Adam Greenfield on ubicomp

Posted: January 16th, 2006 | 1 Comment »

I know Adam Greenfield from his Ethical Guidelines for Ubicomp. Now that he is about to release his more-than-expected “Everyware” I found out in an interview he gave to InternetActu, that I share some of his views on ubicomp including:

External constraints
It seems to me that poorly designed ubicomp is inevitable. The constraints are external rather than coming from bad designers or bad technologies. They are economical (budget pressure, schedule pressure) and political (support for sound design practicies. Adam puts it that way:

it is not generally the case that designers are not up to the task of providing good user experiences. It is, rather, either through time or budget pressure, or lack of a respected internal constituency for sound design practice, that users and their requirements are pushed to the periphery.

Users facing daily frustration, self-blaming, and systems not working as advertised are nothing new (Don Norman, and others…). However, now that we are moving from the desktop into the omnipresence we face a terrible challenge of scale-up and we might reach the level of “intolerable experience”. Adam says:

This is distressing enough at the scale we currently encounter, but, as we’ll see, as the ambit of technical intervention and interaction begins to migrate from the desktop out into broader realms of everyday life, and from theoretical to actual, the prospect of bad user experience becomes intolerable.

The utopia
Many people describe ubicomp as seamless and adaptive. Like Adam, I question this techno-optimism and in what ways we want the integration and balance of control to take place. Adam:

I’ve seen a great deal of techno-optimism and even -utopianism around ubicomp, including a fair amount from people who should know better. [...] there hasn’t really been much in the way of people pushing back against the idea of ubicomp, in a measured and knowledgeable way.

Adam’s vision of ubicomp

Ubicomp is far more than “smart” objects, which might be best regarded as a symptom of a deeper paradigm just now unfolding. For me, it’s fundamentally about the surfacing of information that has always been latent in our lives; pattern recognition and machine inference based on large amounts of such information; and about the domain and scale of technical mediation contemplated – both wider and narrower, higher and lower than has been the case previously.

One Comment on “Adam Greenfield on ubicomp”

  1. 1 AG said at 9:28 pm on January 16th, 2006:

    Hey Fabien -

    So glad you enjoyed the interview! I think you’re really going to appreciate the book.

    BTW, mail me – there’s something I’d like to invite you to.