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The discussion we had on Tuesday reminded me this morning of a quote from Stolterman & Nelson in The Design Way:

“We are lame gods in the service of prosthetic gods.”

The word “prosthetic” was, I think, carefully chosen. According to the dictionary, a prosthesis is, “A device, either external or implanted, that substitutes for or supplements a missing or defective part of the body.” It’s an approximation, at best, of an organic limb or organ.

We closed class by establishing that Kieślowski used formalistic techniques to approximate the inarticulate felt experience of longing, and that this formalistic approximation was analogous to what we do as designers.

In the same way Kieślowski at best could only approximate that inarticulate felt experience, we can only approximate how people will react to and use our designs. Because of our education and experience we can make a pretty damn good guess, but a guess is the best we can hope for.

Technology is a means by which we can create prosthetics for our bodies and minds. We can remember things better, communicate over greater distances, and access information more readily than ever before in human history. But in the same way a prosthetic arm can’t communicate a sense of touch, our technology only can increase our abilities so much.

The best we can hope for is an approximation: there are a million to-do list mobile apps, but I still manage to forget to post on this blog; I can FaceTime with Hillary in Philadelphia, but it can never compare to sitting across a dinner table from her;  I can look up Nelson Mandela’s birthday with Wikipedia in an instance, but the same article could also describe Mr. Mandela as the spawn of Cthulhu. I think this relates heavily to several of Dennis’ posts from earlier in the semester regarding the danger/necessity of normative thinking in design practice.

We build prosthetics, supplements, substitutes, extensions…but nothing more. But my question is: Why not? Why can’t we do better than that? Is it a human shortcoming? Is our technology not “advanced” enough?

The philosophical version of that question could be this: If we could easily manipulate the very fabric of our reality, would we then be able to design the ‘perfect’ prosthesis? What do you think?

One of the goals of this blog is for people to find possible examples of the theories that we’re reading, share those examples, and then ask others whether they also agree that they are examples.

So I was reading an interview with one of my personal heroes Krzysztof Kieślowski a Polish film director, who directed Bleu, which we saw some of in class. We talked about Bleu creating a cinematic language of grief, and Kieślowski is famous for his ability to reveal the interior lives of his characters in deep and profound ways. And in the course of the interview was this exchange:

Interviewer: You would surely agree that you have tried to explore what might be called the spiritual, immaterial world–even if you’ve had to do it by focusing on the physical world?

Kieślowski: But film is very materialistic: all you can photograph, most of the time, is things. You can describe a soul, but you can’t photograph it; you have to find an equivalent. But there isn’t really an equivalent. Film is helpless when it comes to describing the soul, just as it is describing many other things, like a state of consciousness. You have to find methods, tricks, which may be more or less successful in making it understood that this is what your film is about. And some people may like those tricks, others may not.

I’m frustrated by the literalism of film; I’d like to escape that. To a certain degree, maybe I have managed to do so in the last few films, but only to a certain degree. And now I can’t find any more possibilities; the camera is of no help. So that’s one reason I’d like to give up filmmaking.

This interview occurred shortly after the release of Kieślowski’s celebrated Three Colours trilogy, and Kieślowski shocked people by announcing his immediate retirement upon its release. It would seem to me that for him, the expression theory helps explain his challenges as a film director.

So, I have two questions for you (you can answer either, both, or neither!):

  • Of all the expression theories we read in Barnard, which is closest to Kieślowski’s?
  • How do the issues raised in this quote relate to HCI?

Finally, please note that I am trying to lead by example. Please post blogs like this one! Notice I don’t really say anything especially smart–I just found an example of something we read and I posted it without even offering my own answer or analysis!

I wanted to follow up class today by posting some additional thoughts here about criticism in general and Kickasola’s article in particular.

  • One of the key strategies, used over and over again in criticism, is to identify a particular feature of a cultural expression (e.g., a film) and treat it as a signifier of a deeper, more insightful meaning. Kickasola was developing an account of Veronique as a film that gives its viewers the experience of longing, and he suggested that manipulating temporality was one visual technique that generates experiential effects, in this case that of longing. Thus, a blurry shot, or an extended song note, or a film cut between two important shots help signify this meaning.

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In advance of our writing workshop next week on phenomenology and interaction design, I strongly recommend that you try to get through as many readings as possible. In particular, please spend extra attention on the Winograd & Flores piece, which has been extremely influential in our field, in part by explaining phenomenology pretty well as it applies to interaction design. The Preface to Dourish’s book (in Oncourse under Dourish_Preface is extremely short, but he nails the point home unusually succinctly.

Tomorrow (Tuesday) we will talk about The Double Life of Veronique, a film “about longing — deep, internal longing — and the attempt to follow one’s intuition” (Kickasola, p. 244). The essay explores relationships between formalist techniques (like we studied on Thursday, and btw Veronique is by the same director who did Blue: Krzysztof Kieslowski), its bizarre premise of two identical women pursuing their lives in two countries (see the film summary in Kickasola, pp. 242-3, spoiler alert, too bad, read it anyway), and metaphysics. Kickasola writes that the director struggled to find ways to “visualize ‘feelings’ and ‘sensibility.'”

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