Physical computing

What is Interaction?

What is Interaction? Chris Crawford said, interaction means conversation, requiring three steps, listen, think and speak. It's a brilliant idea to describe interaction. It reminds me of another example that is pretty similar to interaction: two people playing the chess. One person sees his component's last move, and thinks about what to do with it, and then makes his own move, and the other person continues and does the same three things. But I realized there's is a obvious difference between playing chess and interaction. The final goal for playing chess is to defeat your opponent. Everything you think, every move you take while you playing chess is to achieve this one single goal.

But how about interaction? What's the goal of interaction? I started to think the definition of interaction from this question. Cause nowadays everybody talks about interaction, I was wondering why the interaction is so important, why people are going to interact with other people or the computer. I'm not sure if this is a silly question. I cannot figure out the answer, so I went back to the beginning. Interaction share much common with conversation(listen, think and speak). And I believe the goal of conversation is to exchange dynamic ideas or feelings. So I think the goal of interaction is also to exchange dynamic ideas and feelings. Speaking of exchange, it requires two people understanding each other and expressing their ideas and feelings clearly. It's pretty much the same thing as listening and speaking. And when I say the ideas and feeling are dynamic, I mean different input causes different thinking and then, the thinking causes different speaking. The ideas and feelings changed in the whole process of interaction.

By the way, I had so much fun reading Chris's article. He gave many interesting examples to make the definition and the features of interaction much easier to understand. I also learned much important knowledge. I learned the difference between interaction design and interface design. the interactivity designer considers both form and function and is stronger in the art/humanities. Also I learned that interactivity is new and revolutionary, yet tried and true; it can make us more engaged into activities than other medium; it’s the essence of the computer revolution; and it’s unknown territory.

And Bret Victor’s rant talks much about the future interaction should be more powerful than Picture Under Glass. The future interaction should use our hands, because our hands can intuitively feel and manipulate things in rich ways. So Victor proposed a more intuitive interface.


How would you define physical interaction?

I think the physical interaction embraces the richness of human interaction with the physical world. Actually I think anything that jump out of the graphical interface(the 2D world) could become a kind of physical interaction. Not just our hands, we can use our mouth, our ears, our whole body to explore all the possibilities in physical interaction.

There's one thing I want to talk about. People may think that the graphical interaction (or like Picture Under Glass) is not as good as physical interaction. I don't agree with them. At first, I like the physical interaction more than the graphical interaction. But, there's no clear evidence that can prove physical interaction is better than graphical ones in the human-computer interaction research field what so ever. The situation is subtler. It just proved that the physical interface might be better for certain situations, or to be more specified, better for certain leaners in certain phases of the learning process. And from my point of view, graphical interface could offer richer visual information. So I think it's necessary to combine physical interface and graphical interface to offer users the flexibility to select the most appropriate interface for a given situation.


What makes for good physical interaction?

Intuitive. Human already learned many ways to feel and manipulate objects, so we could just use this advantage. In addition, it's hard for users to learn a brandy new interactive method. It takes time and patient, which will decrease the fun of using the tool.


Are there works from others that  are good examples of digital technology that are not interactive?

I think the good example will be the telegram. It's a great invention of that time, but as Chris said about spreadsheet programs on big computers, it takes too much time and contains too little information. One person went to the Telegraph Office and sent a few words to the another person and waited, waited until he got a very short message a couple days later.  I wouldn't say there is no interaction in it at all, but I think the interactive method in this case is too simple and boring to be called interaction.