[iDC] how long is a piece of string?

Mark Shepard mshepard at andinc.org
Sun Nov 4 04:14:01 UTC 2007


You write:

> fields such as sociology are better able to explain situated human  
> to human interaction. In fact ethnographic and anthropological  
> studies (such as those of Suchman, Eric Laurier and Barry Brown's  
> work) seem to be able to reveal some of the features and structures  
> of such exchanges in a much more useful and contextual way. Can  
> cybernetics and its related approaches really offer ways of dealing  
> and designing for everyday socio-spatial practices?

If we're interested in understanding h2h interaction, then of course,  
let's look to the fields of sociology, social psychology,  
ethnography. We'd need to ask: are we dealing with the "sociology of  
the social" or the "sociology of associations" (Latour) - my sense  
from your previous posts is that you are suggesting the latter:

> how the social/material specificities they describe are assembled  
> together to comprise our everyday experience'

But still, if we're also going to ask how technology may (or may not)  
play a role in all this, sociology alone is not enough. As you know,  
I find Suchman in this regard inspiring, and when you say:

> She found that there was no such thing as an 'easy-to-use' machine,  
> there was always some degree of learning required

I'm reminded of Pask's theories on "mutualist" learning environments,  
where both human and machine engage in a conversation where each  
"learns" about the others habits, predisposition, idiosyncrasies.

> If we think about how space it seems to me it is one of the worst  
> victims of our need to structure and categorise experience. It is  
> caught in a homogenous straightjacket of definitions and rigid  
> infrastructures: Lat/Long, North/South/East/West, maps, addresses,  
> post codes etc. This can be contrasted against Varela's concept of  
> enaction, which Brian introduced, which allows for the co-creation  
> of observer and observed through the construction of their  
> relation. In our everyday life we experience space as enacted- it  
> does not exist a priori in some form of contained and constrained  
> structure.

Yeah, sure. It's a dilemma of our contemporary condition. Where *am*  
I exactly, damnit? And simply knowing my coordinates, or my location  
on a map, doesn't really give me the answer I'm looking for.  Why we  
look to technology for these answers, beyond the merely pragmatic  
need of finding our way to a destination (goal) via GoogleMaps, for  
instance, continues to perplex me.

But of course the idea that space is something that is, at least in  
part, enacted or produced through everyday practices is something  
addressed by many over the past half-century (at least) - Lefebvre's  
spatial triad, DeCerteau's spatial practices, etc, etc, are endlessly  
cited in this regard. More recently Dourish has picked up this thread  
(and even throws Heideggar in the mix!).

> So it's not as simple as a case of a satnav that gets me lost  
> because there is an error in the systems translation of  
> information, but a satnav that can cope with ambiguity

Only if we still want to keep thinking of technology as our humble,  
faithful servant: as something that optimizes, reduces error, copes  
with ambiguity, etc. (and in the process, optimizes and reduces "us",  
we who are perennially prone to "error"). Tony Dunne has written on  
the "post-optimal" electronic object, saying that we have already  
achieved a sufficient degree of optimization and efficiency in  
product design, for example. Optimization and efficiency aren't that  
hard to achieve today. Maybe that's part of why we expect a similar  
level of exactitude in our sense of space now. So maybe its less  
about imagining technologies that don't so much "cope" with  
ambiguity, but "produce" it? What happens when our technologies get  
bored with us?

Sometimes "errors" are more productive than we may think.


More information about the iDC mailing list