tures. Disney guides point with two
fingers, not just an outstretched
index finger but both the index finger and middle finger. When I asked
why, I was informed that in some
cultures pointing with a single index
finger is considered rude. Indeed,
the Urban Dictionary calls the
two-finger point the “Disney Point,”
stating “Cast Members must point
using two fingers or their whole
hand, as it’s rude to point with one
finger. When pointing with one finger a guest may think that the Cast
Member is pointing at him/her” [ 9].
The tidbits of wisdom peppering
the Internet suggest that cultural
concerns about pointing are rife. A
(draft) Wikipedia page on etiquette
in North America states “Pointing
is to be avoided, unless specifically
pointing to an object and not a person” [ 10]. An informal, comparative
“study” of cafe-based interactions
in the U.S., Canada, and Australia
suggests to me that most people, in
Western culture at least, are blissfully unaware of this particular
gem of everyday etiquette. However,
it may be that pointing in general
is not the problem; rather, it could
be just pointing with a finger is the
social faux pas. Possibly apocryphally, I was told that in some Native
American cultures it is considered
appropriate to point with the nose.
And that some cultures are quite
happy with lip pointing—I note that
lip pointing looked more like I was
learning to blow a kiss or executing
a distorted pout when I tried it.
So why bother with this ponder-
ing on pointing? I am wondering
what research lies ahead as this
gestural interface revolution takes
hold. What are we, as designers and
developers, going to observe and
going to create? Don Norman offers
some cautionary tales, some pitfalls,
and some excellent design sugges-
tions of which we should be aware,
including “well-defined modes
of expression,” “a clear concep-
tual model” of system interaction,
“means of navigating unintended
consequences,” and, of course, a way
to undo [ 6]. But beyond those, what
are we going to do to get systems
learning with us as we point, ges-
ture, gesticulate, and communicate?
As humans, we know that getting
to know someone often involves
a subtle mirroring of posture, the
development of an interpersonal
choreography of motion: I learn
how you move and learn to move as
you move, in concert with you, creating
a subtle feedback loop of motion that
signifies connection and intimacy. Will
this happen with our technologies?
And how will they manage with
multiple masters and mistresses of
micro-motion, of physical-emotional
choreography? More prosaically,
as someone out and about in the
world, as digital interactions with
walls and floors become com-
monplace, am I going to be struck
by people pointing? ( Who has not
been run into by people looking at
their mobile phone screens, walk-
ing without looking where they are
going?) Am I going to be abashed or
offended by their ways of pointing?
Julie Rice and Stephen Brewster of
Glasgow University in Scotland have
been doing field and survey work
on just this, addressing how social
settings affect the acceptability of
interactional gestures. What would
people prefer not to do in public
when interacting with digital devic-
es, and how much difference does it
make if they do or don’t know others
who are present? Head nodding and
nose tapping apparently are more
likely to be unacceptable than wrist
rotation and foot tapping [ 11].
1. Deixis; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deixis
2. Noessel, c. and Shedroff, N. Make it so: Learning
from SciFi interfaces. UX Week 2010; http://www.
3. coleran, M. the reality of fantasy. UX Week 2010;
4. John Underkoffler was the designer of Minority
report’s interface. the g-speak tracks hand move-
ments and allows users to manipulate 3-D objects in
space. See also SixthSense, developed by pranav
Mistry at the MIt Media Lab.
5. John Underkoffler points to the future of UI; http://
6. Norman, D. Natural user interfaces are not natu-
ral. 2010; http://jnd.org/dn.mss/natural_user_inter-
7. Erasmus, D. A Handbook on Good Manners for
Children: De Civilitate Morum Puerilium Libellus. E.
Merchant, trans. preface publishing, London, 2008.
8. For more on this see bremmer, J. and
roodenburg, H. A Cultural History of Gesture. polity
press, cambridge, UK, 1991.
9. the Urban Dictionary on the “Disney point”;
10. Etiquette in North America; http://en.wikipedia.
11. rico, J. and brewster, S.A. Usable gestures for
mobile interfaces: Evaluating social acceptability.
Proc. of CHI 2010 (Atlanta, GA, April 10-15). AcM
press, New York, 2010.
September + October 2011
© 2011 AcM 1072-5220/11/09 $10.00