PolySocial Reality and the Enspirited World

From Sally Applin
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On March 13, 2012, Sally Applin and Gene Becker participated in a panel at SXSW Interactive, "PolySocial Reality and the Enspirited World." The panel seemed well received and the industry, academic, art and design participants who attended asked engaging questions that encouraged good discussion. Sally's part of the talk was on her continuing work with Dr. Michael D. Fischer on PolySocial Reality (PoSR). Part Two: Gene's talk on the Enspirited World, following PoSR, was on the "proximate future" of pervasive computing. The PolySocial Reality part of the panel described how we are trying to model what people are doing now, and how we see pervasive computing helping to resolve some of the issues raised within PoSR.

Part One: PolySocial Reality (PoSR) (below)


I'm Sally Applin and I am a Ph.D. Candidate at the University of Kent, Canterbury, UK. My advisor and co-author for this work is Dr. Michael D. Fischer.


This is an introduction to what PolySocial Reality describes


What are people doing with technology? Communicating? Connecting? Interacting? Distancing? Distracting? We’re trying to understand the conceptual space that people are messaging within. Where are the boundaries? What is the space? How can we use it to understand how we co-exist, the things we make, and way that we make them. How much is using technology to communicate affecting the way that we behave?


PolySocial Reality is an analytic model that we're developing to use in order to understand all of those issues. When I talk about PolySocial Reality what i’m really talking about is general interactions between people. Interactions that tend to be more asynchronous, but could be synchronous as well.


It's our relationships.


It’s you and me. Plus, everyone else that we both know. Plus people that we may not know. Plus people that are watching both the people that we know and the people that we don’t.


When you send a message, you’re sending a message to someone. So there are at least two people involved in the message. Sometimes there are a lot more. Let’s say you’re sending a message on Facebook.


“Icebergs are Awesome! I took 500 photos!”


FB friends “liked” your photo and messaged you back. Their friends got notification of them “liking” your status update. LinkedIn connections wrote to you to offer you a photography job and want a reply. Now. Twitter followers replied. iceberg enthusiasts wrote comments on each of your 500 photos. Some friends called and texted you to see when you’re coming back and on and on...Then all these media organizations, cell phone carriers, HW companies, photo app developers and others may or may not take some or all of those replies, messages, likes, add-ons, that they can and catalog, archive, mine, and analyze them. What we’re saying is that your single message could have a large life outside your original intent of saying, "Icebergs are awesome! I took 535 photos!" to one or a few Social Media Feeds.

We're interested in what happens as a result to us and the world that we live in as these things compound and they create more volume.


We believe that there is one reality, that has many overlapping pieces.


We’re in one reality, and have one overall experience but with shared actions that effect each other. That reality is constructed from all these pieces that compound and overlap. We're experiencing things in a personal way within what is sometimes called grounded reality (terrestrial here on the planet) and we're experiencing things in the network space, where we text, use apps, email and stuff, and it's kind of blurry for many, who are attached to their devices in some ways.


How is our concept of what is real changed by the way that we've been able to communicate? We've always been able to communicate synchronously and asynchronously, technology has just sped it up. Now that we can do all this stuff faster, how does the rapid cycling change our behavior? PolySocial Reality is a representation of these relationships within which we can examine the entire frame and network.


This might seem that we are entering a great stage of communication and that we have the ability to be more closely connected. In ways we are, but in ways we aren't. The irony is that the technologies like facebook, twitter, and foursquare that enable people to link with many others are also the ones that are fragmenting them. There is so much compounded message generation, it's causing a time-space overload. The network does this double duty, it unites us and offloads some of the problems arising from PolySocial Reality and at the same time it separates people.


Cooperation is the foundation of society.


One reason why understanding the properties of PolySocial Reality is important to us in understanding and modeling the space is that people need to come together to cooperate in sustaining and building the stuff, systems and circumstances that we require to exist as humans.


I’m going to say this again, because it’s really important. The structures and systems that you require for living are a result of successful communications.


Farming, transportation of food, whatever, we're totally, totally interdependent on each other. 


Asynchronous messages within PolySocial Reality can create too much fragmentation and there might not be enough overlap for messages to have meaning. If we don't understand the messages, it may cause us to send even more and more of them for clarification, which may or may not result in meaning. If we can't communicate effectively, then we can't cooperate effectively, then we fail, and failure can have extreme consequences.


I'm going to give a brief history on software application development and how this illustrates why an awareness of PolySocial Reality might be important in creating more effective tools and outcomes.


When we first started developing apps or computers back in the day, there wasn't much of an interaction model for users. Machines kind of did things, but there wasn't much for end user interaction. Then they started to become more user friendly, but users couldn't really do much outside a narrow framework defined by programmers. They could set a clock, and eventually use a spreadsheet, but as far as interaction goes, people could write the programs or use the programs, but for an end-user, the models were limited.


When gradually with the web (we're jumping 20 years here) people could do more in the applications space to a point. From a developer side, the model was really clear. One person, one machine, many people, many machines, same software.


One person isn't the same as a cluster of many. A cluster of many isn't the same person replicated many times, its a collection of individuals that each have unique attributes and behavior patterns and they may have some similarities but not always. This is kind of an issue for software development which is why designers and others have tried to use tools like personas and things to help clarify that. 


People are on the move and the social mobile web has really changed interaction behavior. People are starting to pick and select and use so many different apps that are different from each other and each user is becoming more and more unique.


They are also from all over the world. There is no unified experience, there is no unified person--everything is really really different. People are connecting and sharing in ways that they haven't before, and they are sharing in distributed ways that they haven't before, and to an increasing degree, are making this up as they go along.


If we look at the evolution, we've gone from a fairly simple, slower model for most people with serial usage of apps, to an extremely complicated one with parallel or interleaving of app and/or device use.  Mostly this has developed for most people in the past few years.


People are using all these different apps in all different ways and there are all different kinds of people. How do you design for that? How are you designing for understanding this model? What does this model mean long term as other technologies come down the line?


We use PolySocial Reality as a way to represent this interaction space. As people develop more and more tools and applications for others to use, they can consider PolySocial Reality as a factor to take into account. There are other analytic models,


So when you see people doing this.....


You may think, based on the old model that they are working individually, not connected to each other but to the network.


But with PolySocial Reality, they may be doing something more like this....where their messages may or may not overlap and they may or may not be communicating with others through different representations of themselves within different applications.


A small instance of PolySocial Reality (PoSR) looks something more like this....


To summarize PolySocial Reality...


Ambient Apps like highlight, work to distribute data between the environment and the end user, being ‘smart’ in the background where they can. We're starting to see the result of the notion of people contributing to a more and more complex PolySocial Reality today with ambient apps.


We’d like to see as full a messaging experience as possible, more robust messages = more opportunities for communications.


Facebook in part, has been very successful, because it gives people a place to combine the relationships they have had in grounded reality, with a new dimension and utility using the network.


People have the same sensors, but different shared experiences. The Social Local Mobile Ambient Web has to be distributed among them, (this mimics real life), People are part of the program or the program becomes part of them or the world. For the reasons we’ve mentioned, people have to be able to organize with other people. What is unique about people as  a species, they’re conditioned to adapt to new properties. we don't need to look at things through tiny windows. To get away from that, we have to integrate it in the world, not just physically, but also socially.


Ambient apps like highlight, glancee and geo social local sensing apps like banjo, intro, sonar or hybrids like kismet and others help you realize there's more than you nearby brings you back into the world. They invert facebook (many using facebook data plus location to connect people in the local locale. This means that people, no longer have to spend time on their devices interacting with representations of people, they can now find people nearby to interact with. Ambient apps, and apps distributed into the environment can bridge the asynchronous/synchronous lack of overlap issue.


We support an enspirited world--but one that encourages and supports robust communication.





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