ITP NYU Physical Computing

Response to Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design (Chapters 1 & 2)

This is my response to chapters 1 & 2 of Chris Crawford’s The Art of Interactive Design, the reading assignment for week 1 of Physical Computing at ITP.

Interactivity is a fuzz term that is hard to define.  Crawford says that “the term interactivity is overused and underunderstood.”  As a buzzword, it has been applied to things as absurd as a rug for children and even shampoo!  Many things/activities claiming to be interactive are really not.

While he does not claim to have the final definition of interactivity, Crawford does propose that interactivity be defined “in terms of a conversation: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak.”  If this is the case, then the ultimate interactive activity is direct human social interaction.  But other activities that humans engage in with objects

Participation is not interactivity.  Movies, plays, music and dance are for the most part, not interactive.

Also, Crawford says that interactivity is not a Boolean property, meaning it is not a binary either/or situation.  There are varying degrees of interactivity.

So maybe interactivity is like porn: controversial, misunderstood, difficult to define, but you know it when you see it.  Like porn, interactivity has varying degrees.  Softcore-Hardcore.  Low interactivity-High interactivity.

Perhaps the definition of interactivity itself should be interactive.  Ok, that’s pretentiously meta.  But if interactivity is such a virtue, then a conversation is essential to its definition and application.

So why bother with this interactivity stuff?

Crawford declares that “interactive communication is superior to conventional, one-way communication” and that “interactivity is the computer’s intrinsic competitive advantage.”

Interactivity is both old and new.  It is hardwired into mammalian animal behavior as well as a trait of modern computers.  Interactivity is a conversational process that helps humans/mammals learn through play.  So it is something that we (people/animals) have in common with computers.  So as computers get more interactive does it mean that they too are able to learn, and become more similar to humans/animals?

Crawford promotes interactivity as a new and exciting field for artists to explore.  He also quotes a Chinese proverb, “I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I do and I understand.”  I have heard and seen the gospel of interactivity, now it is time for me to do before I truly understand.

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