torsdag 15 december 2016

Sustainability through Disintermediation (paper)


With the exception of this introduction, the rest of the blog post (below) was written back in September, right after we submitted this paper to the CHI 2017 conference (also see the previous blog post). As of a few days back we now know that the paper has been accepted to that particularly selective conference! We are not required to but we do have the opportunity to brush the paper up over Christmas as the deadline for the camera-ready paper is January 6. One of the things we will do is to change the title of the paper into "Means and Ends in Human-Computer Interaction: Sustainability through Disintermediation". My perhaps favorite reviewer ever started his/her review of our paper as follows:

"This was a joy to read, and I personally learned a lot from reading it. It makes an important contribution to the field of sustainable HCI - both by providing such a great synthesis of previous work in the area, and by providing a new rubric researchers can use to identify high impact HCI work that addresses sustainability. Moreover, the paper does a fantastic job of communicating a mature understanding of sustainability - and indeed much of the value of the paper is in how the authors manage to bring together such a diverse set of references in presenting this understanding of sustainability."

---------- Now for some time travel as this was in fact written in September:

I submitted a paper to to the CHI conference back in September, "Meeting Human Needs by Other Means: Sustainability through Disintermediation". The paper is written by Barath Raghavan and me.

The most "heavy" stuff I have written about sustainability have been written together with Barath, e.g. "Rethinking Sustainability in Computing" (pdf) back in 2014 and "Refactoring Society" (pdf) earlier this year (2016). This is another instalment in this series of heavy and for the most part theoretical papers. The two most prominent keywords for connecting the paper to suitable reviewers were "Sustainability" and "Design Methods".

This paper can be seen as the long-awaited (or at least long-time-ago promised) follow-up to our 2014 NordiCHI paper "Rethinking Sustainability in Computing". We promised to write a paper that took the theoretical stance we presented there seriously and that went on to suggest what the implication and the recommendations for design were, but, it turned out our criteria for what constitutes sustainability (in that paper) were so stringent and tough that it was hard to recommend people to build any systems at all... Well, this time around we actually do have some recommendations as to what systems we in HCI ought to build when taking sustainability into account. On the plus side: there are now concrete recommendations. On the flip side: the recommendations are still very tough and many won't like to ponder the recommendations nor the implications.

The paper has thus been brewing for a long time (years), but it was put together in a frighteningly short amount of time. The schedule for putting it together was in fact brutal and Barath took on the major part of the work load. Also, he was the first author of the paper and I was already writing on two other papers for CHI. But we both worked really hard, especially as we got near the deadline and while I had other (writing project) commitments, Barath had a baby who didn't allow him a proper night's sleep. Altogether it seems like a miracle that we managed to get the paper together in time and that the result became as lucid as it is. Oh, and if you wonder, here's how we introduce and define the term "disintermediation" in the article:

"Disintermediation involves the re-engagement of entities— removing intermediaries—in a sociotechnical system. It is more accurately viewed as a re-design approach, since it focuses on redesigning existing systems that have potentially-undesirable layers. Thus applied in user-centered design, the role of disintermediation is to identify layers within a system that can be removed while retaining the key functionality of the system, and without diminishing the system’s usability or usefulness to the user."

And here's the 150-word paper abstract:

Meeting Human Needs by Other Means: Sustainability through Disintermediation


There has been an increased interest in broader contexts from ecology and economics within the HCI community in recent years. These developments imply that the HCI community should engage with, and respond to concerns that are exter- nal to computing yet profoundly impact human society. In this paper we observe that taking these broader contexts into account yields a fundamentally different way to think about sustainable interaction design, one in which the designer’s focus must be on a) ecological limits, b) creating designs and artifacts that do not further a cornucopian paradigm, and c) fundamental human needs.

These contexts can be challenging in practical HCI work but we propose that the design rubric of disintermediation can serve as a unifying approach for user-centered design that meets the ecological and economic challenges outlined in prior work. After discussing the potential impact of disin- termedation, we perform a critical analysis using this design rubric to several key application areas relating to fundamen- tal human needs.

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