Friday, November 9, 2007

Musings about pervasive computing and health care, usability, rationale for "technology-supported human-world interaction"

"Imagine a world," said cardiologist Leslie Saxon, "where you turn on your computer and, along with surfing the Web and turning on YouTube, you can check your or your family members' health stats."

This is the quote that grabbed my heart this morning from an
article in a recent Technology Review announcing the "First Annual Body Computing Conference".

This is the stuff that gets me really excited.

Technology and health care are topics that interest me, since they directly affect my life and the lives of those who are close to me, if you've read previous posts on my blog(s):

Usability Interaction Hall of Shame (user-unfriendly technology in a hospital setting)

World Usability Day 2007: Healthcare Focus

Skype in the Hospital: Grandpa, webcams, and grandkids over the miles

Those of you who follow my blog(s), know that I have an interest in ubiquitous - also known as pervasive- computing, and how it can support what I call technology-supported human-world interaction.

What is technology-supported human-world interaction?

First of all, it is a concept that I can wrap my head around, since I come from a background in psychology and education, and didn't take a computer programming class until I was in my 40's.

It is a concept that my non-techie circle of friends, school colleagues, and extended family members can also understand.

Technology-supported human-world interaction incorporates HCI concepts, but it takes into consideration the broad range of human interactions. It is an attempt to identify what specific systems, applications, networks, interaction designs, interfaces, and input/output modalities are best suited for the task, action, or interaction, and also looks closely at the panorama in which this is likely to occur.

Since human interactions are dynamic and change over time, the concept of panorama includes a temporal component. Of course, this necessitates that programmers, systems developers, designers, and everyone else involved in the process becomes cognizant of the the big picture, the wider view, before the first line of code is ever discussed.

Why do I think this is so important?

When I was a little girl, my family visited a communications technology exhibit, and I participated in a demonstration of a TV phone. I was so excited when I heard the scientist say,

"In the very near future, imagine a world where everyone will be able to call their friends and family, and see them talking on TV, right from their kitchens!"

That was nearly 40 years ago.

I've never lost hold of that feeling of excitement, even though as an adult, I've experienced much that could wear my excitement away....

A large percentage of my interactions with computers and technology over the years has been with poorly designed cell phones and cable TV remotes, crashing laptops, user-unfriendly database systems, problematic productivity applications, and lost Internet connections.

The people who worked for months, even years, creating these problem applications and devices aren't stupid. General users aren't stupid. So why do we still encounter so many frustrating problems?

Until recently, in the technology world, both in academia and in the workplace, the focus has been too narrow. My hunch is that things are changing, and somehow, I'd like to be a part of it.

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