Dourish, P. (2004) Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. Chapter 3. Social Computing. pp 55-97.

The third chapter of the book focuses on the second basis for embodied interaction approach/paradigm, i.e. social computing. By social computing Dourish means “the application of sociological understanding to the design of interactive systems”. Sociology is a broad field. Thus Dourish focuses on the growing trend of sociologists and technologists working together in the design process. The thinking is based on the idea that every human-computer interaction is in the end a social activity (if nothing else, then a communicative activity where the designer communicates the usage possibilities to the user).

The chapter covers briefly the history of ethnography and anthropology and ends up with a basic premise of user research in the field; more traditional approaches such as usability studies and functional specifications are disconnected from the lived detail of the work and ethnographic studies can be used to produce requirements for system design and to provide a broader view of the relationships between technology and work.

Dourish seems to be a supported of ethnomethodology and based on its ideas defines a new term: technomethodology. Technomethodology’s idea is to see people’s activities as moment-to-moment, improvisational responses to practical problems. In addition the goal is to create new knowledge relating to basic principles around which software systems are developed instead of just specific systems and specific settings. From the technomethodology’s perspective accountability and abstractions are in central role when analyzing and developing software systems. By accountability Dourish means understandable but also notices that the actions of acting and perceiving are in a way the same. In interaction or user interface design this means that the system should tell what it is doing in a way that the account (description) emerges along with the action and describes the current, specific behavior of the system in stead of some generalization of it. In addition to accountability and abstraction, Dourish calls for focusing on place rather than space in design. The shift from space to place means focusing on activities rather than environmental characteristics and understanding that practices are always related to communities.

In summary the chapter argues that social activity is embedded (and human-computer interaction is social activity) and that in developing new technologies, the key question is to understand how the relationship between technology and social action happens in different situations and how the designs and features of everyday social settings are related.

The previous posts are here: chapter 1, chapter 2.