ITP New York NYU Physical Computing

Physical Computing: Week 2 Observation Assignment

Here are my notes from my observation assignment from week 2 of Intro to Physical Computing at ITP.

Observation Assignment

The goal of this assignment is to develop the habit of detailed observation of what people physically do when they use the kinds of technologies we’re developing. In order to develop good physical interfaces, you need to know how people use existing ones. Do learn this, it helps to observe carefully, and to limit your assumptions as to what the person’s intentions are while you’re observing.

Counting Daily Uses

To begin with, take a one-hour hour walk or ride around the city. Try to travel as far as you can from your start and get back in an hour, this will give more variety. Take note of every time you see a person using a digital device. This could be anything from buying and using a Metrocard on the subway to playing video games in an arcade to making cell phone calls to using an ATM to swiping an ID at the gym. With each action you note, take note of:

* location and time of day
* apparent intent of the actor
* time taken for the action
* number of people involved
* motor skills needed (hands, legs, seeing, hearing, etc)

Collect your notes on your blog. Do this in pairs, with one person observing and the other keeping notes. Alternate roles as well.

The goal of this stage is to notice how many everyday technology interactions we experience that we’re largely unconscious of, and what it takes to do them. In many cases, the success of these transactions depends on the lack of attention we have to pay to completing them. The goal of most of these moments is not to use a technology, but to reach some other goal.

We chose to walk around Greenwich Village, in the immediate vicinity of NYU.  We noticed that the overwhelming majority of human-technology interactions we observed on the streets of NY involved mobile devices (cellphones, iPhones, Blackberries) and portable music players (iPods, CD players, etc).  We also observed a large degree of multitasking: people listening to music or talking/texting on their phones while walking/cycling down the street, a process that involves quite a bit of coordination between the senses and human motor functions.  For listening to music while walking the streets of NY, the intended purpose seems to be escape – a way of isolating oneself from the excess of sensory stimuli.  However, for people on their cellphones, the intended purpose seems to be connection with others, even when alone in the streets.  Technology thus allows us to be both isolated and alone (with headphones and iPod) or hyperconnected to others we know (cellphones) when we are in public space.  Headphones and portable music players act as an invisible wall that shields us from others, while cellphones and their ilk act as extensions of our voices and ears that allow us to reach out to those not in our physical vicinity.  This projection of the senses is both freeing and constricting.  By being able to multitask, for example, taking a walk and talking on your phone, one is freed from the physical constraints of having to be face to face to communicate with others.  But at the same time, the tether of social cohesion and pressures is extended.  One is not really “away” if one is reachable by cellphone or Blackberry.  Herein lies the paradox of technology – we are simultaneously liberated and constrained by it.

Well, enough holding forth for me.  Click below to read the raw data we collected.

Sept 11, 2008 – New York City
Observation: Lee-Sean
Note-taking: Liangjie

12:34 PM / Broadway & Waverly
guy walking with cd-player (finger – pressing, ear – headset – listening)

12:34 PM / Broadway & Waverly
girl talking on cellphone (hands – holding, mouth)

12:35 PM / Subway @ 8th St.
guy swiping metro card, entering the subway (hands, arms, ears – listening to the beep)

12:35 PM / Broadway & Astor Pl.
man talking on cellphone (hands, mouth)
girl listening to ipod (ears)

12:36 PM / Broadway & 8th St.
guy playing with iphone (hands/fingers, eyes)

12:37 PM / 8th St. (lens & craft)
shop clerk operating computer with mouse (hands, fingers, arms, eyes)

12:37 PM / Broadway & 8th St.
guy checking time/text message on his iphone (eyes, hands, not-talking)

12:38 PM / 8th St. & St. Green
woman at the cash register (finger, eyes)

12:39 PM / 8th St.
fedex guy working with portable POS (finger, eyes, hands)

12:40 PM / 8th St.
women in car at steering wheel

12:40 PM / 8th St. & University Pl.
women with baby, holding cellphone with shoulder and cheek (shoulder, face, mouth)

12:41 PM / 8th St. & University Pl.
tour guide talking on the bus with microphone (hand, mouth, arm)

12:45 PM / 8th St. & 5th Ave.
guy standing at the entrance, red flag in hand, watching traffic (hand, eyes)

12:46 PM / 8th St. & 6 Ave.
postman scanning mail with scanner (hands, eyes)
guy wearing headset and talking on cellphone (ear, mouth)

12:47 PM / 8th St. & 6th Ave.
woman sitting in shop using nail-dryer

12:48 PM / 8th St. & 6th Ave.
police officer carrying walkie-talkie and ticket printer(?) on the waist (waist)

12:49 PM / 9th St. & 6th Ave
guy standing and holding a big subway ad board beside a parking cab. (hands arms legs)

12:49 PM / 9th St. & 6th Ave
guy texting on cellphone (fingers eyes hands)

12:50 PM / 9th St. & 6th Ave
guy walking through the automatic door (body, legs)

12:50 PM / 9th St. & 6th Ave, village paper party store
guy climbing onto the ladder (hands, feet)

12:52 PM / Greenwich Ave & 10th St.
truck driver horning (hands, ears)

12:53 PM / Greenwich Ave & 10th St.
window cleaning operating the elevator/basket (hands, eyes)
guy texting on cellphone

12:54 PM / Greenwich Ave & 10th St.
woman at auto car door(?)

12:54 PM / W 10th St.
girl holding digital camera shooting a firefighter and baby (in front of a fire truck) (hands, legs, eyes, mouth – directing)

12:55 PM / W 10th St.
man playing with ipod/iphone, sitting on stairs(fingers,eyes)
guying walking along the street without looking, playing his iphone (eyes, hands, legs, feet – balancing?)

12:57 PM / 10th St. & 7th Ave.
guy standing, finger touching iphone (fingers,eyes,another hand)

12:57 PM / 10th St. & 7th Ave.
man and woman talking on cellphones while sitting on the bench.(hands, mouth)
girl having camera hung around neck (?)

12:59 PM / Christopher St. & 7th Ave. A Park
woman texting on cellphone (finger, eye, hand)
guy showing picture from camera to a friend sitting next to him on the bench (hands, finger, eyes, mouth)
girl listening to mp3 player, tuning channels/tracks, showing pictures from it to friend (hand, fingers, mouth, ears, eyes)

Switch! Observations by Liangjie.  Note-taking by Lee-Sean.

West 4th & Grove
1:03 PM
A man is standing and texting on his cell phone (fingers)
A man is cycling w/ headphones on, listening to music (arms, legs, hands, feet, ears, eyes)

1:04 PM
A man talks on cellphone while walking down the street (hand, arm, legs, eyes)

7th Avenue & Grove
1:05 PM
A girl listening to iPod is walking down the street (hand, arm, legs, eyes)

Bleeker & Barrow
1:06 PM
A man is sitting while talking on his cellphone and smoking (both hands)

7th Ave& Bleeker
Another man is pacing, carrying a pizza, waiting to for the crosswalk to change (eyes, hand)

1:07 PM
A policewomen inspects a parking meter (hand, eyes)

1:09 PM
A man listens to iPod while walking up 7th Ave @ Bedford (legs, ears)
Another man is carrying a cellphone on a keyring, it is swinging as he walks (legs, hand)

7th Ave & Bedford
1:10 PM
Man cycles down the street.  He wears a helmut, but is not sitting on the seat of the bike. (hands, arms, legs, eyes)

Bedford & Carmine
1:12 PM
Man cycles by on a portable mini-bike.  No cell phone.  (eyes, both arms and legs)
Man carries shoebox w/ sticker on it.  He grabs the box on the edge to carry it because there is no handle (hand)

1:13 PM
Man paces while talking on cellphone (mouth, hand, ear, legs)

1:14 PM
Man in pickup truck tries to park by backing into a space.
Another man w/ cell phone is standing and talking
Pacing man from 1:13 starts walking towards Houston street w/ a suitcase in his other hand while still talking on cellphone.

1:15 PM
Man jogs by while listening to iPod.  (eyes, ears, legs)

1:16 PM
A girl walks by w/ her backpack in front of her (arms, back, legs, eyes)

6th Ave & Bedford
1:18 PM
Man in bodega is scraping thorns off of flowers with a knife (hands, eyes)
Another man inserts coins into parking meter (hand, eyes)
A woman stands while talking on cellphone

1:19 PM
10 Downing Street – Construction zone
Man carries tool belt on waist
Another 2 men are in a lift, hammering at a brick façade (hands, eyes, balance)

1:20 PM
Downing & Bleeker
Men unload a truck w/ gloves and a trolley (hands, arms, legs, back, eyes)

1:21 PM
Man walks by, listening to iPod (legs, eyes, ears)
Another man looks through trash bags carried in a supermarket trolley (hands, eyes, searching)
A woman takes a picture (eyes, hands)

1:22 PM
Father Demo Square
Another woman takes a picture
No one on cellphone now.  Most people eating and/or reading
Man looks at watch to check out the time (arm, eye)
Woman walks by talking on cellphone

1:24 PM
Man takes a picture of woman while smoking cigarette (both hands, eyes)
Girl talks on cellphone

1:28 PM
Minetta Lane & MacDougal
2 men in lift on top of a van fix a sign on a restaurant (arms, eyes, hands)
Man makes ice cream cone with a cone making tool (hands, eyes)

1:30 PM
MacDougal & 3rd Street
Man delivers fridge w/ a hand cart (hands, arms, legs, eyes)

3rd & Sullivan
Girl talks on cellphone while walking
Man looks through window of a building, trying to find somebody to leave a flower delivery with (hands, eyes)

1:32 PM
3rd & Thompson
Man looks at cellphone
Another talks on cellphone

3rd & La Guardia
Man walks while listening to iPod

1:34 PM
Woman texts on phone while pushing a stroller.

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