What is Interaction?

What I think physical interaction is:

After reading the Chris Crawford’s and Bret Victor’s pieces, my interpretation of physical interaction is this: A process where two things – a user and a device – communicate with each other, physically. This requires some type of movement/gesture/initiation from the user, which prompts the device to then translate and process the action/request and respond. The process can be cyclical. To be interactive, two things must influence or have an effect on each other. Interaction should not be confused with reaction. Physical, meaning that it requires the use of one’s body to command the device to do something.

Crawford defines interaction as a cyclic process in which two ‘actors’ alternately listen, talk and speak. It’s an iterative process that requires input to be given by an ‘actor’, which is then received and processed by the second ‘actor’. After processing, this 2nd ‘actor’ gives output or comment to the initial ‘actor’.

“The quality of the interaction depends on the quality of each of the subtasks (listening, thinking, and speaking). And many things commonly held to be interactive are not.” In Microsoft’s video, there is a lack of human physical interaction. The subjects merely display the devices as tools or objects that amplify human capabilities, according Victor in his rant. He outlines the many capabilities of the human hand, and questions a future in which tactility is left behind for tools that involve minimal human interaction. Technology like this seems advanced but I consider them to be hindrances to human development. They do not take into consideration the lack of human interaction, which (in my opinion) encourages a lack of altruism, among other positive features of the human body. Developers of products target certain markets but also envision a world where all would use their devices, ignoring the fact that most don’t have access to infrastructure that supports these platforms, the ability to afford them, or more importantly the desire to use them…which is a different story.

I am trying to recall or identify examples of digital technology that are not interactive…All that comes to mind at the moment are video recorders and dvd players…I’ll give this some more thought.

MTA_kioskAn example of an digital technology that is interactive is the touchscreen MTA kiosk. The kiosk is beautifully designed to provide information to subway users with the touch of an icon; including maps, directions and service information. The kiosk occasionally displays the estimated time of arrival for trains coming into the station. However, this information cannot be retrieved at the touch of an icon. I go back and forth trying to determine if this technology is actually interactive or reactive.

I had the opportunity to visit The Beach exhibit at the National Building Museum in DC. After escaping the cool, yet smelly exhibit, I stumbled upon an interactive video projection that traces the shape of bodies and fills them in with virtual blocks—any movement causes the blocks to topple. It is housed in the museum’s Play Work Build play space. Children were eager to engage and try to create shapes together. Not all of them got the concept of the display but those that did had fun with it. I found it to be an example of digital technology successfully achieving good interaction.


44 thoughts on “What is Interaction?”

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