Every extension is more than an amputation

Reading "Everyware : The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing" by Adam Greenfield, I am trying to articulate the different "theses" with what I do in my research. One of the most relevant connection is the "Thesis 43" (p148): "Everyware produces a wide-belt of circumstances where human agency, judgement and will are progressively supplanted by compliance with external, frequently algorithmically-applied standards and norms". In this thesis, Adam exemplifies this by a quote by Marshall McLuhan I had also been amazed by: "every extension is [also] an amputation" (Understanding the Media, 1969).

This is exactly one of the conclusion of my PhD research that addresses collaboration in a pervasive game (which can be consider as a first step into an "everyware" world). In the context of my research, I found that automating location awareness information of others can be detrimental to how a small group behave (regarding the division of labor among them, the way they communicate, negotiate and infer others' intents). This is better described in a paper called The Underwhelming Effects of Automatic Location-Awareness on Collaboration in a Pervasive Game.

My point is that giving automatically information about others' location in space can undermine group collaboration. This had been showed by a field experiment we conducted last year. We compared different groups: some had this automatical awareness information and some had not. Groups with the automatical positions of others had a less rich collaboration: they less discussed, less negotiated the strategy, rather sticked to the plan they decided before the game and did not recall their partners' paths very efficiently.

It goes actually even further: I would say that here "every extension is more than an amputation". The user gain the spatial positions of others but loose some important value of letting people express this information by themselves. This is bound to the misconception that automatically sending my position is the same as letting me sending a message to my buddies about it: in the former it's sending and information whereas in the latter it's sending an information AND an intention that I sent something relevant to my addressee.

Why do I blog this? I am glad to see how concrete user experience of pervasive computing can be articulated with higher levels thoughts described by Adam in his book. It shows how a "user experience" angle is needed to better understand what is at stake when we are talking about "everyware". That's what we need in this academic CSCW project.