What are you reading?

XXV.6 November - December 2018
Page: 14
Digital Citation

What are you reading? Matt Jones

Matt Jones

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I love books. I have a stack by my bedside, a Kindle, and a subscription to Audible. I have the e-book and audiobook versions of some of my hard-copy books, but it is to this bedside pile and to the pleasure of the physical that I am drawn. For years in my own research I’ve thought about printed, bound books as a guiding design ideal for the sorts of laid-back, unobtrusive, quiet, and calm mobile devices and services that I think are important, and increasingly so.

Open a book and immediately you enter a world that engages your creativity and imagination, one that engenders a persistent, sustained experience that you physically become part of as you hold the book, feel its weight, bury your nose in it, and leaf through its pages. This is a very different sensation from the weightlessness of a digital experience, the poking or sliding of a finger on touchscreen glass that leaves me feeling like an outsider, face pressed up against the window, staring in at something other.


My unease at what digital technology is doing to the perception and practice of who we are as humans—our embodied nature—has been exacerbated by reading James Bridle’s New Dark Age: Technology and the End of the Future. In it, he warns of our overreliance on, and almost worship of, faulty world models running in the cloud, parallel to the real one on the ground.


Bridle gives sobering accounts of how this dependence can have serious practical implications when these models fail (and if you are into design-motivating cyber-apoca-lit, then a book I’m listening to by Bill Clinton and James Patterson, The President is Missing, will appeal). More profoundly, he asks us to wake up to the dangers of solutionism, which sees computing as a way of smoothing all trouble, removing all obstacles, tidying away the mess. The book is a call not to reject progress but rather to think hard about it. So, reconsidering the positive power of the digital cloud, with its promised clarity and certainty, he points us toward the 14th century’s Cloud of Unknowing, with its acknowledgment that not everything is knowable, which is essential to the experience of being human.

Bridle warns of our overreliance on, and almost worship of, faulty world models running in the cloud, parallel to the real one on the ground.

If that all sounds a little too heavy, then perhaps two other books I am reading will help. They give pointers to how we as designers and HCI researchers can challenge the darkness descending on and through the digital.


The first is The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, full of his daily insights into running the largest second-hand bookstore in Scotland. It’s a rambling, charming establishment full of the clutter, quirkiness, and diversity of life. Blythell comes across as the Basil Fawlty of the book trade, who, while needing to interact with digital services to sell some of his stock, presents a great case study to explain the widely reported renewal of marriage vows between readers and physical books. At the FITLab, we’ve been thinking through how to bring more tactile, physically malleable, and indeed beautiful diverse experiences to mobile displays as a counterpoint to the sleek, flat, lifeless, glassiness that has become the only form factor in town.


Speaking of beauty—my final book: Saturday Night Fever Pitch, The Magic and Madness of Football Style. I’m writing this during the FIFA World Cup, when for a moment the English felt “it” was coming home. But if you read this book at any time of the year, you’ll laugh and smile at the extravagant excesses of top-class football (soccer) stars played out in their choice of clothes, hairstyles, and tattoos. Author Simon Doonan argues that they do us all a favor, as we “need to see all our hopes and fantasies distilled and writ large, exploding and imploding.” Footballers represent magnified humanness, with all our need to express ourselves physically and emotionally. If you want another challenge, then, think about how the digital devices and services you are creating can allow for more visible physical expression and performance! A refreshing counterpoint to the stooped, heads-down, isolated interactions we see all around us as people hunch silently over their smartphones.

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Matt Jones is a professor in human-computer interaction at Swansea University in the U.K., and an honorary professor in computer science at the University of Cape Town. He is the co-author (with Simon Robinson and the late Gary Marsden) of There’s Not an App for That–Mobile User Experience Design for Life (Morgan Kaufmann). matt.jones@swansea.ac.uk

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The Digital Library is published by the Association for Computing Machinery. Copyright © 2018 ACM, Inc.

Post Comment

@Mark Albin (2012 06 30)

This is a very interesting article about social bots, thanks for sharing.

@Aman Anderson (2012 07 18)

This is great
“So what’s the center of a design? In one sense, it is the designer’s nuanced understanding of the problem or opportunity at hand. The focus of design is problem solving, not self-expression.” - Uday Gajendar, Interaction Designer

@Bill Killam (2012 07 31)

This is a long overdue article.  And I couldn’t agree with it more.  I’m current working on yet another Federal RFP that is asking for us to do work using short cut methods that are likely make it harder to get them quality results, and we can probably propose a cheaper and more data rich approach if they didn’t specify how we had to do the job.  Sad.

@Demosthenes Leonard Zelig (2012 08 12)

Great Article, it is funny to notice that such huge corporations do not even bother to do a market research before releasing products on a new market. However, I guess we are still learning from our mistakes.

@karla.arosemenea@gmail.com (2012 10 24)

Hi everyone, In the Technological University of Panama there is also a movement. There is a 2 years MS in IT with a specializtation in HCI. We are also trying to include HCI as part of our main curricula. This year we started a research with a company interested on incorporating usability in their development. We expect to receive a Fulbright Scholar next year in this area…


Karla Arosemena

@John Michael Sheehan (2012 11 06)

There are thousands of blogs that requires comments on them. What is the intention of blog comments? Sent From Blackberry.

@Junia Anacleto (2012 11 07)

A very shallow and naive view of a much more rich and complex context.
I am still waiting for a fair position paper to be presented.

@Rick Norton (2012 11 17)

Excellent article raising significant issues that are largely overlooked.  The prospect that the collapse of sustainability for a growth/consumption related societal model is inevitable, is a topic I have often wondered about, given the nature of capitalism as we know it today.  Even the “Great Recession” of current times gives me pause to wonder just how long we can keep this economic engine going before we have to face the reality that we are all going to have to learn to “live with less”.  (A quantitative assessment, not necessarily qualitative.)

Keep up the good work.  Hopefully, you will raise awareness of these topics.

@Noah McNeely (2012 11 27)

Very nice article, that raises meaningful questions.  I actually think that the idea of sustainable products and sustainable product development is a bit of a myth.  All products consume energy and other resources in one form or another during their production, use, or re-use.  The key, ultimately is to balance resource consumption with resource production, but we will always need to be producing new resources.  See my blog post on the subject at ( http://productinnovationblog.blogspot.com/2012/11/are-there-sustainable-materials_7159.html )

@ed.h.chi@gmail.com (2012 11 30)

The quote in the article mis-contextualize James Landay ‘s essay. James actually is actively working to break down those stereotypes, but you can’t do that without understanding what the deep problems are.

James’ blog post on this is at

@Lee Crane (2012 12 03)

This is a topic that is thought provoking and important.  The message explores how humans can escape and survive the world they have jumbled.  So many of the theories and ideas are basic.  Our future may look a lot like the distant past.  And indeed we may be happier for it.

@ 4996484 (2012 12 19)

this is a great article David and Silvia!  I’‘m so excited that you guys wrote this up and are showing everyone the complexities in this space. I hope Interactions features more of this kind of research on China.  Although I agree w/ @landay’s assessment of China’s creativity problem - but he’s working with a very different population than you guys. I think you research is absolutely on point - creative folks are going to hacker spaces like Xinchejian, they aren’t ending up in institutions like Tsinghua!  I explain more here:  http://www.88-bar.com/2012/12/where-are-all-the-creative-chinese-people-hanging-out-in-hacker-spaces-apparently/

@Joe (2013 01 04)

I think that if you study the Elliot Wave Theory it can answer your questions.

@Rafeeque (2013 01 06)

good one

@zhai (2013 01 16)

Enjoyed reading this article. I finally got why Harold wants to call it “the Fitts law”. If enough people write it that way I would never have to correct another submission making the embarrassing mistake of ‘Fitt’s law”.

I did not completely get the following remark though:

        “The Accot and Zhai paper about the Fitts Law [3] has a clever title that illustrates
        the rules on letters, “More than dotting the i’s…”—a bad pun on eyes.”

I came up with the title, but the word “eyes” never came to my mind. We meant that the point-and-click style of UI is like dotting the i’s everywhere—- placing a click on constrained targets as the fundamental action in interaction. Why not using ” Crossing the t’s ”  as an alternative action?  Indeed, we presented models of a new style of UI, which systematically reveals when crossing is superior to clicking,  hence the subtitle of the paper “Foundations for crossing-based interfaces.”

Shumin Zhai

@Mohamadou M. Amar (2013 03 22)

I am a Doctoral student in I/O Psychology with Touro UW and need to access your articles.

@Mohamadou Amar (2013 03 22)

Need access for Doctoral Research

@William Hudson (2013 04 09)

Gilbert overlooks the important issue that the ‘big boys’ largely do not appreciate the need for design all and the problems that real people have with technology. I admit that we’ve had a hard time selling UCD but I am not persuaded by the arguments here to abandon it. Perhaps have a look at my article on a similar subject - User Requirements for the 21st Century - where I take a more pragmatic view of trying to address real users’ needs in the development process. http://bit.ly/agile-ucd

@ 0343665 (2013 04 29)

Fantastic text. I came here by searching for people that quote the Standford study on multitasking. The introduction is fantastic as it builds up an argument that attention has some features that do not change over time.

@Simon Taylor (2013 04 30)

not wanting to do anything so grandiose as building a (technology for) a world parliament, I have in essence been working on the same problems and facing the seven challenges with a project called ‘company.’ [https://gust.com/c/littleelephantltd]

In 2011, working with senior software developers - gratis - although neither the ethical undertaking nor the promise of sweat equity were enough to keep them involved - I established the technical feasibility of ‘company.’
In 2012, turning from the ‘voluntary’ ‘principled’ participation model - because the attractions of real paying jobs had lost me my team - I received financial support from the New Zealand government. This part-funded an Intellectual Property Position Review - which government considered a pre-requisite - as commercial due diligence - to investing in an initial build, or beta. The IPPR recommended I do proceed… However, government offers only part-funding and without a team - either technical or commercial - there has been little to no investor interest.

As things stand at present, I have the tools and schematics for a beta build of something which would fit the sort of use imagined here. If you have any interest in helping, please contact me.

Simon Taylor