Touching Technology

I’ve given a number of talks over recent months on aspects of physicality, twice during winter schools in Switzerland and India that I blogged about (From Anzere in the Alps to the Taj Bangelore in two weeks) a month or so back, and twice during my visit to Athens and Tripolis a few weeks ago.

I have finished writing up the notes of the talks as “Touching Technology: taking the physical world seriously in digital design“.  The notes  are partly a summary of material presented in previous papers and also some new material.  Here is the abstract:

Although we live in an increasingly digital world, our bodies and minds are designed to interact with the physical. When designing purely physical artefacts we do not need to understand how their physicality makes them work – they simply have it. However, as we design hybrid physical/digital products, we must now understand what we lose or confuse by the added digitality. With two and half millennia of philosophical ponderings since Plato and Aristotle, several hundred years of modern science, and perhaps one hundred and fifty years of near modern engineering – surely we know sufficient about the physical for ordinary product design? While this may be true of the physical properties themselves, it is not the fact for the way people interact with and rely on those properties. It is only when the nature of physicality is perturbed by the unusual and, in particular the digital, that it becomes clear what is and is not central to our understanding of the world. This talk discusses some of the obvious and not so obvious properties that make physical objects different from digital ones. We see how we can model the physical aspects of devices and how these interact with digital functionality.

After finishing typing up the notes I realised I have become worryingly scholarly – 59 references and it is just notes of the talk!

Alan looking scholarly

Alan looking scholarly

From Anzere in the Alps to the Taj Bangelore in two weeks

In the last two weeks I have experienced both Swiss snow and skiing and Indian sun and traffic for the first time. The former was in Anzere for the French speaking Swiss Universities’ annual winter school and the latter in Bangalore for meetings (including another winter school) connected with the UK-India Network on Interactive Technologies for the End-User. Both have been exciting both personally because of their novelty as experiences and professionally due to stimulating discussions … happily not dry business meetings. I will blog later in more detail about both.

I guess joy always has its pains: in the case of skiing, blisters on my shins; and in India, the nearly inevitable wobbly tummy!

People have been wonderful in both Switzerland and India, both those in the meetings themselves and those I’ve met along the way.

I knew a few of the Swiss people already Denis and Pascal from a previous visit, but most were new including Micheal, my ski buddy, who had been in Switzerland for a long time, but was his first skiing too. Our ski instructor Rudy from Ecole Suisse de Ski et de Snowboard – Anzère was absolutely wonderful with seeming endless patience as we practised again and again (including the odd tumble) things that to him were so natural … if you want to learn to ski, ask for Rudy! In the village the woman at the ski shop was also wonderful helping find the right boots and equipment for someone who hardly wears shoes normally, and when she realised how bad my shins had become, she Christened me “Brave Shins’ :-/ I struggled to recognise her English accent until she explained she was brought up in Belgravia … it was just posh 🙂 However, the lady at the Anzere tourist information was my hero of the week; insisting on picking up special ‘second skin’ plasters from the pharmacy and bringing them to me at the hotel. Thanks to their ministrations my last day of skiing was blessedly pain free.

In India again so many wonderful people, Rama from HP who organized our demo day, the people on my Bootcamp team Ramprakesh, Dinoop and Ramesh, and many many others , and not forgetting the drivers of ‘autos’, including the one who smiled all the time, but got so embarrassed when accosted by the begging transvestites at the traffic lights.

Bootcamp Team: Ramesh, Dinoop, me, Ramprakash
(photo by Ramprakash)

Bangalore dinner: me, Vijay, Dinesh, Sriram
(photo by Ramprakash)

a Bengaluru auto rickshaw
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