PComp Week #1 – What is interaction?

        Chris Crawford’s words have provided some great insights in explaining what interactivity is. I agree with him that interactivity is a conversation. It emerges from a communication of “two actors”, who will both “listen, think, speak” (Crawford 3) and respond to each other. It is crucial that in an interaction, both interactors pay attention to the target that is been communicated and both give feedback to sustain the conversation.  An interaction is not the equivalent of a reaction, no matter how intense it could be. This is also the reason why Crawford believes both books and films are not interactive and reading a book or watching a movie contains no interaction — because even if books or movies do an excellent job in “speaking” to the audience, they do terribly at neither listening nor thinking. The strong feelings the readers/audience hold towards books/films is therefore not a type of interaction but intense reaction.

        Therefore, first of all, interaction requires at least two “actors”  and feedbacks from both of them. Physical interaction would further require, in my point of view, both actors to be physically existing. That is to say, physical interaction should exclude interactions such as the interaction between a person and a computer program.

        In addition, Crawford makes a suggestion to view interactivity not as a “boolean” subject but a “continuous variable with relative measures”(6). That is to say, it is better for us to view interactivity/interaction in degree instead of a True or False level. I think this is useful in describing interactivity. There exist good, high-quality interactions and so do some weak ones. For me, the factors that make good physical interaction include a smart design that triggers people’s reaction, a smart mechanism that motivates people’s actions and thoughts. Like Bret Victors says, a good tool helps to augment people’s capabilities. Maybe good physical interaction also does that and hopefully not limit us to the hand and picture-under-glass mode.

        The example I can come up with that is a good example of digital technology might be animations. They are kind of like films — good speakers but bad interactors.

        Overall I think I start to have a slightly better of interaction and physical interaction.  But the questions that Crawford has raised that “Does interactivity exist in the eye of the interactor” and “It interactivity utterly subjective” still intrigue me. And how does the interaction between two machines influence the interaction between human-to-human/human-to-machine? Maybe I will have an even better understanding by the end of this class.


Chris Crawford, The Art of Interactive Design,  Chapter 1&2

Bret Victor, “A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction Design”

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