What is interaction?

Notes on the first class can be found here

(The Art of) Interactive Design and the physical world

We had to read chapters 1 & 2 from Crawford’s he Art of Interactive Design. As much as I like the approach (even if a bit ), one of my main disagreements comes with the core advantage of computers. Crawford states that interactivity is the main element of computation, it is what ignited the computer revolution. I think that the core of computing is tautological, it is computing power itself. The revolution that computers brought is the amazing capability of analyzing enormous amounts of data in a ridiculously small amount of time.

“The revolutionary new element was interactivity”, not so much. This is what made the computer usable by different types of people, not only engineers or computer specialists. The explosion comes as a consequence of the continuous rise in computing power, and we naturally developed new interactions to be able to communicate with it. Every revolution, from that point onwards, is tied to the technological advancements from each year. Thanks to the computing power we have now, fingerprint and facial recognition are now possible. At the same time, we’re yet understanding how to do things, how to understand and program these new interactions, but that is enabled by computing power itself. Though, the point that I DO concede, is that a better interactive design makes tech blend better with everyday life. And in that sense it really does “expand” on life.

Following this last argument, the core of physical interaction should be the blending of technology into our life. More than 90% of out interactions with technology are mediated through a screen. We have forgotten that we have more ways of conveying information for the simplicity that screens provide us. Physical interaction should expand upon our world, transporting itself to the space where we live in, instead of having us approach a window (screen) to the digital world.

At the same time, with Bret Victor’s Rant on the Future of Interaction, we reflect on the fact that we still have to transcend the screen, make technology blend into our world. Screens and touch sensors are convenient, but forget basic things as our touch sensibilities and the tactile feedback we’re missing without physical devices. His vision on tools as an enhancer of human capabilities is what should define a good physical interaction.

Aside from that, most of what we use everyday is not interactive, it is merely reactive, and with increasingly good reaction times. You cannot debate with Google Maps or Waze. They give you some route choices, they can change the route if you make a mistake or decide to go another way but you never have a conversation with the app. And that’s just fine, it does what it is supposed to do. People use them in a simple manner. Of course, they could be perfected, but everything can always be perfected. We should just not add interaction for the sake of interaction itself. Interactivity is a tool that helps us achieve a goal, not a goal in itself.

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