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The Human


I have looked at the human side of human-computer-interaction in relation to the work undertaken, the history of citations, the current digital and hypertextual authoring environments students use today, how citations are handled today, as well as what technologies have been developed to support citing.

Human memory, and by extension, human cognition in general, works by connection/association and not just presented association, actively and understood associations. Swiss psychologist Jean Piaget (1896-1980) put it this way: Every time we teach a child something, we keep him from inventing it himself. On the other hand, that which we allow him to discover for himself will remain with him visible for the rest of his life (1972). Of course, this understanding goes back at least to the time of Lao-tzu: “Tell me and I will forget, show me and I may remember; involve me and I will understand”.

Jean Piaget wrote that what we see changes what we know. What we know changes what we see (1932). Put these two together and we have the basis for the power of interactive systems: Change what you know by changing what you see, and how you see, and continue.

Influential author and educator Howard Rheingold, who, amongst other work wrote the the first book I read about the history of interactive computing which introduced me to Doug Engelbart and Ted Nelson in Tools for Thought (Rheingold, 2000) strongly advised me to read Joseph Henrich’s The Secret of Our Success (2015). Here the author makes the point that it is cultural transmission of knowledge which sets us apart and which has allowed our species to break out of having to invent everything from scratch every generation. What is of particular relevance to my work is how deeply the use of tools is part of the human species. As back as 2 million years ago cultural evolution became the biggest driver of our species genetic evolution. He illustrates this by pointing out that humans have an unusual digestive system compared with other primates, with smaller mouths, less powerful jaws, smaller stomachs but a small digestive system about the size expected for a creature our size. He explains that this is because we prepare and cook our food, which in effect externalises part of our digestive process. This process of cultural knowledge transmission and tool use then has gone on for so long as to change this very fundamental aspect of our bodies. He also illustrates his point with the development of human heat-control (not scent) sweat glands which affords us much greater endurance in hot climates since we can sweat more than our prey, but we did not develop bigger stomachs or other internal water carrying means; we used the tool of a water container and thus our ability to carry water has been around long enough to change our physiology.

American historian Bruce Mazlish (1923-2016) used the term The Fourth Discontinuity (1995) to describe how we falsely see ourselves as separate from our tools, just like Copernicus showed that we are not separate from the cosmos, Darwin the animal world and Freud our unconscious.

The reality is that if we are to improve ourselves, we must also improve the tools we use. The particular relevance for this project are the tools which extended human cognitive processes. English educator and one of the founders of modern literary criticism, Ivor Armstrong Richards (1893-1979), asserted that a book is a machine to think with (2003). Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic take this further and add that a pen is a machine to think with (2008), an interface between the users internal mental model, or schema and the externalised symbols which freezes elements of the model. This is of course the point of my interaction design .

Published inThoughts

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