Careful with that interface, Eugene

I’ve got to admit that in all these years I’ve never read any Harold Garfinkel, and that *that* was an oversight! If you are in design, and have not read Garfinkel, don’t walk, run, to get his Studies in Ethnomethodology. Or better, his Ethnomethodology’s Program.
And now for something completely different.
There is in Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory the notion that all system comunication is a selection. Selections create two possibility’s for the system’s autopoesis: a yes and a no. The world is doubled up in two alternative futures. What follows is action. Action on the yes, or on the no.
It occurred to me, and this doesnt require Luhmann, that all interface design involves presenting the user with yes and no options. And all software applications of course need unambiguous user selections. There’s no “maybe” button in between the submit and cancel (how i’ve wished for a dialog box to present me a “submit” and “resist” alternative).
What makes social interaction design interesting, and the reason i call it the “social interface” and not the user interface, is that in human communication there is an ambiguity presented by human communication that rubs against the binary selections set up in the software design. Where human communication often consists of the very process of resolving that ambiguity through interaction, thus coming to know the Other, the design of user interfaces forces users to make unambiguous selections and choices. When the application is some kind of social software, be it for dating, auctioning, career networking, etc., the user experience splits along two axes: interactions with other users; and interactions with the system. It’s here that we need to develop, and I think with ethnomethodological approaches, an understanding of social interaction design. The phenomena under study is going to be hard to nail down; and its complexity may be too difficult to describe adequately, but i’m convinced that design of communication technology can no longer stop at the screen.
Stay tuned.

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