Folk Theories and Ubicomp

In a recent study by by Poole, et. al., Reflecting on the invisible: Understanding end-user
perceptions of ubiquitous computing, the authors examine “non-functional” properties of technology adoption.   The authors claim that a user’s understanding of what a technology does and how it works shapes their “orientation” towards it.  Specifically focusing on the concept of RFID technology, study participants were asked about their understanding of the technology and the implications of adoption.  The authors used a method from public policy in which they combined semi-structured interviewing techniques with an exercise in which participants described various images.  The authors insinuated that they garnished a much better response from the photo presentation technique than they would have been able to receive with standard questionnaires.   35 participants were interviewed and shown the photos (72 total photos).  Results showed that although participants were basically in the dark when it came to an understanding of the whats and hows of RFID, many could describe the technology by analogy (Folk Theories).   They found that the participant’s perceptions of RFID were greatly influenced by popular culture (.. no surprise there..).   Some learned from their family/friends, some from their job.  It was discovered that 2/3 of the participants had used some form of the technology.  The study goes on to discuss participant perceptions of social appropriateness, identity management, trust, and personal choice.  In the end, the authors discuss the importance of understanding public perceptions of ubiquitous computing technologies, most of which can be invisible to the population and difficult to understand.  Through a greater understanding of folk theories,  users values, and user expectations, HCI professionals and system designers can begin to design these ubicomp technologies to support or exceed these expectations.

This research is very insightful.  I am extremely interested in the impact of ubiquitous computing on the social interactions of individuals and society at large.  I hope that as HCI professionals we continue to realize the impact that popular culture, folk theories and urban legends have on the public’s acceptance and use of technologies, especially technologies that are invisible.

In related work, Mathew Chalmers has done extensive research into the areas of seamless and seamful computing.  Seamless describes an environment in which ubiquitous technology is hidden from a user (like the Wizard behind the curtain), whereas seamful computing describes an environment where users are made aware of changes in their environment (such as switching from network to network).   Of course it does not have to be binary, there are varying degrees of either.  The important point is how, as a designer, we are to know which will be most appropriate at which time?  There are many variables to consider and varying slants on each.

Public Speaking (FEAR)

This past Saturday SLIS had a Ph.D. Forum for all Ph.D. students to present their research and ideas to each other along side faculty members.  It is meant as a friendly environment, hoping to provide Ph.D. students with practice speaking in front of others regarding their research and ideas as well as answering questions from the audience.  The room seats probably 40, and there were probably 20+ in attendance.

I presented an exploratory study I conducted using web content analysis techniques examining confessional websites.  It was interesting work I did for a class last spring.  I was happy with my work and spent quite a bit of time fine-tuning the presentation.  I also had quite a bit of help from my advisor.  He worked closely with me explaining why I needed to explain certain points and why I needed to use certain language.

Well, I totally bombed my presentation!   I got through it (barely), but the delivery was disgusting.  I worked myself up so much, I ended up turning a 20 minute presentation into a 10 presentation.   I made eye contact with the audience all of maybe 5 times.   I ended up going up there and reading my script.  Other than fainting or pissing myself, reading a script in front of the audience is probably the worst mistake one can make.

I’ve thought about it all weekend I’m very, very angry.  Although I am completely aware that public speaking is a fear shared by a high percentage of humans, it is irrational and ridiculous and I can’t believe I fall into the category.  I’ve been researching some notes on public speaking fears and I ‘ve come across a few that weren’t out to make money:

I agreed with the items mentioned in both articles and I have similar irrational beliefs.   I also did some research on groups/clubs in the area I might be able to join to improve my public speaking skillset.  There is a group, Toastmasters International (, that has a few clubs at IU that I have sent enquiries to join.   I’m also thinking of acting.  I was in drama and performed a few shows in grade school and junior high, so perhap that would also work.

I’m going to get a video copy of my presentation and I’m going to post it here so you see how bad I really was last Saturday.  It will be embarrasing for me, but I’m willing to face this so that it might help myself and others see that it isn’t just them… it is a bunch of us!

Advanced Statistics – Psychology

I had my first exam in adv stats this week.  It was basic stats, methods I had as an undergraduate at ISU.  I had to take two statistics classes as a psych undergrad, while also producing and working on several research projects that involved using SPSS (1999 version) and computing results.   I thought it would be easy, like riding a bike.  Boy was I wrong!
I don’t remember much of anything from my previous statistics classes besides the very basics; the information that everyone knows such as mean, median and mode, or p values and t-tests.   Our professor is quite fun and engaging, but I’m just not picking it up as quickly as I feel I should be.   I feel I scored at least a high B on the test, but I’m not satisfied that I understand the underpinnings of statistical methods and why we use the tests we use during research.  That is my overall goal.  Anyone can memorize formulas and use a program on the computer, but not just anyone can tell you why they perfomed a one-way ANOVA in a research paper.

Summer I – GIS Class Completed

Today marked the end of my first Summer I workshop on GIS.  It is only 1.5 credits so only lasted the first couple of weeks of Summer I.   I am taking Agent Based Modeling the second half of Summer I.  It should also be very interesting.  For my final project in GIS I am going to map the endangered mammals of Indiana on top of population density and EPA Toxic Release Inventory sites.  I would like to see if there a correlation of endangered species habitat with increased human population and TRI sites.  I think there is an obvious relationship, but hope to be able to show it with data I myself put together.

Geographic Information Systems

Summer I has started and I’m enrolled in GIS, Agent-based Modeling, an Independent Research Class and a Ph.D. Research Class.  Only 6 credit hours total, but mucho work.    The GIS is very interesting.  We are using ESRI Desktop GIS software, specifically ArcMap and ArcCatalog to do our GIS work.  I’m interested in GIS because of its ubiquitous nature.  Although it seems that GIS software at this point is mostly confined to the desktop, it won’t be long before we will be creating reports on the fly from our PDA or mobile phone.  How cool is that!  The Agent-based Modeling class will also be exciting.  I will write more regarding research soon.  I have started narrowing down my research interests and I’m starting to focus on Mark Weiser’s vision for ubiquitous computing.  More specifically Mattew Chalmers‘ ideas of “seamful” design.  I also enjoy Chalmers’ use of Heideggerian theory to examine the seams in ubiquitous computing.   Specifically the present-at-hand and ready-to-hand transformations occurring in the seams of ubiquitous computing.