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18 JUNE 2014

Calm Technology: designs which require only peripheral attention

"The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology. ...

We use 'periphery' to name what we are attuned to without attending to explicitly. Ordinarily when driving our attention is centered on the road, the radio, our passenger, but not the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately, showing that we were attuned to the noise in the periphery, and could come quickly to attend to it.

It should be clear that what we mean by the periphery is anything but on the fringe or unimportant. What is in the periphery at one moment may in the next moment come to be at the center of our attention and so be crucial. The same physical form may even have elements in both the center and periphery. The ink that communicates the central words of a text also peripherally clues us into the genre of the text though choice of font and layout.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons.

First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening.

Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it. Peripherally we may become aware that something is not quite right, as when awkward sentences leave a reader tired and discomforted without knowing why. By moving sentence construction from periphery to center we are empowered to act, either by finding better literature or accepting the source of the unease and continuing. Without centering the periphery might be a source of frantic following of fashion; with centering the periphery is a fundamental enabler of calm through increased awareness and power.

Not all technology need be calm. A calm videogame would get little use; the point is to be excited. But too much design focuses on the object itself and its surface features without regard for context. We must learn to design for the periphery so that we can most fully command technology without being dominated by it.

Our notion of technology in the periphery is related to the notion of affordances, due to Gibson and applied to technology by Gaver and Norman. An affordance is a relationship between an object in the world and the intentions, perceptions, and capabilities of a person. The side of a door that only pushes out affords this action by offering a flat pushplate. The idea of affordance, powerful as it is, tends to describe the surface of a design. For us the term 'affordance ' does not reach far enough into the periphery where a design must be attuned to but not attended to."

(Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, 1997)

"The Coming Age of Calm Technology," Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, In Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing, Peter J. Denning and Robert M. Metcalfe, New York, Springer–Verlag 1997.



1997affordancesambient awarenessaround usattentionattunementbecoming invisible • blend into the background • calm • calm technologycalmness • distributed computing • Donald Norman • encalm • encalming technology • engaged interaction • everyday thingsexcitement • explicitly • human computer interactioninteraction designJames GibsonJohn Seely Brown • Mark Weiser • peripheral attention • periphery • sensory phenomena • sensory processing • technological change • technological design • technology affordancesubiquitous computing • William Gaver • Xerox PARC


Simon Perkins
06 APRIL 2014

Limitations of the Decision Cycle Model of Interactive Interfaces

"One central idea missing from the decision cycle model is the notion that goals are often not fully formed in an agent's mind. As anyone who has ever tried to write an essay knows, we do not always act by moving through a decision sequence where we have a clear idea of our goal. Often we explore the world in order to discover our goals. We use the possibilities and resources of our environment to help shape our thoughts and goals, to see what is possible, and we have no clear idea of what we want to do any more than we always have a clear idea of what we are going to write before we begin the process of writing. This is a different orientation than the classical Cartesian view that we know things internally and just communicate fully intact thoughts in external vehicles. In this more dynamic interactionist view, the action of externally formulating thoughts is integral to internally formulating them too. We do not have a clear and distinct idea in mentalese awaiting expression in English or French. The very action of putting 'thoughts' in words helps to formulate them. If this is generally true about many of our actions it means that the goal of an interactive interface is not merely to allow users to do what they want to do, it must also allow them to discover what they want to do. ...

The overhaul I propose to the decision cycle model begins by noting that the way we cope with badly formulated goals and plans is by relying on two facts: we tend to operate in the same workplace over time, and we are usually clever enough to figure out on-line what we must do next. If one observes most creative activity it is apparent that there are both planful and improvisational elements to it. Creative activity is improvisational because agents are opportunistic -- they pursue ideas and possibilities as they emerge regardless of whether those ideas or possibilities have been anticipated. Creative activity is planful because the skilled agent tries to prepare the environment so that he or she has the greatest chance of stumbling on excellent ideas and possibilities. Thus, although an agent may not know, in advance, what he will create, he knows that by doing certain actions, or by arranging the environment in a certain way, or by laying out certain tools, he is doing the best he can to put himself in a position to recognize unimagined possibilities. This setting up the environment to facilitate on-line choice and improvisation I call preparation. It is a key component of skilled activity. There are others. To accommodate them in a decision model requires adding new forms of action, and new forms of interactivity throughout the decision cycle."

(David Kirsh, 1997)


1997active learning • agent-environment-agent loop • approaches to ambiguitycognitive sciencecomputational complexity • David Kirsh • decision cycle model of interaction • discovery through designDonald Norman • dynamic interactionist view • ecological approach to cognition • educational constructivism • Edwin Hutchins • environment maintenance • environment preparation • event cognition • explanatory concept of engagement • exploratory actions • human computer interactionimprovised method • interactive interfaces • interactive learning environments • James Gibson • Jim Hollan • John Bransford • learning environment design • mental processes • mentalese • naming process • perception is interactive • personal exploration of phenomena • reshaping the cognitive congeniality of the environment • Robert Shaw • sensory feedback • theory of interactivity • visibility and recognition


Simon Perkins
09 FEBRUARY 2013

Constant Association for Art and Media: an interdisciplinary arts-lab

"Constant works in–between media and art and is interested in the culture and ethics of the World Wide Web. The artistic practice of Constant is inspired by the way that technological infrastructures, data–exchange and software determine our daily life. Free software, copyright alternatives and (cyber)feminism are important threads running through the activities of Constant.

Constant organizes workshops, print–parties, walks and 'Verbindingen/Jonctions'–meetings on a regular basis for a public that's into experiments, discussions and all kinds of exchanges."




1997artistic practice • arts-lab • Brussels • Constant (arts lab) • CRID • culture and ethics • cyberfeminismdaily life • data-exchange • experimental artistic practices • Francois Deville • Free Art License • Hasselt • interdisciplinary • interdisciplinary creative practices • Internet art • jonctions • Liesbeth Huybrechts • media and art • media artnet art • non-profit association • print-parties • RenovaS • Severine Dusollier • SPIP • technological infrastructure • University of Namur • verbindingen • world wide web


Simon Perkins
17 JULY 2012

Learning Communities: new students sharing common experiences

"In their most basic form, learning communities employ a kind of co–registration or block scheduling that enables students to take courses together. The same students register for two or more courses, forming a sort of study team. In a few cases this may mean sharing the entire first–semester curriculum together so that all new students in that learning community are studying the same material. Sometimes it will link all freshmen by tying two courses together for all – most typically a course in writing with a course in selected literature, or biographies, or current social problems. In the larger universities such as the University of Oregon and the University of Washington, students in a learning community attend lectures with 200–300 other students but stay together for a smaller discussion section (Freshman Interest Group) led by a graduate student or upper division student. In a very different setting, Seattle Central Community College students in the Coordinated Studies Program take all their courses together in one block of time so that the community meets two or three times a week for four to six hours at a time."

(Vincent Tinto, 1997, p.2)

1). Vincent Tinto (1997). "Universities as Learning Organizations", About Campus 1(6) January/February 1997, Wiley Periodicals, Inc. []



1997 • block of time • block scheduling • co-learner • co-registration • common experiencescommunitycourseempathy • first-semester curriculum • Freshman Interest Group • freshmen • graduate student • HEisolationlearners • learning communities • learning communitylearning journey • learning organisations • learning organizations • learning supportlinked • new students • pedagogypeer engagementpeer supportpersonal learning networksregistration • same material • Seattle Central Community College • shared experienceshared interestsshared understandingsharingsharing experiencessocial fragmentation • stay together • student cohort • students • study team • studyingsupport • taking courses together • timetable • timetabling • together • tying courses together • universitiesUniversity of Oregon • University of Washington • upper division student • Vincent Tinto


Simon Perkins

Furtherfield: co-creation, swapping and sharing code, music, images, video and ideas

"Vision: We believe that through creative and critical engagement with practices in art and technology people are inspired and enabled to become active co–creators of their cultures and societies. ...

Mission: Our mission is to co–create extraordinary art that connects with contemporary audiences providing innovative, engaging and inclusive digital and physical spaces for appreciating and participating in practices in art, technology and social change.

Who We Are and What We Do?: Furtherfield was founded by artists Ruth Catlow and Marc Garrett in 1997 and sustained by the work of its community as the Internet took shape as a new public space for internationally connected cultural production.

Furtherfield is now a dynamic, creative and social nerve centre where upwards of 26,000 contributors worldwide have built a visionary culture around co–creation – swapping and sharing code, music, images, video and ideas.

A Not–for–Profit Private Limited Company since 2009, Furtherfield has received regular funding from Arts Council England since 2005 which supports artistic programmes with a local, national and international reach as well as innovative outreach projects and the development of new forms of infrastructure and digitally enabled participation and engagement in the arts.

Digital Communities for Co–creation: Through our online platforms for review, discussion, reflection, sound exploration, conversation and audiovisual mash–ups, specialist and amateur artists, designers, activists, thinkers, and technologists come together to cultivate open, engaging and stimulating contexts for making and thinking."




1997artart and technologyart practicesartistsArts Council Englandaudiovisual mash-upsco-creationcontributorscreative practicecritical engagementculture and societydesign researchdesign researcherdigital and physical spaces • digital communities • digitally enabled participation • engagement in the arts • Furtherfield • inclusiveinnovationinterdisciplinary • making and thinking • Marc Garrett • mash-up • new forms • not-for-profit • online platforms • open contexts • outreach projects • participationpractice-ledpublic space • Ruth Catlow • sharingsocial changeswappingUK • visionary culture


Simon Perkins

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