CHI 2008 proceedings
Here is my selection on papers related to social context presented at CHI 2008.

(Papers are linked to their pdf downloads, if available.)

Celebratory technology: new directions for food research in HCI [abstract]
Authors: Andrea Grimes (Georgia Institute of Technology) and Richard Harper (Microsoft Research)
Abstract: Food is a central part of our lives. Fundamentally, we need food to survive. Socially, food is something that brings people together-individuals interact through and around it. Culturally, food practices reflect our ethnicities and nationalities. Given the importance of food in our daily lives, it is important to understand what role technology currently plays and the roles it can be imagined to play in the future. In this paper we describe the existing and potential design space for HCI in the area of human-food interaction. We present ideas for future work on designing technologies in the area of human-food interaction that celebrate the positive interactions that people have with food as they eat and prepare foods in their everyday lives.

Designs on dignity: perceptions of technology among the homeless [abstract
Authors: Christopher A. Le Dantec and W. Keith Edwards (Georgia Institute of Technology)
Abstract: Technology, it is argued, has the potential to improve everyone’s life: from the workplace, to entertainment, to easing chores around the home. But what of people who have neither job nor home? We undertook a qualitative study of the homeless population in a metropolitan U.S. city to better understand what it means to be homeless and how technology–from cell phones to bus passes–affects their daily lives. The themes we identify provide an array of opportunities for technological interventions that can empower the homeless population. Our investigation also reveals the need to reexamine some of the assumptions made in HCI about the relationship people have with technology. We suggest a broader awareness of the social context of technology use as a critical component when considering design innovation for the homeless.
(See also this interview by Luca Chittaro)

It’s on my other computer!: computing with multiple devices [abstract]
Authors: David Dearman (University of Toronto) and Jeffery S. Pierce (IBM Research)
Abstract: The number of computing devices that people use is growing. To gain a better understanding of why and how people use multiple devices, we interviewed 27 people from academia and industry. From these interviews we distill four primary findings. First, associating a user’s activities with a particular device is problematic for multiple device users because many activities span multiple devices. Second, device use varies by user and circumstance; users assign different roles to devices both by choice and by constraint. Third, users in industry want to separate work and personal activities across work and personal devices, but they have difficulty doing so in practice Finally, users employ a variety of techniques for accessing information across devices, but there is room for improvement: participants reported managing information across their devices as the most challenging aspect of using multiple devices. We suggest opportunities to improve the user experience by focusing on the user rather than the applications and devices; making devices aware of their roles; and providing lighter-weight methods for transferring information, including synchronization services that engender more trust from users.

It ‘s Mine, Don’t Touch!: interactions at a large multi-touch display in a city centre [abstract]
Authors: Peter Peltonen, Esko Kurvinen, Antti Salovaara, Giulio Jacucci, Tommi Ilmonen, John Evans, Antti Oulasvirta and Petri Saarikko (Helsinki Institute for Information Technology and University of Helsinki)
Abstract: We present data from detailed observations of CityWall, a large multi-touch display installed in a central location in Helsinki, Finland. During eight days of installation, 1199 persons interacted with the system in various social configurations. Videos of these encounters were examined qualitatively as well as quantitatively based on human coding of events. The data convey phenomena that arise uniquely in public use: crowding, massively parallel interaction, teamwork, games, negotiations of transitions and handovers, conflict management, gestures and overt remarks to co-present people, and “marking” the display for others. We analyze how public availability is achieved through social learning and negotiation, why interaction becomes performative and, finally, how the display restructures the public space. The multi-touch feature, gesture-based interaction, and the physical display size contributed differentially to these uses. Our findings on the social organization of the use of public displays can be useful for designing such systems for urban environments.

Cultural theory and real world design: Dystopian and Utopian Outcomes [abstract]
Authors: Christine Satchell (The University of Melbourne)
Abstract: When exploring a topic as intangible as the construction of mobile social networks it is necessary to look at how relationships are formed and at the way users identify themselves through their interactions. The theoretically informed discourses within cultural theory make an ideal lens for understanding these subtle nuances of use in terms of design. This paper describes a case study where the application of abstract cultural theory concepts to the practical act of analysing qualitative data from a user study resulted in the development of The Swarm mobile phone prototypes. By signposting the intersection of cultural theory within HCI, the value of a philosophically grounded mobile phone design space is highlighted. To uncover reactions to the design we explored the blogs that sprung up critiquing an online version of The Swarm and in doing so, discovered the at times subversive values (such as the need to lie) that users place on their mobile mediated interactions.

Driving the family: empowering the family technology lead [abstract]
Authors: Matthew D. Forrest, Jr., Jodi Forlizzi and John Zimmerman (Carnegie Mellon University)
Abstract: Advances in technology continually increase the ability, but also the complexity of consumer electronics. This is especially true when several devices must be configured to work together, such as a digital TV and satellite box. Manufacturers of consumer electronics attempt to remedy this by designing interfaces that consolidate multiple, complex user interfaces into a single, simple interface. However, the problem remains that end-users are still expected to configure and learn to operate these new interfaces on their own.
This paper addresses the problem by proposing a radically new goal in terms of user interfaces for in-home, networked consumer electronics. Instead of trying and failing to make interfaces simple enough for everyone to use, we propose making interfaces that allow a “technology lead”–the person in the family responsible for supporting the technology—to more easily administer devices in his or her own home and in the homes of other family members. In Japan, where this study is taking place, user-centered research methods show that families usually have a single technology lead who is challenged with supporting people remotely in several homes. By enabling the technology lead to remotely support family members at a distance, the natural family dynamic can be used to support users who either find the new breed of consumer electronics too difficult to learn or do not wish to invest the time to learn how they work.