Space, cognition, interaction 1: space/place

This is the first blogpost of a serie that concerns my thoughts about the topic "Space, cognition, interaction" that I address in my dissertation. This issue has been tackled by various disciplines ranging from environmental psychology to sociology, architecture and human-computer interaction when technology is involved. This blogpost serie summarizes some important notions and results arising from these fields. In each of the post I try to describe how this is important to the the object of my research: the location awareness of others. Step 1 is about the differentiation between "space" and "place". A recurrent discussion concerning spatiality targets the differences between the concepts of “space” and “place”. Harrison and Dourish (1996) indeed advocated for talking about place rather than space. They claim that even though we are located in space, people act in places. This difference opposes space defined as a range of x and y coordinates or latitude/longitude to the naming of places such as “home” or “café”. By building up a history of experiences, space becomes a “place” with a significance and utility; a place affords a certain type of activity because it provides the cues that frame participants’ behavior. For instance, a virtual room labeled as “bar” or “office” will trigger different interactions. In a sense, it is the group’s understanding of how the space should be used that transform it into a place. Space is turned into place by including the social meanings of action, the cultural norms as well as the group’s cultural understanding of the objects and the participants located in a given space. However, as Dourish recently claimed, this distinction is currently of particular interest since technologies pervade the spatial environment (Dourish, 2006). This inevitably leads to the intersection of multiple spatialities or the overlay of different “virtual places” in one space. Thus, location-awareness of others also relates to how people make sense of a specific location: depending on the way the location of others is described, it could lead to different inferences. For example, knowing that a friend is at the “library” (place) frames the possible inferences about what the friend might be doing there.

Additionally, partitioning activities is another social function supported by spatiality (Harrison and Dourish, 1996). For example, in a hospital, corridors are meant to be walked in to go to waiting rooms where people wait before meeting doctors who operatein operating rooms. Research concerning virtual places also claims that a virtual room can define a particular domain of interaction (Benford et al. 1993). Chat rooms, for example, are used to support different tasks in collaborative learning: a room for teleconferences and a room for class meetings (Haynes, 1998). Different tasks correspond to virtual locations: a room for meetings related to a project, office rooms related to brainstorm, public spaces related to shopping and so on. Fitzpatrick et al. (1996) found that structuring the workspace into different areas enables to switch between tasks, augments group awareness and provides a sense of place to the users as in the physical world. Since work partitioning can be supported by space, knowing others’ whereabouts is an efficient way to make inferences about the division of labor in a group. Once we know that a person is in a particular place, we can infer that he or she is doing something (as we saw in the distinction space/place) and how this may contribute to the joint activity.

References: Benford, S.D., Bullock, A.N., Cook, N.L., Harvey, P., Ingram, R.J., & Lee, O. (1993). From Rooms to Cyberspace: Models of Interaction in Large Virtual Computer Spaces. Interacting With Computers, 5(2), 217-237.

Dourish, P. (2006). Re-Space-ing Place: Place and Space Ten Years On. In Proceedings of CSCW’2006: ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (pp.299-308), Banff, Alberta.

Fitzpatrick, G., Kaplan, S. M. Mansfield, T. (1996). Physical spaces, virtual places and social worlds: A study of work in the virtual.. In Q. Jones, and C. Halverson, (Eds.) Proceedings of CSCW'96: ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (pp.334-343), Boston, MA.

Harrison, S., & Dourish, P. (1996). Re-Place-ing Space: The Roles of Place and Space in Collaborative Systems. In Q. Jones, and C. Halverson, (Eds) Proceedings of CSCW'96: ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work (pp.67-76), Cambridge MA, ACM Press.

Haynes, C. (1998). Help ! There’s a MOO in This Class. In C. Haynes, and J.R. Holmevik, (Ed.s) High Wired: On the Design, Use, and Theory of Educational Moos (pp.161-176). Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.