INTERACTIONS.ACM.ORG 66 INTERACTIONS JULY–AUGUST2014
In this forum we celebrate research that helps to successfully bring the benefits of computing technologies to children,
older adults, people with disabilities, and other populations that are often ignored in the design of mass-marketed products.
— Juan Pablo Hourcade, Editor
FORUM UNIVERSAL INTERACTIONS
Social Awareness in HCI
M. Cecília C. Baranauskas, Universidade Estadual de Campinas
Contemporary society is characterized by knowledge mediated by digital technology. From services available through everyday banking transactions to
the exercise of citizenship by electing
government representatives through
voting machines, knowledge is made
available through the technological
artifacts that society creates.
However, not everyone is able to
reach it. Some authors say that the
barriers are not technological, but
rather social and economic [ 1]. Indeed,
barriers to accessing knowledge in the
contemporary world include types of
illiteracy (literal, functional, digital)
often found in socioeconomically
disadvantaged regions, a reality that
many developing countries face.
Nevertheless, assuming that obstacles
are economic does not relieve us
from the responsibility of creating
technology that helps to reverse this
situation. There is no neutrality in
technology design: It may help enable
everyone to access information while
at the same time further increasing the
gap between those who can and cannot
make use of it.
In 2006 the Brazilian Computer
Society challenged our scientific
community with the demands of the
fourth of the five Grand Challenges
for Computer Science in Brazil: the
“Universal and Participatory Access of
Brazilian Citizens to Knowledge” [ 2].
Brazil is a country with continental
dimensions and about 200 million
people; we live in an environment
with enormous differences in
socioeconomic and educational
conditions and technological access.
Consider the relationship of Brazilian
citizens with Internet technology.
Although the number of Brazilians
with Internet access has grown in the
past few years, differences in access
still exist between urban and rural
areas ( 44 percent of households in
urban areas have Internet access,
compared with 10 percent in rural
areas), between regions ( 48 percent
in the Southeast, compared with
21 percent in the North), and
between social classes (97 percent in
class A, compared with 6 percent in
classes D and E).
How should we think about access
to knowledge through technology for all
Solutions to the fourth challenge
certainly involve several disciplines
and a broad string of topics in
computer science, from the level
of technological infrastructure to
interaction and interface design
solutions for a population as diverse
as ours. At the Universidade Estadual
de Campinas (UNICAMP) Nucleus
of Informatics Applied to Education,
we chose to work on the HCI aspects
of the problem. In particular, we
focus on the increasingly fuzzy line
between formal work and other
aspects of everyday life, and between
the concepts of usefulness and
usability of software on the one hand
and its hedonic qualities on the other.
Solutions involving multiple and
multi-mediation of physical and/or
logical artifacts, and the possibility of
user interfaces flexible to adjustments
by user groups, also looked promising.
Above all, we wanted solutions
developed under the paradigm of
Design for All (DA): “The design of
products and environments to be
usable by all people, to the greatest
extent possible, without the need for
adaptation or specialized design” [ 4].
In our reading of DA, design solutions
must not discriminate against the less
capable, but rather help educate them
and potentially improve their overall
access to knowledge and technology.
We soon realized that a holistic
understanding of our interaction
design scenario was needed.
Our postmodern society is plural; we
live in a world of differences with many
contradictory worldviews. Postmodern
thought focuses on recognition of the
Other—other people, other groups,
other species, other cultures, the other
in the conscious mind, the other in
the rational mind, and so forth. The
postmodern emphasis on difference
(irreconcilable differences) allows others
previously silenced, such as those with
→ Assuming the digital divide is just an
economic or social problem does not
relieve designers of technology from
their responsibility toward it.
→ Interaction design solutions should
welcome the less capable without
discriminating against them.
→ A socially aware design involves
the production and interpretation
of meanings with those impacted
by the design solution.