Elizabeth Goodman always has these great meeting reports. This one is no exception. In this one, she makes an interesting comment that I haven’t been able to comfortably let rest, since it is an important thing to highlight when you are trying to integrate technology into someone’s natural behavior and the technology is getting in the way.
Elizabeth sees a false promise in ubicomp saying that technology will dissolve into the background. Yet, in her own counter argument (see my emphasis below) she has the answer – technology is in the background when we no longer see it as technology.
There is so much technology around us that we are not aware of (dissolved into the background). Likewise, there is so much technology that we are aware of. But, I don’t think awareness (or visibility) necessarily ruins the ‘magic’ of dissolving into the background. I can envision being aware to some extent of something technological, yet have that something be seamlessly dissolved into our background awareness, and hence be a part of our behavior.
I do believe that part of ubicomp will be a ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ (to steal a phrase from literature) in order to permit the ‘magic’ of invisible ubicomp.
I think this ties into the background-foreground discussion. When the technology interrupts and comes to the foreground, then it needs to be in a way that doesn’t disrupt our behavior or our ‘willing suspension of disbelief’. Then, one can say that something has integrated into our behavior.
Now, that would be something.
Ubicomp-the-conference and ubicomp-the-field are frustrating because they promise the impossible. The promise of computing technology dissolving into behavior, invisibly permeating the natural world around us cannot be reached. Technology is, of course, that which by definition is separate from the natural; it is explicitly designed that way. Technology only becomes truly invisible when, like the myriad of pens sold in Japan’s department stores, it’s no longer seen as technology at all [my emphasis]. Deliberately creating something ‘invisible’ is self-defeating. I can think of few recent technologies as visible to the public as RFID, no matter how physically ‘invisible’ it might be.
Sigh. I’ve been an ubicomp observer for a very long time. I can remember
talking about it and wanting the ubicomp.org domain name for a portal
back in 1998 (the hey-days of portals – if I knew better, I would have
just started a blog). In any case, being aware of ubicomp* philosophy
I’ve been able to look for signs of it in everything I see and do and
*Also known as pervasive computing, but that sounds too much like perversive computing.