Digital Ground and new media

Malcolm McCullough’s Digital Ground begins this way

How do you deal with yet another device? How does technology mediate your dealings with other people? When are such mediations welcome, and when are they just annoying? How do you feel about things that think, and spaces that sense? You don’t have to distrust technology to want it kept in its place.

The new field of interaction design explores these concerns. The more that interactive technology mediates everyday experience, the more it becomes subject matter for design. Like the electric light that you are probably using to read this book, the most significant technologies tend to disappear into daily life. Some work without our knowing about them, and some warrant our occasional monitoring. Some require tedious operation, and others invite more rewarding participation, as in games, sports, or crafts. These distinctions are degrees of interactivity.

McCullough’s writing is quick, direct, precise, and reminds me of the writing of Yi Fu Tuan, who I would imagine influenced the writer’s content and considerations of human geography and ecology. It’s a hard book to put down thus far. I’m hooked.

In the Fall New Media Perspectives course we talked a lot about “degrees of interactivity” as a general criteria to describe not just new media but buildings and books. But here’s something of a nice, tight flavor as it concerns “new media”

Software engineers think they know what they mean by design, and so do architects. When information technology becomes a part of the social infrastructure, it demands design considerations from a broad range of disciplines. Social, psychological, aesthetic, and functional factors all must play a role in the design. Appropriateness surpasses performance as the key to technological success. Appropriateness is almost always a matter of context. We understand our better contexts as places, and we understand better design for places as architecture (3).

This sounds exactly what we’ve been talking, writing, and teaching about in New Media Communication.

This one’s for John Timmons and Bill Kluba

The use of the term interaction design instead of interface represents a cultural advance in the field . . . Interaction designers claim to know at least partly what is wrong with information technology, and that overemphasis on technical features and interface mechanics has been a part of the problem. By turning attention to how technology accumulates locally to become an ambient and social medium, interaction design brings this work more closely into alignment with the concerns of architecture (19).