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As an input on the surveillance issue, as well as the future of video communication, on which I am doing a concept, I found this article from the Experientia Blog Newsletter:
Architecture and design magazine Icon has published a 4 page article on video ethnography in its latest issue.
“The video ethnographers’ findings are gold dust to their clients and video ethnography has become one of the fashionable research techniques that any forward-looking design company now offers. The technology of closeup, real-time observation, using lightweight digital equipment, plays an increasingly significant role in the design process. If you want to find out about the people who will use a product or service, or to explore the potential for creating new products, call in a video ethnographer to film your subjects where they live or work. […]
Video ethnography is an extremely powerful technique so it is disturbing that, at a time when surveillance cameras watch us around the clock, designers seem largely unconcerned by the ethical problems it raises. The outcome of a video ethnography research project might, of course, be entirely altruistic, yielding an understanding of human needs that can only be a gain. On the other hand, the findings might provide companies with insights into our motivations that could be used to prompt us to buy their products and select their services, without ever knowing how or why we took their bait. If subtle forms of persuasion turn out to be video ethnography’s most usual purpose, then is it a technique that a responsible design community should support?”
The article is quite concerned with the ethical implications of using video ethnography for market research and ends as follows:
“Despite the new rhetoric of empathy and inclusiveness, of involving the user and understanding people’s needs, the person pointing the camera still occupies a position of authority in relation to the subject. This is no less real just because it is concealed beneath a soft blanket of warm feeling. When the research outcome is socially beneficial, as it is in healthcare, few would find any reason to object to the technique. The problem lies in the very 21st-century confusion between understanding people better to help them and understanding them better to manipulate their behaviour as consumers.”
The digital divide is today discussed as the divide between those who have access to The Net and those who do not (the “developed” world vs. the “developing” world). Projects like the Negroponti $100 laptop (also see “Poor People Need The $100 Laptop Because..) is applauded because it seeks to include yet more ‘technologically challenged’ (copyright..?) people into our information revolution. This is no doubt a pressing and interesting issue, and projects like this should obviously be recognized as a good initiative because of their motivation and good intentions. However, looking toward the future, when being online is no longer a option in the terms we think of it today, and unplugging or shielding oneself from visibility becomes a task in itself, being offline will be seen as a benefit, and a freedom.
I was very relieved to hear today in a Youtube clip from the Politics Online 2008, from Adam Greenfield who was on the panel, that this is exactly what a digital divide discussion will be about in our near future; to be able to exclude oneself from the ever present visibility on the network and to have the freedom to shut down, unplug and just be..
Adam Greenfield has admitted to be not a hundred percent optimistic about our future, and is concerned with how we design our ubiquitous future, giving much weight during his seminars on privacy issues, and the invasiveness of a pervasive technology environment. Also, listening to people like him as well as top researchers and technocrats worry about the same issues, leaves me only more secure in my hypothesis that our ubicomp future will come as a strange, scary and alienating experience particularly for elderly citizens (I have stopped thinking about them as “users” in this particular context, as they surely will become subject rather than active users of many types of coming technology).
This means for me, now walking several paralell concept paths, that the one regarding the freedom of being on the offline side of the divide is more interesting and urgent, while the one concerning bridging it, or rather ignoring it, could also render an elderly user somewhat more comfortable with being on the net, but it could also exclude itself precisely because it ignores this divide. Whether or not you will have people of the same age group and demographic on both sides of the divide is obvious, but as I see it, the more relevant issue for all of us, is the privacy issue. So now, working on different concepts very late in the project period, should I finalize the one adressing this very important and interesting issue, should I try to work around it, or should I choose to look on the bright side of it, and utilize the net for the possible rewards it could give elderly people? Certanly the latter would include them in a ubicomp society in a different way, perhaps balancing out the feeling of being unwillingly visible 24/7, or maybe making it worth while somehow, but would you be able to shake that feeling..?
Visuals of the concepts coming very soon.
I found this setup of an experience design process, explaining step by step a good approach to designing a concept with the focus on customer experience.
Elderly and technology in a future scenario predicts a vast number of research fields ranging from ergonomics, physical and mental aspects of ageing, emerging technologies, and the many sociopolitical, environmental and cultural factors to describe a vision of the future. I told myself in the beginning of this project that I wouldn`t become lost in research (as I have before, finding more and more interesting fields to immerse myself in), but set a end date for this phase. It`s almost mid February, and I still find lots of data indicating different views of the future that could be of relevance for my project. However, I try to work in parallel with ideas and to sketch out possible solutions for a future service. From these thoughts I can go back to find research data relevant in a more specific manner.
Of the reflections I find most interesting while thinking about scenarios, are the visions related to ubiquitous computing, as visualized by major actors like Microsoft, Nokia, Sony and Motorola and discussed more in depth by visionaries like Adam Greenfield and Bruce Sterling. My research report will discuss my other findings related to population growth, current trends in technology and interface development, concepts already thought for the future elderly etc. But few of these adress the cultural values that will have to be imbedded in the design of these systems or services. This continues to be a goal for this project, because as solutions and services become more focused on a globally integrated network technology, the cultural value will decide the shaping of these systems where they are available. In Italy, for instance, they would probably not consider a solution like the “Care Bears” for the elderly as welcome as in Japan, where they are now being experimented with in the world`s first high-tech retirement home, much less the robots intended to lift elders in and out of bed, and help with other basic needs like feeding. And in Norway a custom like gathering outside coffeeshops for daily social interaction among retirees is not the custom.
Another interesting field of interest is the way that ubiquitous computing will change the way we use our cities and public spaces. If RFID readers and transmitters are everywhere, and can respond to your walking by them in a specific way, this offers interesting possibilities for a kind of a “physical browsing” of the city. Services could also be aimed at this new and pervasive technology, using it as beacons, touchpoints or keys to augmenting a service experience. One could also imagine city wide, even world wide games aimed at using these “beacons” spread around the city. Elderly could make good use of them walking around, at the supermarket or in a new place, to get information and help to understand the background of a certain product or place. The only problem I see with this route with regard to my thesis is that the technology seems to ready at hand today, and perhaps not a viable alternative for a future setting in 2020.
W hat happens when the virtual mixes with the physical?
I have to admit; the act of publishing my own reflections on this blog is a lot stranger and more challenging than I first thought. When trying to design a concept for the future elderly, this is helpful. They will live with their mindset and values of today in a ubiquitous computing world, given the option of being “always on” through a vast variety of products and services, all wirelessly connected. And if even for me this is somewhat of a strange notion, what will it be like for people older than me? It could become a nightmare scenario, or they could be the first generation to actually set a standard for this type of everyday, “Everyware” , life, with a traditional set of values I think are to be well respected. I have been talking to people of my chosen user group, and gotten some indication as to what they think their future as retired might be, and while most are optimistic and open as to what kind of activities and lifestyle they will enjoy, no one so far has put the finger on the technological development taking place, and how they think this will influence their lives. This tells me that they could be in for a great deal of surprises, given that today, we might hear of some new development and within a few days it might be here. When visionaries like Adam Greenfield talks about ubiquitous computing, he puts it into a timeframe of a few years. And this I thought of when starting this project; the thing I`m designing could be realistic way before I think it is.
Today my grandmother got her first email account, joining in her own small way an online life I take for granted by now, and would not know what to do without. For her it was a nice experience getting her first email from me with a link to a Youtube video about her hometown; a simple slideshow of its history, some very nice “danceband” music on top, and of course flagging the patriotism of the local football team. It will be exciting to see how she will continue to use this new window to the world, and although she has already indicated many difficulties with the pc and browser interface, she is very openminded and welcomes its many possibilities.
For a user like my grandmother, the many ethical aspects of being online aren`t as imposing as much as we will think for a ubiquitous computing (UC) scenario. She is in complete control of when she`s online, and what she will use of online services. In the future in which I imagine my design concept, we will be surrounded by interconnected products and services, and the boundary of being ON/OFF line will be a lot more evasive. Designing a concept for the future use of UC, the most important thing for me would be exactly this; we have to be able to unplug, and to be in control of, or at least aware of how we interact with this type of service.
The service design approach teaches us to consider the emotional aspect of using a service, over a certain period of time. The feelgood factor. Your design should provoke good feelings through aesthetics and ease of use (which studies show are strongly interrelated; the perceived aesthetics of a system and its perceived ease of use). A service with several touchpoints today seem to want to give you the same good feeling every time at every touchpoint; it`s recognizable and reliable. But the experience can become dull very fast that way. Nathan Shedroff says in his experience design blog; “…everything, technically, is an experience of some sort..”, and it consists of certain key factors, which makes it designable. A good experience, however, is never self-repeating. Variation within the service`s visual and sensorial language is necessary in order to give depth and personality.
Reading elderly bloggers` blogs I realize that there`s really many out there among our senior citizens already fluent in the language of the internet, using it as an outlet for political opinions, philosophy discussions, and sharing their life experiences with their peers. But not only; many have readers of younger generations as well. Ronni Bennet, a former CBS producer and CBSNews.com managing editor, has to be considered a forefigure for elderblogging, and is herself an active speaker at conventions talking about better designing the internet interface for elderly users. Her blog has a list of links to elderblogs long as a good year, a clear sign that today`s elders are ready to come out online, guns blazing. But what about tomorrow`s elders? Will they be as interested in blogs as their parents..?