Week 1: "Interaction"

Sept 11, 2018

While reading through Chapter 1 of The Art of Interactive Design by Chris Crawford, I kept trying to think about how I would answer the question, "is the light switch interactive?", which came up in class last week. Sure, my instinct wanted to say "no". When I thought about it in class, I had thought that the process of turning on the light by flipping up the switch was something that I would rather call a REaction rather than an INTERaction.

Crawford lays out the components that make up an interaction:

  1. Two actors
  2. Peforming an iterative process of:
    • Listening ( = input)
    • Thinking ( = process)
    • Speaking ( = output)

And in this sense, I guess we could say that there are two actors during the process of turning on the light using a light switch: the person turning on the light switch and the light switch. I'm slightly hesitant to say that the light switch is an "actor", because I'm not really sure to what capacity the light switch "acts", or whether if it is compatible to the capacity of which humans act. Letting that aside, for me, the biggest reason why this action is not an INTERaction is that

  1. There is no iterative process as it is a one time action --> reaction
  2. There is no thinking / process involved

In other words, an interaction between two actors is a relationship where input generates constant feedback that reflects in changes in outcome.

As I was reading through the second chapter of Crawford's book, I couldn't help notice that the technologies that Crawford was referring to were somewhat outdated. The book was published 15 years ago, and this, in "tech" time, feels like eons of time. The part where it struck me the most was when Crawford talks about performance art. Crawford states that the smaller the audience size, the higher level of interactivity can be achieved. The relative term "smaller" when Crawford wrote this statement is probably different from the scale that I am thinking of. Sure I think it is still difficult to create a performance with high level of interaction, but it is not impossible to achieve. The fact that everyone now carries around a small computer in their pockets (and frankly are afraid of separating from it), provides another opportunity for artists / interaction designers to increase their scale of projects to create an interactive work of bigger scale.

But then, the level of interactivity that one can achieve through a mobile device is questioned.. Bret Victor, in his web essay(?) "A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design", urges people to "be inspired by the untapped potential of human capabilities", and to not just build upon what is already out there. He specifically talks about the capabilities of human hands, and how they are designed for more than the actions that we are so accustomed to performing when using our mobile devices. He also references to researches that are being done on interaction platforms that are not merely to view images under the glass. The research / development that caught my most attention was the one on dynamically changeable physical buttons by Chris Harrison.

Without understanding any of the technical aspects behind the workings of this interface, if something like this were to be created on a bigger scale, it would achieve much much higher degree of interaction. I am imagining a TV screen, only that it's not a "screen", or a sheet of glass, but rather, it is a transformative "button" like screen that viewers / users can interact with visually and tactilely (not just swiping and touching).