afforded only listing a few things
to do on a day, would this help
people keep their workload manageable, or would it simply become
an irritant to be worked around?
March + April 2011
I have attempted to trace the contours of a modern orientation to
work and time, and in doing so
to expose a common, Western,
unconsciously held set of values for
critical reflection. I have done so
through the lens of my own experiences in order to show how these
values are not simply objective facts
that people leverage in their activities but also something that forms
an indivisible part of our everyday consciousnesses and shapes
how we experience the world.
Because we invariably draw on our
worldviews in designing software
applications, IT design tends to
reflect and reinforce these values.
I have examined particularly the
attributes of choice, productivity,
and control over time, which are
highly valued in modern Western
culture. By aiming to understand
and take on an orientation to time
that does not place these attributes
at the center, I have attempted to
show that there are reasonable
alternatives to taking these attributes as central to IT design. My
goal is not to argue that there is no
value to choice, productivity, and
control, but to demonstrate that
in addition to their benefits, these
attributes also have very real costs.
These costs suggest that it makes
sense to open a design space for
alternatives. If current software
applications frequently depend
on and reinforce modern values,
then perhaps alternative applications could help us to become, if
only temporarily, non-modern.
Still, there may be real limits
to the extent to which it is pos-
sible to push a countercultural
ideal through technology design.
Until I came to Change Islands, I
had based my career on the idea
that design should promote and
be a vehicle for critical reflection,
as I have attempted to do here. I
believed that doing so would sup-
port a better world, as individuals
would be able to make freer choices
in their lives. Living on Change
Islands convinced me that com-
munities matter much, much more
than individual choice.
This research was supported by the
NSF under grant ISS-0847293, “SGER:
Rethinking Drivers for IT: Lessons
from a Newfoundland Fishing Village.”
Many thanks to the residents of Change
Islands, who donated graciously of
their time to make this project possible. Support for project activities was
provided by the Change Islands Town
Council, the Stages and Stores Heritage
Foundation, the Squid Jiggers Tourism
Assocation, and the Change Islands
Newfoundland Pony Refuge. My reflections on overwork were greatly enhanced
through conversations with Gilly Leshed
and David Carlson.
[ 1] Ecke, R. Snowshoe and Lancet: Memoirs of a
Frontier Newfoundland Doctor, 1937-1948. University
Press of New England, Lebanon, NH, 2000.
[ 2] Strasser, S. Never Done: A History of American
Housework. Pantheon Books, New York, 1982
[ 3] Fullerton, Ben. Designing for solitude.
interactions 17, 6 (2010), 6-9.
[ 4] For example, Gaver, W. W., Bowers, J., Boucher,
A., Gellerson, H., Pennington, S., Schmidt, A.,
Steed, A., Villars, N. and Walker, B. The drift table:
Designing for ludic engagement. CHI ‘04 Extended
Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems.
(Vienna, Austria, Apr. 24-29). ACM, New York, 2004,
About thE Author
Phoebe Sengers is an associate professor in Information
Science and Science and
Technology Studies at Cornell
University, where she runs the
Culturally Embedded Computing group. Her
research interests include critical approaches
to sustainable HCI and humanities-and-arts-based HCI methodology.
© 2011 ACM 1072-5220/11/0300 $10.00