Assignment 2 - Part A

Cognition In The Wild by Edwin Hutchins

Hutchins starts off by saying that limiting the study of cognition of an individual to the confines and constraints of a laboratory will result in incomplete and potentially false obsevations and thus proposes the idea of studying cognition in its natural habitat. He states that cultural activity systems have cognitive properties of their own that are different from the cognitive properties of the individuals who participate in them and a standalone study of either of these without taking the other into consideration is incomplete.

Using example of navigation task and how a quartermaster goes from getting introduced to, learning and then performing these tasks, first with the help of some external media such as a written procedure description or observation of a senior performing the same task and then internalizing the procedure so that it can be performed automatedly (without referencing any media), Hutchins, looks at growth in cognition or learning or conceptual change as a kind of adaptation in a larger dynamic system.

He explains that learning is not about merely importing external information into the internal system across the boundary of the skin of an individual, but it is about the way the internal systems adapt and change to be in coordination with the exterior environment and contexts, through a system of interactions among representational media both inside and outside the individual. These external representations which are tranformed into internal representations over time and with practise, alter the understading of an individual, causing actions to be automated and thus lessening the involvement of external media.

Design methodologies should not only consider the end-user themselves, but also their environment and surroundings.


Information Ecologies by Nardi & O'Day

Nardi tries to explain how Technology can be thought of and visualized as a tool, text, system and ecology in a metaphorical sense. She raises the issue of autonomous technlogical change (or development as some may call it) in each of the four metaphors and questions us to think about how its evolution influences us by looking at it through the 4 metaphorical perspectives -

Technology as a Tool
Thinking about Technology as a tool helps us clearly identify two sets of people - People who make the tool (Designers) & People who use the tool (Users). This bipartite view helps a designer question the utility, usability of the tool and the skill and learning required to use the tool too.

Technology as Text
Looking beyond Technology as a Tool, and thinking about Technological (artifacts) as a form of communication, Technology can take on different meaning and can be interpreted differently in different contexts. A design can speak and it can be heard in different ways.

Technology as a System
Technology can also be thought about as a system that consumes us all - a closely bound system in which we are all deeply embedded. The system follows the rules of cause & effect. A development in one part of the system affects another part. Nardi splits this system view into
  • Neutrality of the System - How much can a cause spread its effect
  • Controling the System - How can you control the effect
  • Understanding the System - Understanding this cause-effect relationship of technology development in the first place
Participatory Design is a way we can bridge the gap between the action and consequence by making designers and end-users of the technology being designed to collaborate in teams in the design process itself.

Technology as an Ecology
Moving away from an overwhelming generic systemic view of Technology, we can localize a system view and make it more purposeful by thinking of Technology as an Information Ecology. Nardi says it is still a system but with Diversity, Coevolution, Locality, and also contains a Keystone species. It is important to note that locality is key. It ties to the identity of Technology. Only the local participants can establish and construct the identities of their technologies. Information Ecologies are sustained by the participation of the people involved in them, and it is the people who can influence the shape and direction of its technology. This emphasis on locality and the need to be inside the circle to understand an Informational Ecology is essential for good design.