Readings Week 4

Harnessing the Power of Feedback Loops by Thomas Goetz was a very insightful reading for me, and I believe it probably would be for any designer.  “The premise of a feedback loop is simple: Provide people with information about their actions in real time, then give them a chance to change those actions, pushing them toward better behaviors” (Goetz, 2011).  With this short definition I was able to understand the purpose of a feedback loop.  It seems to me that it is a powerful tool that should be utilized by designers for problem solving.  Something as simple as displaying the speed of a car using radar sensors has immensely contributed to preventing speeding, making our streets safer.  This suggests simple ways to raise awareness through visual displays, which seems to be effective in pushing people towards better behaviors.

Feedback loops involve four stages – data collection, relaying the information to make it emotionally resonant, illuminating the consequences, and finally that clear moment where the individual can see their behavior, make a choice, and take action.  I appreciate the point that Goetz makes that feedback loops shouldn’t control people, but instead give them control.  The feedback loop gives the individuals the power to make their own decision based on the information they are receiving.  The examples provided in this reading were very impressive to me, and I ended up looking most of them up to see what they actually look like.  I was really intrigued by the GlowCap, which is such a simple solution to what can be a serious problem.  For patients who need to remember to take their medication, the cap will light up at the necessary time, then pulsate, then play a melody, and eventually call or text the persons phone.  David Rose who invented the GlowCap also has his own company called Ambient Devices.  Take a look at the company website and you will see a variety of products that are simple and unobtrusive, yet beautiful displays of information. One product example is an umbrella – the handle lights up when rain is in the weather forecast, so the owner will not forget to take it with them.  It is a simple but effective idea.  People often need these small visual cues as a trigger to remember certain simple and obvious tasks that are too often forgotten.

Talking about Ambient Devices leads me into the next reading, Calm Technologies 2.0 by Michael Hohl.  The two readings complement one another very well, and were my favorite readings of the week.  Hohl’s main point is that digital information does not necessarily need to be confined to a computer screen- instead it can include everyday objects that blend well into our lives, constituting a “calm technology”.  He discusses ambient displays which reside in the background, not interrupting attention but available when needed.  This goes back to Rose’s company, Ambient Devices, and perfectly describes objects such as the Ambient Umbrella or The Orb.  In these physical forms the immediacy of realtime connectivity, the emotional, and the aesthetic intersect.  There is an example in this reading of a website hooked up to a fan, which blows a curtain every time someone visits the website.  This gives the illusion of an actual visitor opening the door and entering the room, making their presence noticed.  This is a way that data can be displayed in visual forms using calm technologies.  I think it is a good example in concept, but I personally feel it would get a bit annoying after awhile, and could even get kind of creepy.  The Ambient Device items are much less intrusive but are there when necessary, blending in with the life of the individual.  I believe Rose’s work can count as prime examples for extremely successful feedback loops.

The example of the website data being visualized using an actual curtain is getting into the idea of mashups, and is an example I felt related well to the reading Why Things Matter, by Julian Bleecker.  This reading also shows successful examples of web data being connected somehow to physical space.  In these two readings I think the idea of mashups and feedback loops overlap in most of the examples given.  Bleecker discusses a “Blobject”, which focuses on the participation of objects and things in the blogosphere (social web).  I love the example of the blogging pigeon, by Beatriz de Costa.  A flock of pigeons uses telematics to communicate wirelessly, GPS for tracking, and environmental sensors to detect the level of toxins and pollutants in the air.  This constitutes a mashup of three different technologies, but also provides a feedback loop that raises awareness about environmental issues. This occurs by the pigeons telling us about the quality of air we breathe by blogging this information.  It acts as a framework for creating a more habitable world and encouraging change.  I think the power of having objects speak to us from different points of view is a great way to get us thinking about issues that are often easy for us to ignore.  It raises a different kind of awareness than what we are used to, and I believe that blogjects have the potential to not only be great mashups, but powerful feedback loops as well.

Mashups: The New Breed of Web App by Duane Merrill was difficult for me to completely follow because of all the web vocabulary used that I have never heard before.  I tried to look things up to get a better understanding, but I still don’t think the technical stuff is clear to me.  I did understand the more general idea of mashups.  Merrill discussed the different Mashup genres including mapping, video and photo, search and shopping, and new mashups.  He then proceeded to talk about the related technologies, which was the part where I got sort of lost. I don’t think I got as much out of this reading as I probably should have, but I would definitely be willing to try and understand the terminology better.  The Grey Album Producer reading got more into the origins of the term mashup, and presented it in a much easier to understand format than all the web technology stuff.  This helped me to decipher the underlying concept for a mashup, but I believe there are possibly many more genres of mashups than were discussed in these readings. I would’ve liked Merrils reading to represent some mashups in some more straightforward examples that may not necessarily be as complex, but are mashups nonetheless.  I will need to do some research to gain a better understanding of the reading.

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