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Visitor Orientation

Place, too, not less than time, pervades everything; for everything that happens is in a place.
-Simplicius, In Aristoteles categories commentarium

Places and environments come as corporeal or incorporeal. Computers has, e.g., allowed for the development of incorporeal places in many forms: web sites, chat places, communities, and most visually 3D worlds. Human-computer interaction is evolving into a discipline concerned with the experience of being-a-visitor of incorporeal environments in addition to being-a-user of corporeal (i.e., mouse and keybord) and incorporeal tools (i.e., software utilities). Here a field of possibilities is opening up for human-computer interaction since place is of great consequence to us. Corporeal places hold the power to shape our thoughts, emotions, and actions [Gallagher ‘93]. That this applies also to incorporeal places becomes apparent when we examine, e.g., research on net related communities [Rheingold ’93, Cherny ’99, Hafner ’01], 3D environments, and computer supported collaborative work [Harrison & Dourish ’96].
In computer-supported environments people have what can be termed placial experiences, i.e., people treat computer environments as places [Reeves & Nass ’96]. We can also turn to the everyday language games of human-computer interaction to gain a sense of the power of place. We speak, e.g., of being part of communities, surfing the web, hanging out at chat places and being in virtual worlds. When we work we say that we do so in operating systems and applications. So, e.g., we say things like “Where do I change the screen saver in Windows?” and “I am in Word now. In the spell checker. How do I get out of this?” Why is it that we use so many place-related metaphors in everyday talk about computers? The answers lie in that we always place ourselves (willfully or not) somewhere or other. Indeed the self can be seen as a self-locative system [Benson ‘01], i.e., a system that strives to continuously place itself whether in corporeal or incorporeal worlds and places. This behavior is part of our psychology and fundamental groundedness in life [Ibid ’01 p10]. Being placed is one of life’s constants on par with heartbeats and breathing.
Mental life is so dependent on being placed that we can only loose our sense of it under the most unusual circumstances. To the extent that we are not experiencing ourselves as being physically placed, e.g., in a city, a room or a garden, we experience ourselves as incorporeally placed, e.g., in cultural worlds, digital places or in the incorporeal realities of our imagination. When we become immersed in a good book or a movie we experience fictive places. Similarly, when we become immersed in human-computer interaction we experience digital environments or soft places. Soft places depend on the interaction between people, machines and software. These places emerge out of human-computer interaction.

In my licentiate thesis [Hedman ‘01] I reported from a set of visitor-oriented studies and delineated how visitor orientation could be a viable field of research. In my continuing work I attempt to broaden the theoretical treatment of place. Researchers from the humanities have contributed to our understanding of place considerably. I have searched for literature that can serve as perspectives on human-computer interaction in soft places. Two central questions are: How is that soft places can arise? How is it we find ourselves at home or not at home in soft places? Place, on the modern scientific world view, is merely seen as some soft and cosy aspect of human culture. The reason why we do not talk as much of place as of space in human-computer interaction stems from our modern world view of space as being somehow primary, more real in a scientific sense than place [Casey ’93 p. xiv]. Place is thought to be secondary and fleeting, not an intrinsic feature of the physical universe. What is forgotten however is that we did not form our conception of space in space for as humans we begin our journey as placed. So in this sense at least, place is more primary for us since it is where thought begins, our social world opens up and our personality forms. Any discussion of space, machines or science in general can only be held against this background of being-in-place. This is why I believe that our relation to place is important to explore in human-computer interaction. To discuss place in human-computer interaction may seem like taking a step up on the ladder of abstraction, i.e., to move from relatively concrete concepts of users and space to the complexity involved with persons and place. But, in fact, what is being done is the opposite. The turning to place and people is a going back to basics. This task warrants a pluralistic approach that draws on literature in different fields.

Admittedly pluralism can be a double-edged sword that offers perspective but no singular unifying model such as that offered by e.g., a cognitive approach to HCI, i.e., the human as information processor model [Dix et al ‘98]. However, wide-scope analysis exclude neither thorough synthesis nor focus. While the analytic challenge is to provide for multiple views of human-computer interaction in soft places, the synthetic challenge is to show how those perspectives can be used in explaining the phenomena of soft places. How do soft places emerge out of human-computer interaction? It is this question of emergence that is the central issue of consideration here. How is it that we place ourselves in the digital world? What aspects come into play in the generation of place? What are some central features of soft places? These are main questions that I try to provide answers to. I also provide practical advice that builds on the theoretical work and the empirical results. Some of the empirical work was undertaken while I was working on my licentiate thesis and have been reported on in that work [Hedman ‘01]. Other studies have been conducted after the finishing of my licentiate thesis.

Benson C (2001) The Cultural Psychology of self—Place, morality and art in human worlds Routledge

Casey E (1993) Getting Back Into Place Bloomington: Indiana University Press

Cherny L (1999) Conversation and Community—Chat in a Virtual World Stanford, CA: Center for Study of Language and Information (CLSI).

Dix A, Finlay J, Abowd G, Beale R (1998) (Eds) Human-Computer Interaction Second Edition Prentice Hall Europe

Gallagher W (1994) The power of place New York, NY: HarperPerennial

Hafner K (2001) The Well—A story of love, death & real life in the seminal online community New York: Carroll & Graf Publishers

Harrison S & Dourish P (1996) Re-Place-ing Space: The Roles of Space and Place in Collaborative Systems In Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work CSCW ’96 (Boston, MA). New York: ACM Press

Hedman, A. (2001). Visitor Orientation : Human computer interaction in digital places Licenciate dissertation at the Royal Institute of Technology, Sweden. ISBN-91-7283-049-2 ISSN-0348-2952

Reeves B & Nass C (1996) The media equation: how people treat computers, television and new media like real people and places Cambridge University Press

Rheingold H (1993) The virtual community: Homesteading on the electronic frontier Addison-Wesley


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