Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Value Sensitive Design

One core value of many generations and cultures is the desire to provide and leave something behind for the future generations. In his paper, Sustainable Interaction Design: Invention & Disposal, Renewal & Reuse Eli Blevis states that Sustainable Interaction Design (SID) should be the central focus of interaction design. Blevis addresses the important topic of environmentalism or environmental responsibility.

Belvis presents the example of Apple’s iPod device as being disposable (this example would fit in with Belvis’ model of invention & disposal.) And fitting with American culture, the iPod and many other gadgets are thrown away frequently when a “newer and better” model is released. This is good for Apple if you are looking at profits and market share, but when it comes to sustaining the planet for future generations it is abominable. While Apple offers the 10% discount on the purchase of a new item when you trade in your old mobile phone or iPod, I cannot see where they offer an incentive to keep the one you have, since hardware-wise they are not upgradable. The batteries and storage are all built in and not replaceable and/or expandable. The 2GB iPod that I purchased several years back still works, but its storage media was filled to capacity long ago. Apple’s recycling website does make mention that they are serious about the company’s environmental impact, and the impact that their devices make on the environment. But wouldn’t it be more responsible to make fewer devices, thus reducing their carbon footprint since their gadgets in are made in factories which pollute the environment? It would far more sustainable to produce items that are upgradeable.

Blevis does mention how Leica produces cameras that are “heirloom quality, professional objects.” Because new (digital) Leica cameras accept the same high-quality lenses that older 35mm camera bodies accepted, Leica is following a more sustainable design model. Blevis believes that this is more common in professional quality products than products made for common consumers, and to some extent he is correct, but there are other companies that do share this model. The Pentax camera company, a long-established company that historically made 35mm film Single Lens Reflex (SLR) cameras, film medium format cameras, and today makes digital SLR’s and is rumored to be soon producing digital medium format cameras. They are a company that makes products for both the average consumer and professionals. Every lens that Pentax has produced is usable on all present Pentax camera bodies (let us hope they keep this pattern with the new digital medium format bodies.) Pentax’s share in the U.S. photographic market is significantly smaller than that of Canon or Pentax. In a time where “green is hot,” I am surprised that Pentax hasn’t launched a more aggressive campaign highlighting this sustainable feature of their products. I purchased a Pentax digital SLR body because I owned a Pentax film body and lenses. The driving cause of this action was the money I would save, but it was also a major benefit that I could reuse equipment as opposed to starting a new system from scratch.

In their paper A Game Design Methodology to Incorporate Social Activist Themes Mary Flannigan & Helen Nissenbaum describe how the methodology Values At Play (VAP) can be used to develop and teach girls the programming code while playing a game. Flannigan & Nissenbaum demonstrate how the RAPUNSEL project can be used to empower a population of underrepresented people. In this case, the group of people is underprivileged girls. The RAPUNSEL game is intentionally designed to demonstrate positive values to girls. The game has reward systems and challenges that seem similar to other games. RAPUNSEL takes a different approach from what many games I have encountered before do. So many games I’ve seen let you collect a weapon inventory and reward you for killing your enemy. RAPUNSEL urges players to engage in social challenges and teaches girls programming code to design their own clothes and dance moves. Earlier this semester, I became deeply interested in the Smalltalk project, and I feel that the RAPUNSEL project shares some of the same key goals of empowerment.

According to Flanagan & Nissenbaum’s paper, players can challenge one to a dance competition, but players have the option of actually turning down a challenge if they do not want to engage in competition. This style of play can satisfy the human desire to compete, but it does not focus on it as the primary goal of the game. The game has many goals and appeals to different types of girls seeking different gaming experiences. According to the website rapunsel.org, the game is a “dance game designed to teach computer programming to 10-12 year olds.” The RAPUNSEL project is targeting this underrepresented population to help fill the void of young women entering technology-related career fields and educational programs. Girls playing this game not only get to experience a dance game, but they get to learn programming skills which could be the catalyst that gets them interested in technology, computers or programming. This “play and learn” style is not a new innovation, but in this case RAPUSNSEL intentionally reaches out to this demographic that is forgotten when it comes to computer games and learning the skills to create them.

The game does address activities that are more “girl-friendly” such as fashion and dance. These are activities that are historically more interesting to girls, and I feel it was very appropriate for the game designers to incorporate these activities into the project because it makes the game more appealing to girls. In screenshots available at rapunsel.org one will find that there is a diverse cast of characters featured in the game. I feel that the designers made conscious decisions to put them in modern dress, but did not over sexualize them (often seen with too-suggestive clothing and too much makeup)which is something that we see happen all to often in media targeting young girls.

In Value Sensitive Design and Information Systems (Batya Friedman, Peter H. Kahn Jr. and Alan Borning) and Human Values, Ethics, and Design (Friedman and Kahn) many human values are explored and how designers should take these values in to account. Two particularly interesting values they discussed were privacy and security.

We are living in a time where many groups are flocking to social networking websites and communities. Privacy is a key value to many individuals, but the amount of information people publish about themselves on public pages may be seen as contradictory. I often ask myself several questions, “do many of these “social networkers” even care about privacy anymore?,” “how much do I care about my privacy?” and “does anyone care about my privacy?” Friedman and Kahn point out in their reading that there is a “mismatch between industry practice and the public’s interest.” They mention that many websites are collecting personal information without informing users that they are doing so, but a poll suggests that a large majority (88%) of people want the sites to acquire their consent. Users of internet technology say they want informed consent and privacy, yet the actions of so many corporations and even some individuals contradict this human value. Social networking websites such as Facebook have settings that one can enable to protect their privacy, but they are rather complex. There are even third-party websites that offer “how-to’s” on protecting your privacy on Facebook (see: http://www.allfacebook.com/2009/02/facebook-privacy/. ) Many people do not want to be bothered with “tweaking” their privacy settings though, it is time consuming and I feel that most people want their web experience to be easy and hassle-free. A similar issue is raised by Friedman and Kahn about Cookies. Would a user really want to be bombarded with a warning every time a cookie will be stored on their system? I feel that the case of the Mozilla browser in this chapter is encouraging. I feel that folks may be more aware of their privacy online if info about cookies is readily available on a sidebar. Microsoft also seems to be working on meeting users’ desire for privacy. Internet Explorer 8 offers inPrivate browsing in which cookies are only stored in the memory so pages display correctly (according to Microsoft.) This feature is not available “out of the box,” a user must enable it. Again, learning to do this takes a little exploring, and I find myself asking, “does the average internet user bother with seeking out such a tool?”

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