söndag 11 maj 2014

Design fiction workshop

I was in Toronto, at the very large (1000's of attendees) annual conference on Human-Computer Interaction (CHI 2014 - I attended the same conference last year too) and attended a workshop on "design fiction" two weeks ago (time flies). This is, belatedly, the first blog post out of three about the CHI conference and the topic here is the Saturday (April 26) workshop I attended; "Alternate Endings: Using Fiction to Explore Design Futures".

I had many reasons to attend the workshop:
- I have worked with design fiction for 10+ years in my 5th year Master's student course "Future of Media". I was recently the second author of a spin-off article that is partly based on the results of that course ("Explorative scenarios of emerging media trends"). I have in fact been working practically with design fiction for a decade, but I only learned about the term "design fiction" one year ago, at last year's CHI conference.
- I'm working (≈ 25%) in the CESC research project "Scenarios and impacts of the information society".
- I recently contributed four "imaginary abstracts" (dreaming up and summarising future research) to the paper ICT'2029. The paper has not only been accepted for presentation/publication but is also one of eight papers that have been nominated for the "Best Paper Award" at the upcoming ICT4S conference.
- I've read Science Fiction "forever" (which bolsters your qualifications to participate in this particular workshop). I even organised a workshop at a science fiction convention half a year ago, collecting material to the CESC project (above) from SF fans!

The one reason that tipped the scale for attending the workshop though is that I'm working on a UCI/RiSCIT book project that has design fiction at its heart. I'm keeping the project "mysterious" for now, but will for sure write about it (later) on the blog. The idea of writing this book did not exist back in January, when the official deadline for the workshop occured, but I managed to weasel my way into the workshop by referring to my "credential" (above) and I also quickly wrote up a "position paper" for the workshop.

I also prepared rigorously for the workshop by reading (almost) all the position papers, and, my favourite position paper was "Product boxes and worst nightmares: User-generated design fiction". My own contribution is called "The Future of News and ICT for Sustainability 2029".

---------- Guest of Honor - SF author Madeline Ashby ----------

The workshop had a "Guest of Honor" - published science fiction author Madeline Ashby. What makes her extra interesting in this context is that she, besides writing fiction, also works with strategic foresight, for example by developing "user stories for patent applications" for her customers. I think she might have been slightly thrown at first when she realised that we were not like other audiences; we all knew some (or quite a lot) about the concept of design fiction. She thus couldn't introduce design fiction as this new-and-amazing thing to us, as we had all done work (or dabbled) in the area. When she let go of her notes and spoke from the heart, things flowed a lot smoother and became a lot more interesting (something Madeline, to her credit, realised quickly).

At one point Madeline used the term "misanthrope" to describe herself, but I suspect what she meant was that she (perhaps) suspects the motives of others and that many things (new tech) oftentimes have averse effects (i.e. new ways to control or suppress people) rather than (only) positive effects (i.e. bring new ways to liberate and improve the lives of people). As a practicing SF author and strategic foresight consultant, Madeline emphasised the importance of stories and the power of storytelling. Stories are so much easier to remember and much much more compelling than instructions. That's why all of our important (for example religious) texts have been conveyed through the ages as stories (e.g. for example through biblical stories).

To Madeline, stories are all around us and we all make stories out of any and all materials that are available to us. We tell stories to our friends, to our children to our parents and to the person sitting next to us on a train or in an airplane. We also tell stories to our colleagues, to our fans, to our funders and to our employers. These stories can take on many different shapes; ads/brands, quarterly reports, scientific articles or a justification for why a student got a certain grade instead of another. At this point, my thoughts went to an AI ph.d. course I took about "plan inference" a long time ago (in fact before I had even been accepted as a ph.d. student). One of my take-home messages was how remarkably good we humans are at taking in a very small number of clues and putting them together into a (surprisingly often correct) scheme of causal events (i.e. a story), and, how remarkably complex and difficult this is for a computer.

Madeline also said some other things I though were really interesting:
- It's when you ask people to imagine and talk about the future that you find out who they really are. People will always project a lot of things on the future; their hopes and fears, their dreams and nightmares. It's much easier to find out what people really believe by asking them about the future rather than by asking them about the present.
- Only 10-20-30 years ago, when a science fiction movie needed a trope that screamed "this is the future", you made a black man the president in the United States because "everybody" knew that since that couldn't happen here-and-now, this movie must obviously take place in the future. A black president screamed that "this is not for real!" and "this is set in the future!". This trope is now part of the roadkill we have to leave behind. That's just one more thing we can blame Obama for (besides being a Socialist (or was it communist?) and let's please not forget Obamacare and his evil plans to take away all the guns and enslave all American patriots!  <--- Do note how easy it is to invoke a "story" (narrative) and how readily (some) will believe in it if the story adheres to what we already believe in...
- Someone at the workshop said something (quoted someone?) to the effect that "in an apocalyptic movie, the city is the first symbol to go. In a post-apocalyptic movie, the city is the last hope to remain."
- I also leaned from Madeleine that there apparently is a whole genre of erotic literature about liaisons between humans (females) and dinosaurs - "Dragon erotica" (I have zero memory of how that particular topic came to be introduced at the workshop) . Christie Sims is apparently the "premier" author in that space and she apparently earns a ton of money cashing in on Dragon erotical titles such as "Taken by the T-rex", "Ravished by the Triceratops", "Mounted by the Gryphon", "Running from the Raptor" and "Taming the dragon". The books cost only a few dollars but are on the other hand hardly more than a dozen pages long. The very first customer review on the T-Rex book (written by the signagure "hermaphlodon") is a small masterpiece in itself:

Accurate and relatable
It is very uncommon to find accurate depictions of dinosaur on woman sex. If, like me, you have found it increasingly difficult to satisfy your need to recount old times, then this literary masterpiece is for you. No other author has truly been able to both arouse and entice my intense desire to mate with a T-Rex as accurately and successfully as Christie Sims. I would not be surprised if this book outsells the Bible and brings about a new age of literary enlightenment.

In fact, several (many) of the reviews are real ironic gems, here's just a few:

- "This book accurately prepared me for my first sexual encounter with a wild Triceratops. Prior to reading this book I did not know what to expect when I stepped off my time machine onto the Cretaceous plains. I must recommend it to all."
- "If you have been searching for dinosaur-on-woman porn (and who hasn't been?), your search has at last reached its end. Filling a literary niche that, incredibly, has been ignored until now, the author has recognized the public's insatiable interest in dinosaur lust for the ladies."

- Although one may initially be turned off by the premise of the book, I must point out that many great works of literature had dubious or dull premises - some old guy fishing, hunting a whale, and let us not even discuss the works of James Joyce. If I were to compare the author to any great writer, the choice would be obvious - Hemingway

---------- The workshop - morning activities ----------

The workshop itself was evocative but perhaps "under-organized". It's hard for me to say if it could have been better organised (I suspect so), or, if this just is a tough subject to organise a workshop around. Perhaps it's a little bit of both. While I thoroughly enjoyed the workshop and the company, I had a nagging feeling that it could have been organised in other ways (I can't say exactly how) that would have been "better" (i.e. I would have learned more about the topic, I would have seen different types of applications of design fiction and I would, after the workshop have have had more ideas and been more ready to deploy design fiction on my own). As it is, one of my main findings was that this thing called "fiction" can easily become very complicated and perhaps we were all just a bunch of 
amateurs sitting around the tables and flaunting our ignorance about the finer points of fiction to each other. The issues we discussed, I'm sure, are issues that literary scholars have discussed for decades if not for centuries... The same unwelcome realisation hit me 10 years ago when I submitted a paper called "Word as code, code as world" to a conference where it was squarely rejected. (A revised paper was later accepted to the conference Digital Arts and Culture (DAC - pdf file here). One of the reviewers suggested (quite pointedly) that I should perhaps consider reading some of what had been done in literature during the last several hundreds years or later work that bridged the gap between computers, hypertext and literature/fiction...

In the morning session at the workshop, we were divided into smaller groups and each group got to work with the very same abstract. Although I didn't know it at the time (the abstract had been anonymised), the abstract/paper we worked on was written by five "colleges" of mine from UCI! The paper itself was presented at the CHI 2014 conference and it is called "Stewarding a legacy: Responsibilities and relationships in the management of post-mortem data". Even more strange is the fact that the last three authors are the very undergraduate students that at times sit just across from where I sit during my time here in Irvine, programming (as it turns out) the very system this paper describes! How weird is that? I haven't read the paper, but here's the abstract we worked with:

"This paper extends research on the giving and inheriting of digital artefacts by examining social network site accounts post-morten. Given the important role that social network sites play in online bereavement practices, we conducted a series of in-depth qualitative interviews to explore issues around inheritance and post-morten data management of Facebook accounts. We found that participants focused less on ownership of the data, and instead on the duties and potential conflicts associated with maintaining an account post-mortem. Subsequently, we argue for "stewardship" as an alternative to inheritance for framing post-mortem data management practices. Analysis of post-morten data management activities highlights how stewards are accountable and responsible to the deceased and various survivors. However, weighing competing responsibilities is complicated by varied relationships with disparate survivors, as well as the inability to consult with the deceased. Based on our finings, we claim that post-morten solutions need to account for the needs of stewards in addition to those of the deceased and survivors. We suggest that a model of stewardship better accounts for the interpersonal responsibilities that accompany online data than inheritance alone."

My group took that ideas described in the abstract and ran with it (after some initial confusion and angst as to what exactly we were supposed to do in the workshop). We basically sat around thinking up a lot of different death- and bereavement-related "nifty, futuristic, mind-bending computer systems". Here are some of the ideas that we came up with in terms of alternate endings (or alternate beginnings) for alternate CHI academic papers. We first concluded that there are systems A) for those about to die (those who are old, frail, terminally ill etc.) and B) systems for those who are still alive (connecting to the above-mentioned "bereavement practices"). For those who know their time has come, we proposed/imagined the following systems:

1) Deathbed curation. How would you like to be remembered online? We conceptually developed a system for deathbed curation and "legacy-shaping services" including a "deathbed wizard".

2) Another legacy-shaping service is the auto-eulogy system that vacuums the internet and sets together (a proposal for) an eulogy (e.g. a speech that praises someone who has just died).

Our next proposal takes some explaining. I learned there already exists services that vacuum the web to create an artificial copy of "you" that your loved ones can "be in touch with" after you are gone (e.g. a variety of the #2 proposal above). One such example is eterni.me. Eterni.me tries to entice customers by encouraging them to "Simply become immortal":

"Eterni.me collects almost everything that you create during your lifetime, and processes this huge amount of information using complex Artificial Intelligence algorithms. Then it generates a virtual YOU, an avatar that emulates your personality and can interact with, and offer information and advice to your family and friends, even after you pass away."

My group (and not the least me personally) had objections to having dead people running around the internet trying to chat me up. Just think of the poor kid in the Bruce Willis' 1999 movie "The Sixth Sense" - he could see the dead, the dead talked to him and he not unsurprisingly became a troubled child indeed who didn't have such a great time. I personally think the idea of having (AI copies of) dead people around horrible. My motto for post-mortem practices would thus be "let sleeping dogs sleep and the let the dead remain dead". Learning to accept the death of your beloved ones is hard, but it is a integral part of life. However, it might be that I could personally accept getting in touch with the dead on our terms rather than theirs, for example when we need comfort, support and advice, and, here we might stand to gain from how other cultures relate to the dead. The next system we proposed was thus a system that is clearly designed for the living:

3)  An in-house "shrine interface" to the dead. I don't think it's a great idea to have the dead around on the Internet, yakking away and interfering with the communication between the living (this would clearly make Facebook (even) less useful), but, a physical place (such as the corner of a room in your home) for getting in touch with the dead might be a good idea. You can, on your own conditions, go there when you want emotional comfort, communion with your predecessors and perhaps also alternative perspectives, guidance and advice. An alternative (I don't like it as much) would be to carry the dead around but have them confined to (for example) a smartphone. Again imagine how irritating it would be for the dead to be able to interrupt me - and especially if that would be out of character for how the deceased person was when alive. So how do current and future AI service "stay true" to the memory of the person instead of being an uncanny-valley-like (cardboard-thin?) fake version of you beloved grandmother who said so many wise things to you when you were younger?

4) Someone in my group knew a friend who had, among her Facebook friends, two persons who had died. The fact that their names were still in her Facebook friends list made it impossible for her to open that list and edit it in any way whatsoever (e.g. also for other purposes that did not relate to these two particular friends of hers). That situation does not look very promising in terms of her mental wellbeing, and, what happens if (or rather when) more of her friends (eventually) die? To spare her and others of the confusion, the hurt and perhaps even the trauma, we proposed that the "friends list" should be complemented by a "dead-friends list". When someone dies, they should immediately and automatically be moved there (as they are reported to be deceased), and, you wouldn't (and shouldn't) have a say in it. Keeping the dead around, intermingling with the living to the extent that they are hard to pick apart, is to me Hitchcock's Psycho/Norman Bates-weird. Or why not compare it to "Invasion of the body snatchers" - ("The invaders replace human beings with duplicates that appear identical on the surface but are devoid of emotion or individuality"). The dead-friends list could perhaps be regarded as a "graveyard" of "final resting place" of sorts, but we did in short order realise that there would be complications also with this approach as potentially disturbing information easily could be gleaned from sparse information, e.g. the proportion of the dead-friends lists in relation to the friends list.

We also had many other thoughts and reflections. You might for example have noticed how, in the text above, the dead-but-still-alive-through-AI a times come close to being referred to as "the undead" (i.e. zombies). That's a disturbing connotation. Also, what would be the legal status of the digitally undead? What if they (for example through their advice) would wreak havoc? Could you sue them (sue who)? Or could the dead (or an agent of theirs) sue if someone impinges on their rights and on how they are portrayed and remembered online (defamation)? What if there would be more dead than living people in Facebook? Would the living leave, with the exception of a few haunted souls who prefer to live among (the memories of) the dead? Or would we find ways of relegate the dead to some kind of second tier of "citizenship" (and is that discrimination?)? There must be numerous science fiction novel about this (I immediately think of one, Ian McDonald's "Necroville"). Perhaps we would need to invent a "second death"; first your physical body dies but "you" live on in Facebook/on the Internet. Then you "die the second death" and you are terminally removed (also) from the digital arena.

Just as there are cryonic services for freezing your body when you die (in the hope of future cures for whatever took your life), will we be able to sign up for a service that would "upload" (or "download"?) data once per month or a couple of times per year (kind of like regular medical check-ups)? What if people who die now/soon will have less complex and less interesting "digital personas/ghosts" compared to people who die later, when technology has advanced more? Will that portent yet another form of "discrimination"?

Ideas of "doing things" in the future - when there are oodles of information about you on the Internet and unlimited access to computing power - was very conducive to exciting thoughts, but I'm personally quite uneasy about this whole class of systems (which should be pretty apparent at this point). I think the dead (maybe) should be around to the extent that they are of some utility to the living. After I die and after everyone that knew me personally has died, I might as well disappear, and leave way to people who were born - and who died afterI did, right? I guess I don't totally condemn the idea of having the dead around, but such services should, in my opinion, only take the needs of the living into account. More in line with the original abstract, we also wondered if "front-stage bereavement" - showing others that you grieve and how you grieve - could become an area where "bereavement consultants" might move in? Perhaps people today (or soon) are ready to buy consulting services that help them project appropriate bereavement in social media in socially acceptable/successful ways, including using ghost writers (pun intended) and experts on etiquette and media relations?

Another final reflection (made by someone at the workshop) is that design fiction in general, and not the least the "crazy" scenarios above are discussed from a very privileged position, e.g. perhaps white and male, but primarily us rich people (the top 1 billion) thinking up new computer systems doing "fun things". Technology allows us to... and we jump upon the chance with both feet! But what about the other 6 billion or the dirt-poor 1-2 billion at the bottom?

There is furthermore a heavy dose of "solutionism" (Evgeny Morozov's term) at play in human-computer interaction and at the CHI conference - technology can and will solve all possible problems we can think of - not the least because the problems we choose to work on are chosen because they can be solved by technology. But is "bereavement" a problem that is best "fixed" by technology in the first place and even if it is, should it? Would not other ways of handling bereavement (talking to your best friend, to your siblings or perhaps by visiting a psychiatrist) seem more sensible than starting to think up technological solutions for the the human condition and for people being sad, unhappy or in pain? There is a large crowd of very intelligent people at CHI conference, but are these kinds of systems what we as a community should spend our time and energy on? I come to think of Neil Postman's 1990 talk "Informing ourselves to death" (which later became the first chapter in his 1993 book "Technopoly"):

"I believe you will have to concede that what ails us, what causes us the most misery and pain - at both cultural and personal levels - has nothing to do with the sort of information made accessible by computers. The computer and its information cannot answer any of the fundamental questions we need to address to make our lives more meaningful and humane. The computer cannot provide an organizing moral framework. It cannot tell us what questions are worth asking. It cannot provide a means of understanding why we are here or why we fight each other or why decency eludes us so often, especially when we need it the most. The computer is, in a sense, a magnificent toy that distracts us from facing what we most needed to confront - spiritual emptiness, knowledge of ourselves, usable conceptions of the past and future. [The computer] is only a machine but a machine designed to manipulate and generate information. That is what computers do, and therefore they have an agenda and an unmistakable message.

The message is that through more and more information, more conveniently packaged, more swiftly delivered, we will find solutions to our problems. And so all the brilliant young men and women, believing this, create ingenious things for the computer to do, hoping that in this way, we will become wiser and more decent and more noble. And who can blame them? By becoming masters of this wondrous technology, they will acquire prestige and power and some will even become famous. In a world populated by people who believe that through more and more information, paradise is attainable, the computer scientist is king. But I maintain that all of this is a monumental and dangerous waste of human talent and energy. Imagine what might be accomplished if this talent and energy were turned to philosophy, to theology, to the arts, to imaginative literature or to education? Who knows what we could learn from such people - perhaps why there are wars, and hunger, and homelessness and mental illness and anger.

As things stand now, the geniuses of computer technology will give us Star Wars, and tell us that is the answer to nuclear war. They will give us artificial intelligence, and tell us that this is the way to self-knowledge. They will give us instantaneous global communication, and tell us this is the way to mutual understanding. They will give us Virtual Reality and tell us this is the answer to spiritual poverty."

A few final reflections about the first half of workshop were:
- The instructions we got encouraged us to project our ideas 10 years into the future, to think about implications for other (user) groups, to express and to discuss values, conflicts and contradictions that were not stressed in the original abstract. Our group took this to also include discussions of taboos and sacredness around death and bereavement. Perhaps this is the ultimate function of design fiction - to get us to discuss aspects of (future) technologies that are not easily accessible for discussions in the present?
- We found it hard to know exactly what we were supposed to do and if there was a specific methodology we could use to help us get there. Anyone can sit around the table and brainstorm "crazy ideas", but what exactly qualifies such an exercise as worthy of the designation "design fiction"?
- We were told to think about the "real applications" hiding behind the application that was being "sold" in the abstract. Did we do that by using fiction to wrestle with values that are harder (perhaps impossible) to "get a hold of" when working with non-fiction? I suppose that might be possible, but I'm not sure we were very successful in the "fiction" department. There are no characters and no stories in our proposals above, only new technologies and for the most part only implicit underlaying snippets of human driving forces and emotions. I just don't know if we actually did do the "design fiction" thing, and this means I personally didn't really manage to bring any conceptual order to the very idea of "design fiction" halfway through the workshop.

---------- The workshop - afternoon activities ----------

The social parts (coffee, lunch breaks) were great, as was listening to the ideas that came out of the other groups, but I will directly jump to the specific exercise I worked on in the afternoon session (e.g. new theme, new group).

We started by naval-gazing, trying to figure out what the most important challenges are in doing design fiction, what we as a group should concentrate on during the afternoon etc. It was partially confusing and partially illuminating. I was glad to have Ron Wakkary in my group, he seems to have thought more about these issues (at least a lot more than I have). Here are some of the things he said (or, that my failing memory (?) ascribe to him):
- Sarcasm and irony is an anti-strategy of doing the exact opposite, but it's not very imaginative strategy when it comes to design fiction. It's more interesting to use fiction as "anti-research" (but I ask "how?" - where is the manual or (at least) the good examples?).
- Research is always messy. We (have to) touch up our studies when we finish up and go on to write the paper. We then touch it up even further when we write the abstract. And we then touch it up even further when chose an appropriate title for our latest paper. Research and papers thus go through a funnel, but, design fiction allows us the possibility of keeping multiplicity at play and to open up research to different implications and interpretations. 
- I personally feel there are sooo many ways to "fictionalise" an abstract, a paper, an artefact, a research project though. Perhaps design fiction examples should always come with a "manual" that tells the reader what you as the author were trying to accomplish (like the short meta-texts I provided for my 2029 design fiction scenarios/imaginary abstracts)?
- As mentioned above, at the workshop I sometimes felt we were like children who had just discovered that there is this complex thing called "fiction". Did we, in fact, just sit around the tables displaying how little we knew about the mechanics of fiction? Wouldn't it have been better to have had someone co-organise the workshop who had thought long and deep about literature and technology (for example Janet Murray who authored "Hamlet on the Holodeck: The future of narrative in cyberspace" more than a decade ago)?

In the end, we had to produce and present some kind of results (just as is the case in research - you can't spend serious time doing something and then not publish texts about it - however inane...). We chose one of the not-so-conventional CHI abstract we had been provided with and gave it a makeover. In many CHI abstracts, someone has worked hard on realising some nifty idea, but it is not seldom hard to know if the work they've set out to do is pure genius or a waste of time. But, they have in the end done something (built a system, conducted a study) and then proceed to squeeze the results into the appropriate scientific text-format. We thus decided to take an original abstract and design an alternative study - a total failure - around it, but still squeeze the results into the expected CHI scientific conference-format. I have since found out that the paper we chose to work on (critique, make fun of?) is called "Design for forgetting: Disposing of digital possessions after a breakup" (presented at CHI 2013). Here's the original, real abstract:

"People are increasingly acquiring huge collections of digital possessions. Despite some pleas for 'forgetting', most theorists argue for retaining all these possessions to enhance 'total recall' of our everyday lives. However, there has been little exploration of the negative role of digital possessions when people want to forget aspects of their lives. We report on interviews with 24 people about their possessions after a romantic breakup. *** This will be our deflection point - see further below *** We found that digital possessions were often evocative and upsetting in this context, leading to distinct disposal strategies with different outcomes. We advance theory by finding strong evidence for the value of intentional forgetting and provide new data about complex practices associated with the disposal of digital possessions. Our findings led to a number of design implications to help people better manage this process, including automatic harvesting of digital possessions, tools for self-control, artifact crafting as sense-making, and digital spaces for shared possessions."

We had long discussion about both this and other abstracts. Since I had read Marshall Sahlins' "Stone age economics" (about hunter-gatherer societies) recently, I thought about the many present-day assumptions that this study builds on and that relates to possessions, to disposal and to non-possession, for example:
- You "have" relationships. Relationships can "end". Comment: This doesn't happen in hunter-gatherer society and only rarely in premodern societies. People are for the most part "stuck" and will have to get along with people in their tribe. The idea of "ending" relationships must seem strange although relationships can of course be transformed (from friends to competitor, from lover to enemy etc.).
- You have "possessions". Also, there are a lot of digital (non-rival) "possessions" around (for example stuff posted on Facebook or in your digital library of books, movies, songs etc.). These possession cost "money" (represent an economic value/investment - more when they were bought and less now). All of this would make not sense whatsoever to hunter-gatherers. They don't even have personal possessions the way we think of them. Who would want to carry around and be burdened by a lot of stuff if you move several or many times per year?
- You want to get rid of some of your "possessions" when a relationship "ends" (presumably for emotional reasons). I guess this would be totally nonsensical to hunter-gatherers (and probably to many other cultures). If it's useful, you use it, or perhaps give it away to someone who will have better use if it...?  
- Also, the whole premise of "distinct disposal strategies" for "digital possession" seems pretty contrived to me. Just imagine this hypothetical conversation: "I just broke up with my girlfriend as of four years and I'm right now considering which disposal strategies I will utilise for those digital possessions of mine that carry with them memories that are just too bittersweet for me to deal with". Are there really people who will think about "disposal strategies" (what a distinctly technical term) after a romantic breakup? Show me one!

My further thoughts, based on the subversive list above were; what would be the result, or what part(s) of the question could be "saved" if you brought this scenarios to a bunch of hunter-gatherers? That question was way too difficult though as I'm not an expert on hunter-gatherers. But what if the study would have been conducted among modern "hunter-gatherers", say, among freegans or people who adhere to voluntary simplicity? That's an interesting thought! Or, what if you would imagine the study having been conducted in another culture, or in another era (10-20-50 years ago)? In the end, we decided to construct and abstract where the reader - between the lines - can catch a glimpse of longitudinal experiment gone horribly wrong. Here's our new abstract/scenario (we were very proud of it!):

"People are increasingly acquiring huge collections of digital possessions. Despite some pleas for "forgetting", most theorists argue for retaining all these possessions to enhance "total recall" of our everyday lives. However, there has been little exploration of the negative role of digital possessions when people want to forget aspects of their lives. We report on interviews with 24 people about their possessions after a romantic breakup. *** This is our deflection point *** We found that our participants spent an inordinate amount of time determining what is and what is not a digital possession. 8 people in the study withdrew because the experiment was emotionally evocative and upsetting due to the creation of obsessive compulsive behaviour triggered and supported by this initial research question. 
In response to our inquiry on disposal strategies a further 5 participants withdrew after the resumption of romantic activities with their ex-partners. 4 participants never concluded the study since they could not come to a conclusion in regards to disposal strategies of digital possessions. The remaining 7 participants reported distinct disposal strategies with different outcomes. In analysing this data it became evident that the disposal strategies employed by our remaining 7 participants were seeded by the researchers themselves and employed by our participants in order to satisfy the goals of the researchers. 
In conclusion we advance theories by finding strong evidence for what we call: Indeterminate Boundary Possession, False Positive Romance Theory, and Ritual Research Participant Syndrome."

We wanted to use the format of an abstract to describe participants that were (c.f. the Stockholm syndrome) "stuck" in a scientific experiment with, let's say, dubious ethical and scientific qualities. Also, see how skilled we are as researchers; even though the experiment is a failure, we managed to salvage it from a publishing point of view and excel by squeezing out three new theories (one for each new group describes in the abstract) from the study...!

I think the work of my afternoon group was a success. Other groups worked with other themes/abstracts. The one that was most memorable to me worked with Quantified Self dogs/pets. Here are some of their ideas that I managed to jot down:
- Argument: by learning more about your dog, you will have a stronger relationship to it.
- Questing: should pets have a right to privacy? What if your cat doesn't like to be quantified and watched all the time? How does your pet opt out of the study?
- Are there/should there be privacy or "labor" rights for animals/pets? 

---------- The workshop - concluding remarks ----------

We ended the workshop with a large-group discussion that unveiled some questions about design fiction of which the most interest was "why is there so much interest in design fiction now?". Here are some suggestions for answers to that question:
- The interest in design fiction must signify a dissatisfaction within the HCI community about something (we can discuss exactly what there is dissatisfaction about later).
- There is a label for it [design fiction], and, after a label has been invented, the floodgates are open.
- What constitutes HCI changes and that includes the kinds of systems we work with. As CHI has moved from "ergonomics" to "affective computing", the object of interest and the research methods invariably change. We have moved out of the laboratory (controlled environments, phenomena that could be measured easily) and into a post-modern world where all kinds of systems are possible to invent and construct. How do you know if a proposed idea for a system is a good or a non-so-good idea? How do you measure the future impact of far-out systems? Perhaps through design fiction...?
- HCI researchers have always designed things (artefacts, systems, services) for "unknown" audiences. But how do you explore/evaluate future systems, future behaviour patterns and the possible implications future socio-technical systems? Perhaps through design fiction...?

An interesting follow-up questions is: could design fiction have taken off 5 or 10 years earlier if someone had invented the term "back then"? Or, is there some reason such a development would have been unlikely or even impossible?

Here is some background info about the very term "design fiction" that I have since read up on:
- Bruce Sterling coined the term in 2005 in his book "Shaping things" but he didn't really invest it with a lot of meaning. It was instead Julian Bleecker who did that, in a talk he gave at the 2008 "Engage Design" conference.
- Josh Tanenbaum (one of the workshop organisers) has defined design fiction as follows (simple definition + updated definition + Sterling's 2012 definition):
- 1) Design fiction uses fictional scenarios to envision and explain possible futures for design.
- 2) Design fiction uses narrative elements to envision and explain possible future for design. With the updated definition, Josh points at the term "diegesis" as being at the heart of what makes design fiction important and useful, i.e. the world as experience by the characters in the narrative (as apart from the story as experiences by us - the audience).
- 3) The deliberate use of diegetic prototypes to suspend disbelief about change. Diegetic prototypes in turn "account for the ways in which cinematic depictions of future technologies demonstrate to large public audiences a technology's need, viability and benevolence" (film scholar David Kirby).

A final smart-sounding comments that I jotted down (don't know who said it) was:
- Fiction resolves, in an imaginary world, things that we can't resolve on the level of reality. Fiction is thus useful for working on things that can't be resolved "for real". So how can we use that to the utmost in HCI?

After the workshop I now think of design fiction in terms of:
- the possible practical use I can have of it in my course Future of Media. The students should get to know that we are, in fact, working with design fiction (and have been doing it for a decade). Hopefully we can do it better if we learn some more about what design fiction is and how we can use it.
- writing a paper about my Future of Media course (to be given this year again between Sept-Dec) that frames it in terms of design fiction. To do that, I would need to read up on design fiction. But, it would also be great to work with someone who knows more and I do and I have since realised I already know that person. My acquaintance, the literary scholar, wrote his ph.d. thesis about science fiction literature and he regularly visits KTH to give his annual lecture in the course "Design goes fiction" (perhaps I should take that course myself next spring?). I hope I can convince him to work on  paper together with me and that we find a great "angle" that would work for both of us as I think he could lift a collaborative HCI/CHI paper to new heights. 

Some of the workshop position papers point back at relevant texts I should/will read. An excellent resource for learning more about design fiction is the reading list that the organisers had put to together. There is thus no lack of texts for me to read about design fiction, and, I will read a number of them since the workshop itself did not som much answer all my questions about design fiction as it raised a number of new (thorny) questions that the workshop organisers and participants were only partly successful in answering.

PS. An interesting popular article I just learned about is called "How America's leading Science Fiction authors are shaping your future" (Smithsonian).

PS (Aug 2014). This is an interesting article ("The Sci-Fi Writers' War") about science fiction colliding with reality in terms of "predicting" the conflict in Ukraine.

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