Saturday, October 15, 2005

Touching research

Timo Arnall has a new blog for his Touch research project on user-centred approaches to Near Field Communication (NFC) at the Interaction Design department at the Oslo School of Architecture and Design.

"NFC is interesting for us because it enables connections between mobile phones and real-world objects: bridging the gap between the real and the virtual. The project offers the possibility of radically simplifying existing applications and providing a new spectrum of local services through the mobile phone...Touch is not a pure technology project; NFC platforms and specifications are already well developed and documented. Instead we are taking a user-centred approach, and focusing on the social motivations behind the use of technology. With this process it will hopefully uncover unexpected uses, and significant untapped markets for the technology."


As I get a glimpse of the potential from my dissertation project, I can't wait to do more in-depth studies of researchers and designers. With each project description I read, I find myself doing quick-and-dirty deconstructions. For example, in Timo's above there is an assumption that mobile phones are different from "real-world objects", that there is a "gap between the real and the virtual", and that "use" and "services" can be profitably abstracted from "pure technology". (And that doesn't even begin to unravel the cultural connotations of "touch" itself.)

But it's also been my experience that researchers often over- or under-state their position in project descriptions. Since these descriptions often have the purpose of securing and maintaining support, they act as a sort of product sales pitch that is necessarily pithy but not entirely representative of the process at hand. In any case, this tension between product and process in research and design is quite interesting, and especially so when considered in its material, political and ethical forms.

For Design Engaged next month I'll be doing a show-and-tell activity through the lens of critical material culture studies and Latour's 'Parliament of Things'. This comes out of my recent experiments in bringing my background in archaeology to bear on questions around emerging technologies, and I take some inspiration from Timothy Webmoor's interesting research on social software, science studies and mediating archaeology.

See also:

Making Things Public. Atmospheres of Democracy.

Jane Bennett, In Parliament with Things (pdf)

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