pComp – Week 1 – What is interaction?

Interaction must involve at least two participants who partake in a variety of sub-actions that can be passive or assertive and determine the quality of the interaction itself.

Crawford suggests we do not know what interactivity is by showing us an image of kids playing on an “interactive” children’s rug. A rug that you place toy cars on to play with. But this isn’t the true definition of interactive. The rug doesn’t play on it’s own and doesn’t do anything but lie on the floor. He also give us two more examples of the incorrect usage of the word.

Image from book

He goes on to plainly define interaction as “a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.” (source) But that is not to say that you are interacting with a closet by opening the door and the light turning on inside. The closet light turning on is not an interactive action. Crawford uses a similar analogy – the “Nintendo refrigerator.” It is argued that the fridge, just like the closet, is just a reaction.

But the fridge does, in a sense, interact with us but only at a low level. There are many degrees to interactivity and they depend on the quality of three subtasks: listening, thinking, and speaking. All of which require the same things: to have a good conversation, both or all parties must be participating intellectually in an approachable way and paying attention. So to have a successful interaction, you must obtain all three of these attributes.

I have to say that I disagree with Crawford when he suggests plays are extremely low on the interactive scale. Immersive theater today has shown that audience participation is key and crucial to the execution of the plays’ endeavor. While certain experiences have the audience simply view the performance while on the same stage as the actors, more complex staging requires the audience members to use their free will to employ actions like responding to the actors’ questions and using props to demonstrate their response to certain actions. Crawford does go on to say he believes interactivity is greater than any other form of human expression which leads me to believe he would appreciate some of the immersive theater that exists today. I think he may have been speaking of theater in the same way he was implying that movies are non-interactive.

To apply Crawford’s definition of interactivity to computer science, we have to optimize the user experience to ensure the user will communicate effectively with the given interface. An interactivity designer will hopefully consider the embodied software as a function and the interface as a form, creating a complete form with the combination of both. A user interface designer, however, will focus on the interface itself – being more attuned to the mathematic and scientific side to the infrastructure. The most important thing to understand from this is that user interface design has existed for as long as computers have, but that is not to say that the interactivity of these machines allowed the user to communicate effectively solely based upon that design. Interactivity design is key to bridging the gap between, for example, a computer that is capable of the hardest computational skills but does not create a friendly basis for communication with the user.

In the “Vision Of The Future” video, you can clearly see where interactivity design comes into play. Every swipe action the user partakes in has a direct effect on what happens within the interface. The augmented images that jump out from the screen allows the user to interact with the functionality of the program. There is a conversation between the user and the devices that people connect with and the nature of the connection is similar to a conversation that would occur between two humans. Although, there are certain actions that the user employs in this video that initiates a response similar to that of the “Nintendo fridge” in that the response is really just a basic computational function that is devoid portraying any complex human intellectual capability. And so, a truly interactive device would have to give us the same qualities and sensational results that an interaction with a human being would, both physical and emotional.