söndag 19 januari 2014

Usability as a threat to a sustainable future

Just as last year, we have once more submitted a position paper to the CHI pre-conference sustainability workshop. This year's workshop is called "What have we learned?" and the full text/invitation to the workshop can be found here. As I've been out traveling/on vacation lately, I couldn't take on the primary responsibility for writing the paper. The authors are (in order of work effort) Elina Eriksson, Daniel Pargman and Henrik Artman.

The workshop itself is structured around three broad tasks and it poses eight questions that will orient the discussions at the workshop. Our contribution focuses on questions 4 and 5:
- 4. How can HCI help achieve sustainability?
- 5. How should HCI & Sustainability research be evaluated?

The central theme in our paper is to go beyond question four - which assumes that HCI can help achieve sustainability - and also discuss how HCI sometimes helps achieve unsustainability. But it's in fact hard to answer how HCI helps or hinders sustainability until we also ask to what ends we are making systems easier to use. Are smooth "usable" systems good and compatible with sustainability if they at the same time restrict the users from opening up, scrutinising, understanding and developing the gadgets and the systems they have bought? What if systems are usable but unrepairable so that people throw them away and replace them the very minute a simple problem appears? Below is our abstract:

Usability as a threat to a sustainable future: Induced disability through better HCI

The sustainability agenda is at this point well established within the HCI field, although perhaps it isn't a major movement yet. There are without a doubt looming problems of various kinds - including resource depletion and climate change - that calls for preparedness, mitigation and probably even adaptation. In this paper, we are discussing the possibility that a single-minded focus on usability, without reflection on outcomes, is a threat to a sustainable future. Furthermore, we also argue that there is a risk that the quest for systems with "better usability" might actually crate induced disability, severely hampering the possibilities for people to understand, repair and reuse technologies and leading to less resilience in the event of collapse. We also discuss what implications this has for the HCI field in general as well as for HCI and sustainability in particular. Moreover, how should HCI research be evaluated taking this into account?

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