• PComp HW Wk 2 - Observations

    Observation. Pick a piece of interactive technology in public, used by multiple people. Write down your assumptions as to how it's used, and describe the context in which it's being used. Watch people use it, preferably without them knowing they're being observed. Take notes on how they use it, what they do differently, what appear to be the difficulties, what appear to be the easiest parts. Record what takes the longest, what takes the least amount of time, and how long the whole transaction takes. Consider how the readings from Norman and Crawford reflect on what you see.



    The Elevator is an often overlooked interactive technology, that many people engage every day. Forget the ones with flatscreens peddling news. Forget the Hearst Building elevator that only takes you to the floor you’ve requested at the front desk, sorting passengers into different cars based on destination, keeping it energy efficient.

    The majority of elevators today have a couple of traits in common. They have buttons for the floor you want to go to. They have a stop button. They have an emergency call button or phone. They have a door “open button” and a “door close” button. And they have a motion sensor at the doorway to stop the doors from closing if they are obstructed.

    The motion sensor is the most expected interactive technology. It responds, essentially like a button, to an interruption. But it has two movements: the abrupt jolt and the smoother recession. And it wants to close. And takes nearly every opportunity to do so. It is also preset to make choices. No, that’s not correct. It is set with fixed zones where human interruption would likely occur: mid-calf and chest height. But it will respond each time you cross the plane.

    The buttons all have some low level interactivity in that they wait for human interaction and then respond. But this kind of passive dynamic is sort of what Crawford rejects as being not a full or robust conversation between actors. That being said, if you pull from what Jonathan Lethem said about the Surrealists and Heidegger “revealing the ‘thingness’ of objects,” it is easier to accept that we silently anthropomorphize the elevator as a thinking service provider. When it is fast, we’re thankful. When it is slow, we blame it as if it is responsible.

    But most importantly, we are complicit in our use of the door open/close buttons. In this way, the technology is the conduit for the conversation between other passengers and me. When I offer to hold the door for someone, pressing the button is similar to instructing a party guest to hold the door open for another guest who is right behind him. And in the same way, when the elevator is full or we are late or some inconsiderate passenger is trying to stretch an existing conversation with someone outside the elevator, we don’t close the door by ourselves like a hinge door. The elevator and I close it on that person together. It’s a poetic fistbump of agreement toward an action.

    Question: I’ve heard that elevator “door close” buttons are set to respond slowly, basically at the same rate that an uninterrupted elevator door would close on its own. This is a safety precaution and also protects the door from some margin of human abuse. If this is the case, what is the interactive relationship between an actor that thinks the conversation is advancing a result and the other actor “lying”?