Everyware: book review

I already presented some thoughts about "Everyware : The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing" by Adam Greenfield in this blog but here's a more detailed review. Overall, the book is an extremely complete overview of what is ubiquitous computing / pervasive computing / ambient computing / xxx. The terminology for this new computing paradigm is so diverse that the author coined the term "Everyware". The discussion about the terminology is still lively and I won't enter too much in the debate here because hmm I tend to agree on both sides.

What I appreciate in this book is the author's stance: taking the user experience hat allows Greenfield to go was beyond a simple catalogue of neat applications. This is not the propos here. More importantly, I really like the conclusion: "it's one of the many things in my life that I cannot conceive of being improved by an overlay of ubiquitous information technology. (...) I know enough about how informatics system are built and brought to market to be very skeptical about its chances of bringing wholesale improvements to the quality of my life (...) I have a hard time buying into the notion that such ubiquitous computing interventions in the world can be had without significant cost". Of course, it's Adam's (and also mine) work to study the user experience and HCI concerns so this conclusion (and the fact that I like it) are quite logical, but there is certainly more reason to acknowledge them. Unfortunately, there is currently little studies about pervasive computing usage. That is also what Adam says: advocating for more user experience concerns and studies using social sciences in ubicomp, I cannot say more that this is exactly what we are trying to do with CatchBob!: trying to explore and understand how certain features of pervasive computing (it's scientific research, we cannot tackle all the topics at the same time) may affect social and cognitive processes. My work is directed towards understanding how location-awareness impacts group collaboration by exploring how knowing others' whereabouts affects small group communication, construction of a shared understanding of the team, strategy negotiation, coordination as well as inferring other's intents. Fabien is using Catchbob to study the problem of users' uncertainty.

The thesis 18 is also interesting ("in many circumstances, we can't really conceive of the human being engaging everyware as a "user""). That's indeed a problem we're facing when discussing about blogjects with Julian.

I already discussed the thesis 43 (“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“.) but the thesis 35 is also of relative importance with regards to my work: "Everyware surfaces and makes explicit information that has always been latent in our lives, and this will frequently be incommensurate with social or psychological comfort". In my work about how people benefit (or not) from having automatical information about other's location in space, this the case: sometimes the information is not needed and brings people on wrong inferences or miscoordination. Automatically sending parterns' location led people to less focus on other parameters.

Back to the book, what is good is to have a global perspective here; the section about what is driving the emergence of everyware is important for that matter: pervasice computing is latent and arriving due to some reasons ranging from techno-push companies to its existence in our imagination (inherently driven by a certain kind of culture).

Moreover, I am still wondering about the tinkering potential of everyware. Adam says in p163 that "everyware is not going to be something simply vended to a passive audience by the likes of Intel and Samsung: what tools such as Ning tells us is that there will be millions of homebrew designers/makers developing their own modules...". There are mixed signals about this. On one hand, there are lots of tinkerers that use Ning, hack roomba robots or Nabatag but my fear is that those pervasive computing platforms are not open enough. IMO the most interesting, lively and open platform is the Web (and the Internet to a lesser extent), and I don't know whether a similar phenomenon would happen to pervasive computing (even though the web/forums/blogs/IM... allows better visibility and then the forming of community of practices).

I also liked the criticisms towards certain projects like the neverending variation around the "web-on-the-wall" or the intelligent fridge that - even when I saw them in action - I always found dead boring, tech-driven and not situated in user's practices. Besides, concepts like "the messy inexacitude of the everyday" are neat. The concluding guidelines are important and it's obviously a commitment to user experience specialists and researchers to do something.

Now for the critics, I would say that it could have been included in a wider overview using the NBIC framework (Nanotechnology Biotechhnology Information technology and Cognitive sciences) but it might had been detrimental to the reader's comprehension. So it's not too much of a problem.

However, I feel like the book lacks of graphics. It's not that I wanted picture to see what's behind everyware technology (I know that and I don't care, and I guess it's been on purpose so that the neophyte reader more focus on what is at stake than how it may look like) but for some theses and arguments, it would have been could to have graphics. Not scientific things but only few picture to clarify some points or to make arguments and theses more visual.

Finally, I miss the art dimension: if user experience and HCI are still lagging behind technology and engineering to address the usage of ubicomp, this is definitely not the case of art: interactive art gracefully tackles lots of issues in the world of pervasive computing. Of course, it's not scientific research, nor concrete arguments towards the comprehension of massive usage of pervasive computing but it brings lots of important concerns that Adam's address (on topic ranging from new user interface capabilities to the social impacts of those applications).

Also, speaking about convergence I'd be interested in thinking about how robots would fit into this everyware picture. I tend to think that not-anthropomorphical/pet robots are more interesting as ubicomp objects, and I am wondering about the convergence between robots and pervasive tech, which is IMO very latent.

I am playing the party pooper here, the book is a great achievement and a must-read for ubicomp novices. I have comments or connection for every pages so I will stop here. Let's talk about it directly on thursday Adam.