chimerically: (Default)
My favorite presentations at CHI this year were in the alt.chi track. While I've always liked alt.chi (or "CHI Fringe" as it used to be called), my particular fondness for the more critical papers this year probably suggests some larger shifts in my theoretical outlook -- a change that I welcome, certainly, though I don't know exactly where I'll end up with it yet. Anyway, behind the cut are a few of the papers I found most provocative. )

My own talk (on "why we tag" -- paper here) went very well, though it felt prosaic in comparison with some of the alt.chi talks I mentioned above. The rather large room I presented in was full (!), and though there were lots of questions, they seemed to be of the interested and respectful "I'd like more information" variety, rather than of the "this work is crap and here's why" variety. There was the inevitable question about "why was your N so small?," but other than that, it seemed to be very well-received. And not many people left during the talk or even during the questions, which I take to be a good sign. I must say it was all a bit of a blur to me.

I should work on figuring out how to be more funny in my talks, though. It seems like I can be engaging enough and have a good sense of general audience mood, and feel much more excited than nervous about speaking generally, which is likely due to those years presenting planetarium shows and teaching dance classes. However, I am painfully aware of how bad my sense of how to be funny to large(r) crowds is. Maybe I should take some acting classes or something.

Next year, I may not be able to attend for the first time in five years. It's in Italy and right at the beginning of spring quarter (meaning it'd be a bad time to be away, and the trip couldn't be a quick one), I'll probably have used up all of my conference money for the year already and don't relish paying out-of-pocket, and it overlaps with USA Dance Nationals. (Well, the last point probably wouldn't prevent me from going, especially since I could attend the relevant parts of the first and most of the second without a problem. But all of these points combined make me think that I probably won't be going next year, for the first time since I started going in 2003.) I guess if Nokia Research wanted to partially fund me or something, I'd reconsider, though I also wouldn't mind joining my dozens of colleagues protesting the exorbitant student fees ($400 student registration, where most other conferences I attend charge $60-$80!). The only reason I went this year was because I was student volunteering and it was right here, so it was practically free for me. And I had the added incentive of presenting encouraging me to go.

One last note: while having the conference so close (just down in San Jose) was nice in that I didn't have to pay travel fees and could stay at home, it was actually frustrating to not be able to put my "normal" life on hold during the conference like one usually has to when it's farther away. I found myself running back to campus for my favorite seminar and other events. Living two lives like this is hard, and I don't want to even think about the work I have to do to catch up. I guess I'll have to do it again in a few weeks for ICA, which is in San Francisco this year (though it's over a weekend -- Memorial Day weekend -- instead of in the middle of the week like ACM conferences always seem to be. ACM is weird that way).
chimerically: (goldenrod)
It's nearly two and I'm not tired and for once I have no urgent assignments to finish, so perhaps I should write a bit about how my life is going. I haven't updated in -- how long has it been now? -- well, either mid-summer or the end of spring, depending on what you count as an update. In that time I've passed the quarter-century mark; moved to Palo Alto; started blues dancing; tried hanggliding and waterskiing; participated in a wedding (as a bridesmaid) at the Grand Canyon; performed with a lindy hop troupe; finished up my internship at Yahoo! Research, helped write two papers for CHI, and started classes at Stanford all in the same week; mobilized my incoming PhD cohort to collectively buy a printer, provide cheap snacks, and have a social email list like my last two departments did; bought and built a fancy new desktop computer for data storage and processing; started competitive ballroom dancing again with a new partner and won second place in a recent competition; went backpacking with first-timers [ profile] stellae and [ profile] zestyping; presented at two conferences (one with [ profile] dag29580863!) ... in short, I've been insanely busy and that's why I haven't been posting, even though I have millions of things I want to write about.

Despite the prevalence of social-sounding events in that list, what has been consuming most of my time is classwork. I'm loving my courses down here, but they really do keep me busy every spare moment with readings and assignments. I've found my Theory of Communication class, though focusing more on psychological measures and political communication than I (currently) do in my research, fascinating. We've discussed emotions and cognition, attitudes and persuasion, verbal and nonverbal communication, interpersonal and mass communication, and political communication, and will be talking about news, campaigns, and the Internet before the semester quarter is over.

I have two other classes which I am particularly enjoying, one on ethnography of virtual communities (taught through the anthropology department) and one on qualitative research methods (taught through the sociology department), which is a lot like a class I took at Berkeley except more structured. I have a list of at least fifty other classes I would like to take in the next few years, which of course I probably can't really do. I think I was at Berkeley long enough -- seven years altogether -- to exhaust most of the classes I wanted to (and was allowed to) take, except for the new and exciting one-time offerings through SIMS the iSchool. It's great to be in a place with a different (though similar in many ways) intellectual tradition and a whole new set of course offerings and opportunities. I have so many sociology and anthropology classes that I want to take that I may end up getting PhD minors in both (if I'm allowed), and maybe even getting a Master's in sociology along the way. The inimitable Jean Lave gave me the names of about twenty professors who she really likes at Stanford, and their course offerings all sound fascinating. I'm having trouble keeping the number of units I want take each semester quarter (eventually I'll get used to the new nomenclature) below the maximum.

My advisor Fred is fabulous, though he's been very busy this quarter promoting his new book -- which I guess is just as well, because I've been preoccupied with classes myself. I really look forward to interacting more with him and with others in the Communication department and beyond, though. And I'm also excited to do what I can to help forge more ties with Berkeley's iSchool, something several of the folks in Communication are interested in doing but lack the time to actually implement.

Aside from classwork, I've also become quite involved in several dance communities around the Bay Area. A good friend in the Stanford Ballroom Dance Team invited me to be their teacher training coordinator, so I set up a program for them at the beginning of the quarter. A fellow Yahoo! Research intern introduced me to blues dancing over the summer and I was hooked, and am now helping with R.A. Blues, a blues dancing venue in the South Bay. I've also been helping Julia Minson with her Mad Hot DanceSport program, teaching elementary school kids how to ballroom dance once a week and choreographing their end-of-year cha-cha/swing medley performance. (Stay tuned for more about this -- this will probably be Dec. 9, and the more who attend, the merrier.) Finally, after a four-month break, I've started dancing competitively again, this time with a Googler who recently moved up here from Southern California. So far it's going great -- though it was really important for me to take a break from ballroom dancing to rehabilitate myself, I've found that I have really missed it. Other kinds of dance, though they all share features, just can't make me as euphoric as International Standard danced at a high level. *contented sigh*

Well, there's a lot more to write -- I have a dozen outlined or half-written posts in my blog.txt file. But it's now approaching three and I'm finally starting to feel tired, and I have to get up early for physical therapy tomorrow (Stanford's health center is SO AMAZING! You Stanford students who complain about it don't know how lucky you are), so for now I'll sign off and leave my midnight railings and political rants for another day.
chimerically: (Default)
Paul Dourish gave a fabulous talk about the real roles ethnography should play in human-computer interaction, and the problems that currently exist with the assumptions of ethnography. I highly encourage anyone in human-computer interaction to read the paper - it's very well-written. Here's a summary of the talk, as much as I could get down.
Ethnography is a long-term, immersive, participant observation; it is a text; and it is inherently interpretive and analytic. There are a lot of misunderstandings of ethnography in HCI, though. Ethnographers have received many negative reviews for the lack of a (strong) "implications for design" section - these are a few Dourish collected from others:
  • "If you were to write a proposal of new technologies and use your data to support the design, the result would likely be a quite strong paper."
  • "How does this inform design in new ways?"
  • "The more technically inclined audience could be forgiven to think that CHI research on the topic is all talk."
  • "Does not provide an actionable framework ..."
  • ... and more (including one from a paper I helped write ... *cough cough*)
In particular, these four issues exist between ethnography and HCI/design:
  • Marginalization of theory: ethnography was seen as a "toolbox" of field techniques, the ethnographer as a "tape recorder." (Diana Forsythe famously said that "an ethnographer is not a tape recorder" -- an ethnographer must take an analytic stance, choose an interpretive practice.) Objectivity and subjectivity: Paul notices that many scientific/engineering students are uncomfortable with ethnography because they see interpretation as subjective, but ethnographic data isn't just "collected," it's generated from the encounter of the ethnographer and the field settings, and proceeds from a consciousness of what is or may be subjective. Interpretation and analysis are central. Doesn't mean that everything is "hopelessly" and "problematically" subjective, though.
  • Disciplinary power relations: what is implied by the insistence for implications for design? Instead, perhaps we should be asking what are the implications for theory. Why is design a natural end-point? Why does theory/analysis seem like an unreasonable end-point? Design is a privileged activity in HCI -- this shows the asymmetry between the disciplines and how much they're valued.
  • Relationship between technology and practice: the common view is that ethnography will uncover problems that design can fix. This assumes that the world is problematic and can be fixed by (technological) design. A better approach would to have a broader view of practice, including how technology is put to use (and adopted, adapted, repurposed, and appropriated), how people create new circumstances and consequences of technology use, and how technologies take on social meaning. To formulate practice as "deficient" or "needing to be fixed" presupposes a lot, and also puts design outside of the domain of the ethnographer.
  • Representation: over the last two centuries, anthropological ethnography has grown from "objective, instrumental, actionable" accounts to situated encounters. The former is now what is requested in technology and product design, though.
Finally, it's not that implications for design are bad -- they can be productive, and part of conversations between ethnographers and others. Ethnography also isn't just abstract and academic. It's just that the absence of implications for design shouldn't disqualify an ethnography -- they're a poor metric for evaluating ethnographic work. The narrow focus on design can underplay ethnography's contribution. Interdisciplinary engagement (ethnographers, designers, etc.) is also important, but we have to be conscious of the power relations that are going on between disciplines. (For example, CHI has out-priced a lot of non-technical disciplines!)
... Speaking of fees, Paul isn't the first to grumble about the fee hike this year. Jofish blogged it a while ago, and a group of students held a "CHI Student Fee Bake Sale" in protest. Hopefully ACM gets the message.
chimerically: (Default)
Today I'm a student volunteer in another great workshop on sex and HCI. What a way to get my student volunteer hours in! I'll write more later, but for now, I'll post an image from a sex and technology website that makes me snort and giggle every time I look at it. Maybe other female (and male) geeks out there will be amused, too.

Update: here's the conference poster. Click the link for a bigger version.

chimerically: (dolls)
Wow. Incredible workshop on "reflective human-computer interaction" today, with Phoebe Sengers and others. Hopefully I'll find time to write it up when I'm less jet-lagged. For now, I'll just link to the workshop site for those who are interested.

What a way to get in my student volunteer hours! :~)

Update: here's the conference poster. Click the link for a bigger version.

("Lift here for naughty words.")


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