive objects in this world, especially those that are smart, aware, and moving. My thought is this. We are social animals—we enjoy companionship and being connected to other things in this world. In "Civilization and Its Discontents," Freud mentions the concept of "oceanic feeling," our desire to be connected to others. It is just natural that we personify, want, and empathize with immobile objects.
Image caption: Sony Rolly Conducts AIBO Performance (botjunkie.com)
There has been many advances in what we are able to do with technology, and many have created projects and objects utilizing them in efficient, interesting, and even controversial ways. The more I am exposed to recent developments, the more I seem to be witnessing not-so-smart or not-so-ethical use of high technology. People being captured in the virtual world, sushi-making machines that replace sushi masters and their craftsmanship, a USB-enabled flower which would dance when you get mail, computer characters you can develop emotional bonds with, mirrors with widgets you are supposed to stare at when you are shaving, and t-shirts that could let you feel hugs through actuators triggered by information sent over the internet... As more people are exposed to many forms of technology and are becoming familiar with them, it seems like it's about time we thought about the consequences of our inventions before we just made things just because we can. It is about time we stopped focusing on how efficient or how human-like we can make things, and thought about how we can evolve machines while preserving the natural "machine-ness" of electronic objects around us. As Norman Klein says it, we should take a break and slow down our vision. What's working? What's not? Why? What are we trying to achieve? What makes our lives easier? more interesting? What happens when there is too much ease in different tasks? or interest in one world?
Image caption: "The Uncanny Valley " by Masahiro Mori,
"Funktionide" by Stefan Ulrich : http://vimeo.com/5509560