Session 1: What is interaction?

My interpretation of Chris Crawford’s definition is that interactivity is a reciprocal, continuous process among individuals, which consists of meaningful feedbacks. The outcome of interactivity is not curated, it’s evolutionary. Let me thoroughly illustrate every word I used. First of all, interactivity is a reciprocal process, not a one-way task. For example, when you drag your chair out of your desk, you are not interacting with your chair. Instead, it’s simply a physical contact, not a physical interaction. Secondly, interactivity consists of meaningful feedbacks. Take kicking soccer for instance, kicking a soccer ball towards a wall, and the ball bounces back to you. Is it an interactivity among you, the ball and the wall? In my opinion, the answer is no. You are right exemplifying Newton’s third law. You might believe we can control the force you give. However, the wall wouldn’t actively give you any “meaningful” feedbacks. The outcomes are predetermined in your brain. Based on this, I want to move on to explain why interactivity is not curated; it’s evolutionary. I would like to use the same example Mr. Crawford used in Chapter 1. Dancing, which is commonly regarded as an interactivity between the dancers and music, is merely a participation, no matter how deep the dancer gets involved with the music. Conversely, if the music could receive the dancer’s emotion and reaction and start to react and compose, this would be a great example to represent interactivity.

From my perspective, Chris Crawford’s definition of interactivity deeply resonates me. However, Chris’s description only described the general concept of interactivity and how to roughly scale it by his definition. As for “physical” aspect, the book didn’t mention much in the first and second chapter. Fortunately, Bret Victor’s rant popped up at a perfect time. Bret’s article gave me an enlightenment regarding what makes good for the physical characteristic in interactivity, although some of the “interact” Bret’s used in his article didn’t align with Chris’s definition of interactivity. The most important factor of a sound physical interaction is to understand human capabilities thoroughly. It looks like a straightforward answer, but we often neglect it. Nowadays, many technology products put too much emphasis on technology development rather than human beings. However, technology can be invented and controlled; human nature is something we can’t change in a short time. Real physical interaction has to be an extension of our organism and five senses, not to sacrifice our human capability to fit in fancy technology. According to Bret’s article, there are two things we should focus on. How we feel, and what can people do. For instance, hands can feel the texture, weight, temperature and so on. Also, hands are the organism with the best dexterity of manipulating. Eyes are not just a visual sensor in our body. We can also use eyes to convey our feeling like winking and crying.

Beyonce Billboard Awards Performance 2011 is an example of digital technology that is not interactive. In her performance, she sang and danced in sync with a digital video presentation behind her. There were virtual drums, giant wings and background dancers following Beyonce’s movement. This performance was seemingly a great example of an interaction between technology and dancers. However, according to Chris’s definition, this is not interactive. Regardless of excellent visual and sound effect, unusual staging design, all the plot was perfectly predetermined and set. The dancers couldn’t provide feedback and interact with the video and sound. What’s more, the audience was in awe, watching this fancy cutting edge digital-assisted performance. Nonetheless, all the things on the stage couldn’t catch the reaction from the public, nor did they think about what the audience may be thinking. In a nutshell, it’s a fabulous example of using digital technology in performance, but it’s very low on the Crawford Scale of Interactivity.