Other work has sought to mitigatethe effects of technology on theenvironment and promote sustainablelifestyle choices, encouragingalternative consumption patterns andeffecting sustainable decision-makingat the individual level. Eric Paulosand colleagues have explored the roleof environmental sensors in castingenergy use as a social and emotionalproblem [ 2]. These ideas are oftenlinked to the goal of sustainabilityon the basis of what sociologistElizabeth Shove sees as a problematicassumption: that shifts in individualattitude, behavior, and choice cancreate a basis for large-scale change.
They should be indexed by studiesthat pay attention to the collective andinfrastructural scales of analysis.
The consequences of using
material stuff to delimit the range of
human action have been theorized
in any number of ways. It’s easy to
be optimistic: to look at the houses
in the Solar Decathlon and imagine
a future where our homes save us
from our carbon-spewing selves. But
a pessimistic view also has utility.
If the logic of the market is never-
ending growth, a logical conclusion is
that Google’s acquisition of the Next
thermostat and push into the so-called
smart home market will be a net
increase in energy use. Indeed, early
advertisements for home management
and control systems show upper-
middle-class homeowners remotely
turning on lights at their second
home in the interest of security, or
cranking up the thermostat so it will
be comfortable before they arrive. The
tendency of technology to enable more
consumption is a recurring pattern.
A research scientist hired by Toyotarecently predicted self-driving cars willincrease energy use and urban sprawl,observing that “U.S. history shows thatanytime you make driving easier, thereseems to be this inexhaustible desire tolive further from things” [ 3].
Rather than focusing on increasingconvenience, there’s an opportunityfor HCI researchers to take a note fromthe Solar Decathlon. Why not fiddlewith the recipe up front, to ensure thatthe decisions that get baked in to thematerial structures of our homes arebetter ones, so that our agency whenit comes to energy use and carbonemissions is not reduced to that ofremote thermostat user? Currentenergy-modeling software programssuch as WUFI Passive are clunkyand difficult to use, and even thosefamiliar with their use are suspiciousof the results they obtain [ 4]. Now thatwe can control a thermostat from asmartphone any where in the world,HCI should take a step back fromthinking about changing the behavior ofusers and focus instead on the decisionsembedded in the “dumb” materials ofbricks, mortar, and insulation. To makedecisions that save energy and reducecarbon emissions, designers, engineers,and even regular homeowners needbetter technical support at all stages ofthe design process, whether remodelingan existing home or building a new one.
1. Blevis, Eli. Sustainable interaction design:
Invention and disposal, renewal and reuse.
Proc. of CHI 2007. ACM, 2007, 503–512.
2. Paulos, E.R., Honicky, J., and Hooker, B.
Citizen science: Enabling participatory
urbanism. Handbook of Research on Urban
Informatics. 2008, 414–436.
3. Ken Laberteaux as quoted by Bloomberg
Jonathan Bean is an assistant professorof markets, innovation, and design at BucknellUniversity. His research deals with domesticconsumption, technology, and taste.→ email@example.comSEPTEMBER–OCTOBER 2014 INTERACTIONS 19