nology to new uses and new meanings—even by simply getting it to
work in a new setting.
The Promise of Digital
With this idea of humanness
as creativity in place, Suchman
turns her attention in the closing chapters of the book to an
exploration of digital participatory art as an alternative creative
practice through which to explore
emergence and human-machine
difference. She describes, for
example, the participatory installations “Mother and Child” [ 9] and
“TGarden” [ 10] as interesting contrasts to HCI/AI projects that try
to pack ever-more-sophisticated
ambient intelligence into systems
while providing no more access
to the context of its human users
than the Xerox machine Suchman
studied for the first edition of
her book did. In contrast to the
Xerox, “TGarden” actively eschews
trying to understand the intentions of its users, instead focusing on increasing the bandwidth
of the sensorial window that
the machine has on its human
actant. As Sha Xin Wei says:
The TGarden software tracks gesture
rather than recognizes gesture, because
at no place in the software is there a
“model” that codes the gesture… the
software does not infer what the player
means by her gesture, it merely tracks
the gesture and continuously synthesizes responses. So what we have done
is to set aside entirely the problem of
inferring human intent from behavior,
or more generally from observables. Yet
by providing and even thickening the
sensuous response, we make fertile the
substrate for agency… [ 11].
If the old project around human-
computer interaction posited
agency as the hallmark of human-
ness, and the design challenge as
emulating that in machines, then
what these new forms of partici-
patory digital art suggest is that
the new project around pervasive
technology might be to offer a
relational, performative account
that configures both human and
computer in intra-action. So, for
Suchman, the design question is
“how to configure assemblages
in such a way that we can intra-
act responsibly and generatively
with and through them” [ 12].
She elaborates on this idea:
really makes Suchman’s ideas good
for me is not her answers but her
questions. Questions like “What
does it mean to be human?” seem
to be more important than ever in
today’s world of fast-paced technological progress—progress that is
so fast that even researchers and
practitioners, let alone ordinary
citizens, seldom have the time to
stop and think about the answers,
and what they imply for how, who,
or what, we should be.
1. Suchman, L. A. Human-Machine Reconfigurations:
Plans and Situated Actions, 2nd Edition. cambridge
University press, New York, 2007.
2. barad, K. posthumanist performativity: towards
an understanding of how matter comes to matter.
Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28
3. See [ 1], p. 267.
4. Latour, b. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality
of Science Studies. Harvard University press,
cambridge, MA, 1999.
5. Agre, p. conceptions of the user in computer
systems design. In The Social and Interactional
Dimensions of Human-computer Interaction. p.
thomas, ed. cambridge University press, New
York, 1995, 67-106.
6. See [ 5], p. 73; cited in [ 1], p. 188.
7. See [ 1], p. 192-193.
8. See [ 1], p. 270.
9. tikka, H. Mother and child, 2000; http://mlab.
10. Wei, S. X. resistance is fertile: Gesture
and agency in the field of responsive media.
Configurations 10 (2003), 439-472; http://
11. See [ 10], p. 457; quoted in [ 1], p. 281.
12. See [ 1], p. 285.
13. See [ 1], p. 281.
About the Author
peter Wright is professor of social
computing in the Digital
Interaction Group based in the
culture Lab at Newcastle
University. He has over 20 years
of experience as a human-cen-
tered design researcher and is best known in the
HcI community for his research into theory and
methods for experience-centered design. His cur-
rent projects focus on bringing experience-cen-
tered design principles to health-related services
September + October 2011
© 2011 AcM 1072-5220/11/09 $10.00