Archives for posts with tag: mobile technologies

By Mona Sakr

Exploring the usefulness of the ‘body-thing dialogue’ metaphor for understanding embodied interaction in digital environments

In 2006, Larssen, Robertson & Edwards presented the paper ‘How it feels, not just how it looks: When bodies interact with technology’ at the Australian Computer-Human Interaction conference (OZCHI). In this paper, they suggest that  the embodied nature of interactions with technology can be accessed by thinking about each interaction as a body-thing dialogue. The body-thing dialogue is the bodily interaction that occurs between an individual and an artifact. The body-thing dialogue happens through the mode of movement and makes possible the potential for action that forms the basis of the interaction. Through this metaphor, Larssen et al. hoped to shift the focus towards the bodily nature of interactions with technologies – the extent to which these experiences are physically felt.

I would argue that the body-thing dialogue is a useful metaphor in some ways and a misleading one in other ways.

It is useful because it draws attention to the distinct and temporal nature of each embodied interaction:

  • Every dialogue we engage in is different. Similarly, in human-computer interaction each interaction with technology unfolds in a specific way and in a particular context. Flow diagrams based on a non-existent ‘typical’ user do not help us to access the nature of embodied interaction.
  • Every dialogue unfolds over time and can radically change from moment to moment. Similarly, each embodied interaction takes place over time and is historical – each aspect of the interaction happens in relation to the aspects that have preceded it.

But the metaphor of the body-thing dialogue is also a misleading way to think about embodied interactions in digital environments:

  • Movement is a different mode to speech, with different opportunities and constraints. Is it right to apply the notion of ‘dialogue’ in the context of movement?
  • Can we apply the term ‘dialogue’ to make sense of the way movements unfold between ‘a body’ and ‘a thing’? Certainly, the movements of the body and the movements of an object are not equivalents in the way that the speech of two human participants is.
  • Larssen et al. suggest that the body-thing dialogue is a useful way of looking at ‘how we use our proprioceptive sense and motor skills when incorporating a tool in our bodily space so that it becomes an extension of our bodies’ (p. 2). The notion of dialogue takes us away, however, from the concept of incorporation. In a dialogue, there is self and other – the object responds to us, rather than becoming an extension of us.

So what alternative metaphors or conceptual tools enable us to think about embodied interaction in digital environments? I have yet to come across a theory that helps to frame interactions with artefacts so that the focus is on the body and felt experience, but does not trip into the pitfalls outlined above. We need to conceptualise interactions as physical couplings without using metaphors that draw on other modes of communication.

Larssen, A. T., Robertson, T., & Edwards, J. (2006, November). How it feels, not just how it looks: when bodies interact with technology. In Proceedings of the 18th Australia conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Design: Activities, Artefacts and Environments (pp. 329-332). ACM.

An update on a current research project looking at body and space in the context of mobile technologies

By Mona Sakr

Mobile technologies have particular features that are likely to change individuals’ embodied experiences of places. Here at MODE, we’re conducting a research project to look at the influence of mobile technologies on young students’ navigation and exploration of a local site of interest and its cultural history.

We have designed a digital environment on the iPad for 10-11 year olds that allows them to explore the WW2 history of Clapham Common. The modified Evernote app, which you can see in the figure below, encourages individuals to move around the common while accessing visual, written and audio information about the history of the common. Users are also encouraged to upload their own photos and audio recordings about their experience of the common.

App environment for exploring Clapham Common

App environment for exploring Clapham Common

Our research questions probe the possibility that particular features of mobile technologies change the way individuals experience a place. In particular, we are interested in how these features change what the body is doing (the embodied experience of the place) and how this in turn affects the overall experience.

A mad flurry of data collection has happened over the past  fortnight. Working with 60 students at a primary school in Clapham, we collected a range of video data on their experiences of the common while using the mobile digital environment on the iPad. This data included researcher-generated video, headcam video and bodycam video. The video was supplemented with GPS trackings, and the photos and audio recordings that the students created while exploring the Common in pairs.

Researcher-generated video

Researcher-generated video

Headcam video

Headcam video

Before and after the experience, the students recorded their thoughts and feelings about the common via a series of classroom activities, including map-making and recounting the route they had taken on a mapped floor.

Over the next few weeks, we’ll begin to get to grips with all the data we’ve collected. As well as engaging with the research questions about embodied experiences, we are trying to determine how different forms of digital data can enable us to engage with embodiment and embodied experiences of place on an empirical level.  

  

By Mona Sakr

Yesterday, MODE hosted a training day on embodiment in digital environments. The day was brimming with ideas, approaches and contexts. They all stemmed however, from the central concept that the body plays an essential role in human experience – so essential that theoretical divides between mind and body are difficult, if not impossible, to make.

Digital environments highlight the need to prioritise the body and help to explain why embodiment as a framework has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. But these environments also call into question the very idea of the body (ie. what we mean by ‘body’) and its role in learning and experience. They enable us to grapple in new ways with old ideas about embodiment, and at the same time they demand that we ask new questions about embodiment as a concept and theory.

New and old questions about embodiment were explored through a wide range of research contexts as represented by the day’s speakers and in the mini-workshops:

  • Caroline Pelletier questioned what it means to represent the body realistically in the context of surgical simulation, and the different genres of representation that can be invoked in such environments.
  • Carey Jewitt and Sara Price looked at the positioning of the body in children’s scientific inquiry using tangible technologies. Using multimodal analysis, they demonstrated the importance of the body for setting the rhythm and pace of social interaction and learning.
  • Anton Franks and Andrew Burns introduced the concepts of frame, affect, action, role and voice in analysing the computer games that young people construct.
  • Niall Winters introduced the possibility that individuals’ tactical spatial practices are changed through their use of mobile technologies. Participants in the seminar had hands-on experience of how this might happen by exploring the area surrounding the London Knowledge Lab while using apps that encourage users to engage with space differently.