Chapter 1. Discussion Questions

Research questions from the list below and give your answer, with reasons and examples. If you are reading this chapter as part of a class – either at a university or in a commercial course – work in pairs then report back to the class.

1)   How has computing evolved since it began? Is it just faster machines and better software? What is the role of hardware companies like IBM and Intel in modern computing?

2)   How has the computing business model changed as it evolved? Why does selling software make more money than selling hardware? Can selling knowledge make even more money? What about selling friendships? Can one sell communities?

3)   Is a kitchen table a technology? Is a law a technology? Is an equation a technology? Is a computer program a technology? Is an information technology (IT) system a technology? Is a person an information technology? Is an HCI system (person plus computer) an information technology? What, exactly, is not a technology?

4)   Is any set of people a community? How do people form a community? Is a socio-technical system (an online community) any set of HCI systems? How do HCI systems form an online community?

5)   Is computer science part of engineering or of mathematics? Is human computer interaction (HCI) part of engineering, computer science or psychology? Is socio-technology part of engineering, computer science, psychology or one of the social sciences (like, sociology, history, political science, anthropology, ancient history, etc.)?

6)   In an aircraft, is the pilot a person, a processor, or a physical object? Can one consistently divide the aircraft into human, computer and mechanical parts? How can one see it?

7)   What is the reductionist dream? How did it work out in physics? Does it recognize computer science? How did it challenge psychology? Has it worked out in any discipline?

8)   How much information does a physical book, that is fixed in one way, by definition, have? If we say a book “contains” information, what is assumed? How is a book’s information generated? Can the same physical book “contain” different information for different people? Give an example.

9)   If information is physical, how can data compression put the same information in a physically smaller signal? If information is not physical, how does data compression work? Can we encode more than one semantic stream into one physical message? Give an example.

10)   Is a bit a physical “thing”? Can you see or touch a bit? If a signal wire sends a physical “on” value, is that always a bit? If a bit is not physical, can it exist without physicality? How can a bit require physicality but not itself be physical? What creates information, if it is not the mechanical signal?

11)   Is information concrete? If we cannot see information physically, is the study of information a science? Explain. Are cognitions concrete? If we cannot see cognitions physically, is the study of cognitions (psychology) a science? Explain. What separates science from imagination if it can use non-physical constructs in its theories?

12)   Give three examples of other animal species who sense the world differently from us. If we saw the world as they do, would it change what we do? Explain how seeing a system differently can change how it is designed. Give examples from computing.

13)   If a $1 CD with a $1,000 software application on it is insured, what do you get if it is destroyed? Can you insure something that is not physical? Give current examples.

14)   Is a “mouse error” a hardware, software or HCI problem? Can a mouse’s hardware affect its software performance? Can it affect its HCI performance? Can mouse software affect HCI performance? Give examples in each case. If a wireless mouse costs more and is less reliable, how is it better?

15)   Give three examples of a human requirement giving an IT design heuristic. This is HCI. Give three examples of a community requirement giving an IT design heuristic. This is STS.

16)   Explain the difference between a hardware error, a software error, a user error and a community error, with examples. What is the common factor here?

17)   What is an application sandbox? What human requirement does it satisfy? Show an online example.

18)   Distinguish between a personal requirement and community requirement in computing. Relate to how STS and HCI differ and how socio-technology and sociology differ. Are sociologists qualified to design socio-technical systems? What about HCI experts?

19)   What in general do people do if their needs are not met in a physical situation? What do users do if their needs are not met online? Is there a difference? Why or why not? What do citizens of a physical community do if it does not meet their needs? What about an online community? Again, is there a difference? Give specific examples to illustrate.

20)   According to Norman, what is ergonomics? What is the difference between ergonomics and HCI? What is the difference between HCI and STS?

21)   Give examples of the following: Hardware meeting engineering requirements. Hardware meeting Computer Science requirements. Software meeting CS requirements. Hardware meeting psychology requirements. Software meeting psychology requirements. People meeting psychology requirements. Hardware meeting community requirements. Software meeting community requirements. People meeting community requirements. Communities meeting their own requirements. Which of these are computing design?

22)   Why is an IPod so different from TV or video controls? Which is better and why? Why has TV remote design changed so little in decades? If TV and the Internet compete for the hearts and minds of viewers, which one will win?

23)   How does an online friend differ from a physical friend? Can friendships transcend physical and electronic interaction architectures? Give examples. How is this possible?

24)   How available are academic papers? Pick 10 important journal papers and using non-university browsing, try to access them for free. How many author home pages offer their own papers for free download? Should journals be able to copyright papers they neither wrote nor paid for?

Why do universities divide computing research across many disciplines? What is a cross-discipline? What past cross-disciplines became disciplines. Why is computing a cross-discipline?