Infrastructures: appropriation, empowerment and reflection

Infrastructures and Their Discontents: Implications for Ubicomp by Scott D. Mainwaring, Michele F. Chang, and Ken Anderson, Ubicomp 2004, pp.418-432. The paper is an interesting demonstration of how infrastructures often taken for granted by "users" draws important questions, practices and problems that can be useful to reflect on in ubiquitous computing design.

"To approach the study of infrastructure from an ethnographic perspective, we conducted an exploratory field study of people for whom infrastructure had become visible due to some form of active engagement (rejecting, augmenting, or caretaking). From considering together individuals as disparate as homeschoolers, gated community dwellers, and voluntary simplicity advocates, a number of challenges and opportunities for ubicomp emerged in terms of appropriation, empowerment, and reflection. (...) seeks to understand how an infrastructure is perceived and conceived, emotionally understood, and interacted with from the first-person perspective of its users"

So, what emerged? I tried to summarize the main point and what it means for ubicomp:

"Appropriable infrastructures: Consumers use the infrastructure, but they don’t own it – they cannot appropriate it. (...) Using the infrastructure can sometimes involve actually inhabiting it (...) Ubicomp is often understood in terms of habitable infrastructures, be they smart homes, or urban districts overlaid by location-based services. (...) Purveyors of such ubicomp environments would be wise to market them in terms of life-style and identity, leveraging the allure of being able to plug into completely designed system and magically transform one-self, or at least reinforce desired aspects of one’s identity. (...) Empowering infrastructures: Ubicomp infrastructures have the potential to be similarly powerful, amplifying human capabilities through integrating many mechanisms of sensing, inferencing, and communicating. (...) Reliance on infrastructure, however, creates its own problems and concerns. Our study of discontents illustrates how empowerment in some dimensions can lead to at least perceived disempowerment in others. (...) The challenge, then, as we see it, is for ubicomp systems that seek not to automate or even augment/amplify human skills but to exercise and celebrate them, to encourage active engagement, and provide resources to individuals and communities for continuous change and exercise. Reflective infrastructures: Connecting to an infrastructure often brings with it the risk of noise. This noise may be in the form of nuisance, as when the infrastructure delivers the unwanted along with the wanted (...) calm ubicomp – even calm, secure, reliable, univocal ubicomp -- may not be sufficient, at least not in a context of concerns over temptation and self-doubt in one’s self-control."

Why do I blog this? There are very pertinent ideas here, needs more reflection about how to deepen different investigation regarding space, infrastructures and people's behavior. Also, I highlighted the part about non automating because it rings a bell with conclusion of my research and quite fit with the vision of design I try to propel.