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So, I hope to open up a dialog about a topic that I’m not sure I know how to feel about. Eugene mentioned in class last week that (I’m paraphrasing, so please correct me Eugene if I’ve gotten it wrong) there are some differences in the way that film critiques can be done and the way that interaction critiques can be done because of the linearity of films and the non-linearity of interaction. In response Jeff mentioned that he disagreed with the notion that film critique was easier because of this (again correct me if I’m wrong, Jeff) but I didn’t fully understand why he felt this way.

I’m curious about this. I’ve been thinking about the differences between interaction and film critique since we read Kickasola. Perhaps we (the whole body of scholars, creators, critics, students, etc. that think about this) don’t know how to best do interaction criticism yet. The film critics spent years figuring it out. I realize that the point of the class is to try and make headway toward figuring out how critique is done for interaction. To me, though, it seems that techniques like a structural analysis are really hard to do in interaction. They can be done linearly, like in film (task1, task2, task3, etc.). However it seems to me that the meaning that we are able to get from looking at film in this way is not as easily uncovered with a structural analysis of an interaction. It seems that if one wanted to do this, it would first require an understanding of what the meaning of a interaction was then going back to find the tasks that made this latent meaning come to the consciousness of the user.

Perhaps, in interaction, we have to work backwards. Look at the meaning of something first, then break it down in to the parts/actions that make that meaning possible. I hope that others will chime in and let me know their thoughts about this. I could be totally off base.




For my final paper, I’m going to be writing about the WiiFit. I think I’ll be using a phenomenological approach, but I wanted to try and see where I could get by doing a structural analysis as well. I hadn’t signed on to the WiiFit for a while, so when I started it up, I got harassed a bit by the WiiFit for being a slacker (even though I lost a pound or two since my last WiiFit workout). The body test is meant to give you an idea of how fit you are so that you can see some improvement over time based on the body tests you do. After judging your performance in a couple of seemingly irrelevant tasks, you’re assigned a WiiAge. This is based on your real age and your alleged “fitness.” I’m 29 in real life, but was deemed 45 by the WiiFit a few minutes ago. The body test is performed in a way that lets you “converse” with the system. It asks you questions and you get to respond by clicking a button (no, you don’t have a choice. if you want to move on to the nest task, you must click the A button).

My structural analysis: The sequence of actions that one is forced to go through in the WiiFit body test is constructed in a way that gets you to buy into the way that the designers constructed the WiiFit system. By WiiFit system, I mean the peripherals (balance board and wiimote), the hardware and software and me gyrating around in my living room. I feel that the software could be better designed in a way that gives the user more choice and and a better workout. The body test, while it doesn’t have a workout component per se, could do a much better job of establishing your real fitness level.¬† The body test serves as a training session that helps one get used to the WiiFit language or culture so that you know what behaviors you can use to interact with the system and what ones don’t register. The harassment, I think, is a strongarm approach which is aimed at motivating one to come back and use the WiiFit on a regular basis. If this is the intention, I’m not sure this works very well. ūüėČ

The sequence of actions that is required by the WiiFit software, in other words, is created to acheive a certain outcome. Along the way, there are meanings conveyed to the user from participating in this sequence of events. One realizes that this body test is sort of BS, but you still kind of feel bad or good about the results. You’re kind of impressed that the system can assess your physical movements, though you realize that it’s a very limited set of movements. You are, in a way, intrigued by the system design and because of this, not the strongarming of the WiiTrainer, motivated to delve deeper into the system. It’s hard to say what the creaters intended with this, but it certainly conveys meaning and I’m pretty interested in pursuing this further in my final paper.

Here’s a short clip of me going through the WiiFit body test.

Here is some info about the DVD I mentioned in class where Slavoj Zizek is critiquing the movie Psycho. Here is a YouTube clip to whet your appetite ;). Below are links to the IMDB page about the movie and the IU Library call number.

Zizek -- Pervert's Guide to Cinema

IMDB link

IU Library Call Number: PN1995.9.S45 P478

Seeking some clarification:

Something we talked about on Tuesday has kind of stumped me. I think Jeff briefly made reference to critiquing a program like Excel and I didn’t know how one might do something like this. I¬†feel like I’m starting to understand the task a film critic takes on a little better now that we’ve read a film critique and seen¬†the corresponding¬†film. However, I feel like the¬†artifacts that I most often associate critics with are artistic in nature. Certainly there’s room to dispute this, but oftentimes interaction designers are creating tools instead of art. I realize there’s a fine line between the two, but when we talk about the hammer or chair, there’s certainly much less to say when we interpret its hammerness or chairness than the meaning¬†we find in The Double Live of Veronique. I think I can understand how video games with lots of narrative, could be critiqed similarly to a film. However, I’m not sure I understand how one would sit down with Excel or Word and find the meaning in it. If there is meaning, to me, it’s that¬†Word or Excel¬†will help accomplish some work-related task. Is there a difference in how we critique art and tools? Can we see tools as art or am I wrong to¬†even suggest¬†this disctinction? If something like Excel is a tool and we’re using it as such, Heidegger would suggest that its Excelness is irrelevant anyway, right?

I’m also wondering about structuralism and the sequencing of signifiers in interaction design. In a film, everything is linear. Sequence is tightly controlled by the editor and director. In interaction design, often the sequence of signifiers is uncontrollable. This seems to make the task of a interaction design critic different/harder than a film critic in some ways. If the sequence of signifiers is important (and I agree that it is), perhaps we have to critique an interaction design differently¬†than we do¬†film. And here’s the gazillion dollar question: But how?

I came across the following paragraph in this paper by Bradford Owen. I found this by googling “structural approaches to interactive media.” I thought it was particularly helpful in understanding how one might go about starting a structural reading of a new media text. I added the bold parts.


“In The Language of New Media, Manovich (2001) tends to theorize as a structuralist. In much of the work he is mapping new media’s structural and formal characteristics, often in comparison to similar analyses of cinema. To briefly review the five defining characteristics he lays out early in the book:The first is numerical representation–all new media objects are at the micro level represented by digital code, zeroes and ones; thus they can be described, manipulated, and perfectly reproduced. Manovich‚Äôs second characteristic, modularity, means that the elements of new media objects remain separate, despite an appearance of unity. This modularity prevails at all levels: each pixel in a picture on a Web page is an entity; the picture and all the other elements of the Web page are discrete; and the World Wide Web itself can be thought of as consisting of billions of separate modules, each independently accessible. The third characteristic, automation, refers to the use of algorithms in new media operations; these are involved in both lower-level functions in image editing and word processing, and higher-level functions such as AI. Fourth, the characteristic of variability, results from the first two, and refers to the potential for the new media object to exist in a theoretically unlimited number of variations, both in space and in time. Lastly, in a nod to wider cultural practices, Manovich uses transcoding to refer to the influence on culture of the ubiquity of the computer–computer structure and logic suffuses the culture whose media it processes.”


I have to say, that I’m not sure I completely agree with Manovich’s basic breakdown of new media’s defining characteristics, but I think this does help me understand how one might go about breaking down an interactive artifact into defining characteristics. From there, I think it will be easier to understand how those characteristics relate to one another and what kinds of meaning comes from the relationships. I hope others find this useful as well.

Paper citation: Owen, Bradford. “‘A Minor Earthquake’:Barthes and New Media Texts” Paper presented at the annual meeting of the International Communication Association, New Orleans Sheraton, New Orleans, LA, May 27, 2004 <Not Available>. 2008-09-14 <>

After class last Thursday, I think one of the questions I had at the beginning of the semester was answered. I was wondering why, if we have fields dedicated to comparative literature, architecture, fashion design and film/tv studies, is it so difficult to identify this community when it comes to interaction design? I guess I should clarify: we can identify the designers but not those who offer their critiques of it. I was sort of baffled to hear that this didn’t exist within an academic context.

Thursday our discussion of the science wars (cultural studies being separate from “science”) made it a little more clear for me. This divide seems to run so deep. And unfortunately, it seems that our object of criticism sits more in the center of these two fields than any other form of media. I guess my pessimistic side wonders if there’s hope that each side will ever appreciate, or at least respect the work of the other.

I’m giving these things quite a bit of thought lately, because I’m trying to decide what my MA thesis will be about and how I should go about doing the (*&#$& thing. I’m having a hard time resolving my methodological uncertainties for fear that my work will only be applicable to one community or the other. I really hate to limit my future opportunities by choosing to do a qualitative study as opposed to a quantitative one and vice versa. Any one who wants to offer advice, my ears are open!!!

Also, I found an interesting researcher (danah boyd) who is looking at social networking sites (among many other things). Perhaps, people are already familiar with her work? I’m not sure her work qualifies as criticism, but I thought it was interesting and wanted to pass it along:

A question that I had at the end of class on Thursday had to do with whether we can include evolutionary traits like instinct into a phenomenological approach. If we understand phenomenology to be the study of the world as it is made available to the conciousness, where do things like aversive and appetitive reactions come into play. I thought of this when Jeff was talking about monitoring people’s skin conductance, etc. as part of the CHI paper he was working on. Perhaps this paper has nothing to do with phenomenology??? But from my minuscule understanding of psychophysiology these types of measurements are good for measuring instinctive reactions, no?

Either way, I’m curious about about how the things that humans pick up over years of evolution and adaptation impact the consciousness, our lifeworld and our interpretation of objects? I guess I don’t think that they do. For example, my dog has all kinds of instincts, barking at the plumber, hating cats, etc. However, I don’t believe he can interpret much of anything. I sort of think that interpretation, synthesizing the meanings of more than two objects is something that is uniquely human. I could be persuaded otherwise though. Anyone have thoughts?