Wearables with Digitally-Isolated

At the moment, Fitbit reigns supreme in the wearable computing arena. But Fitbit is a device. Other forms of wearables could be more embedded into one’s environment, more ubiquitous. While this may seem creepy to some people who aren’t frequent users of technology, I propose that wearables could lower the barrier of entry to technology for those who are digitally-isolated. This isolation could be attributed to a disinterest or satisfaction with current lifestyles, or it could arise from lack of access or mobility. For people who can’t afford a $1400 laptop or unable to walk to the library/computer lab, wearable computing is the solution.

But what would wearables look like for such populations? As I hinted above, ubiquity is key. Undershirts could measure heart rate and notify a physician when there is an irregularity. Socks could include GPS sensors that can connect to kitchen appliances. They would be aware when someone is cooking but not in the kitchen, vibrating to signal that food has finished cooking.

Life Happens. Designing for It

This weekend I attended the Designing Technology for Major Life Events workshop at CHI. Although I didn’t get the one slide introduction memo, I still enjoyed the discussions that took place. The attendees had a variety research areas that related to major life events – retirement, pregnancy, cancer diagnosis, natural disasters, gender transition and more. The major theme that resonated across the topics was that of transition. Transitions into different living environments can cause stress for college students and isolation for older adults. Grandchildren who move away from their grandparents lead to adopting new forms of communication technologies. Gender transitions can trigger reflection and the need to change one’s identity. Moving from a primarily offline world to digital culture can spark concerns of privacy and control. Cancer diagnosis changes routines, awareness and participation of patients. All of these are important life events, but what makes something important? Facebook’s attempts to decide importance with its News Feed algorithm. Can such algorithms be used to force memory to remember good major events vs. bad ones? Could this idea of forced memory be used to make transitions easier?

Life course theory posits study one’s experiences over time. The study of the lifespan is unique because, although it affects everyone, it does so differently for each person in the world. That’s what makes doing research in this area so challenging.

In our breakout sessions, we brainstormed design challenges of technology as it relates to major events and opportunities resolve these conflicts. A few of these challenges are,

  1. technology can be seen as a negative influence,
  2. we unintentionally design for exclusion, and
  3. building systems is risky business

While researchers face these challenges, we can also begin steps to solve them. One solution is to treat technology as a playground. As the plenary speaker, Margaret Atwood, stated – “First we imagine it, then we make it.” Researchers could benefit from a few improv or creative design classes. Often we are concerned about methodology and following the correct process that it limits the scope of our work. Do research for research sake.

Because we want to design for the majority of people who will use our systems, we often design to exclude other people either based on access, financial abilities, skills, trust, and language. However major life events happen to everyone, no matter their abilities. Therefore while our excuse to not building technology for outlier populations may be a cost-benefit reward, we must remember that low tech and no tech options can still be used to study technology use.

Lastly, building stuff is risky. It’s much easier to observe existing human behavior because no device is perfect. And, major life events typically do not happen every day. Therefore there are much higher stakes if the technology doesn’t work as expected. However, we must develop something that is functioning “enough” because no work will ever get accomplished if we build solely on what currently exists. While I am in the process of struggling with this, I have to remember that the first version will probably not be perfect and iteration will happen.

Thanks to Lana, Madeleine + Tilman for their thought-provoking discussions in the small groups and everyone else for their challenging research questions in the workshop overall.

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Home Automation 3.0

Home automation is nothing new. Hobbyists have been connecting gadgets into their appliances and fixtures for decades. But now, home automation is becoming more accessible to the amateur and a lot more aesthetically-pleasing, in terms of design. Google’s Nest allows people to control their thermostat using their cell phone. Its simple circular design most likely appealed to Google since not all of their designs are as clean.

Belkin’s WeMo allows users to control their lighting and view the cost for using each appliance with a simple phone app. Clearly the concept of ‘quantified self’ (viewing data about yourself to inform future behaviors) is extending to ‘quantified space’.

 

Years ago researchers at Georgia Tech began the Aware Home initiative began to think abut smarter spaces, specifically for older adults, mainly using sensors. How can we push the boundary beyond simple sensors to track presence or appliance usage, and towards innovative solutions that are easy for people of all ages to use. The added challenge is that older adults may have a higher chance of disability, and no two disabilities are alike. Universal usability, in general, may be as difficult as an NP complete problem. But, universal usability for quantified living spaces sounds feasible.

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You must believe me when I say that I have the utmost respect for HCI people. However, when HCI people debug their code, it’s like an art show or a meeting of the United Nations. There are tea breaks and witticisms exchanged in French; wearing a non-functional scarf is optional, but encouraged. When HCI code doesn’t work, the problem can be resolved using grand theories that relate form and perception to your deeply personal feelings about ovals. There will be debates about the socioeconomic implications of Helvetica Light, and at some point, you will have to decide whether serifs are daring statements of modernity, or tools of hegemonic oppression that implicitly support feudalism and illiteracy.

I found this to be entertaining. 

via James Mickens @ MSR

You must believ…

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Up

movie-inspired adventures

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Why U No Want Facebook?

Why do people resist sites like Facebook and Twitter so much? Part of me thinks it’s because they want to be different and are afraid of actually liking it.  The other part of me thinks it’s a marketing problem. Often these sites are promoted as helping you make new friends. What if you like your current group of friends? Or, they’re advertised as letting you keep in contact “all the time”. Frankly this “always on” idea is a) annoying or b) creepy in today’s age.

How can social media be re-marketed to groups who resist the change so much? Calling all parents, political figures, highly-restrictive companies, older adults! For those who use Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Linked in, G+ – why do you? What do you think would make your stubborn friends sign up? For those who don’t – why don’t you? What would need to happen to encourage you to participate?

-a frustrated social media  + accessibility researcher/graduate student

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Physical Predictive Analytics

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Big data. It’s the buzz word used everywhere, usually thought of for use by tech companies such as IBM and Intel, but is now making it’s way into a variety of other companies – even Wal-Mart!

An recent article discusses the next big thing in big data. When dealing with a wealth of data, there’s:

  1. descriptive analytics – explains what has happened in the past
  2. predictive analytics – predicting future events
  3. prescriptive analytics – will predict the future, explaining why and “prescribing” some solution for what will happen

The article mentions self-driving cars as an example and how prescriptive analytics allows cars to handle left and right turns to happen in the future. However, I can see this playing a larger role in ubiquitous computing related to physical devices and sensors that control behavior in other ways. For example, take a thermostat which can use weather forecasting data to predict how weather will affect future A/C usage and issue bill ahead of time. The thermostat uses future forecasting and makes some decision (specifying a bill) based on household use. In what other ways can an abundance of big data and sensors play a role in the future of prescriptive analytics.

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A Nation Divided on Snowden

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inspired by: http://www.people-press.org/2013/06/17/public-split-over-impact-of-nsa-leak-but-most-want-snowden-prosecuted/

I typically don’t take sides in political matters but I don’t think Snowden should be prosecuted at all. I understand the there-must-be-consequences-for-breaking-the-law rationale, but I think he made a contribution to the good of humanity. Now people might actually listen to what computer scientists have been saying for years in that all information is public somewhere and to be more conscious of what they’re putting online. 

No?

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ponder this..

The most recent OpenIdeo challenge is asking people to think about how we should maintain a state of wellbeing and thrive as we age. Sponsored by the Mayo Clinic, a non-profit medical research group, I think think poses an excellent question. With more people preferring virtual exercise, the rise of computer desk-jobs, and fewer people buying fresh (as opposed to canned and frozen) foods, how can we promote healthier lives as we age?

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A paper by Dr. Becca Levy shows not only did younger people have negative ideas about aging, but older adults often negatively self-stereotype themselves. And, these negative thoughts begin to form long before becoming an older adult. My solution to this problem? Older adults need to play an active role in new age culture. With my research, I plan to engage this demographic in today’s digital culture but also to link the virtual world with the real world, encouraging intergenerational collaboration both online and offline. While that may be a lofty and seemingly impossible goal, I don’t think we’re too far off. HCI researchers are developing tools to promote integenerational communication for family members. Collaboration is the next step, and we need to look beyond the family. Such a narrow point of view!

What to IDEO-ers think?

See for yourself.

 

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