What is interaction?

THAT is the question!

A year ago I came across ITP while trying to figure out what I wanted to do with my life. Then, a few months ago I got into the program! Through this process, everyone I know had one common reaction when I said I will be studying Interactive Telecommunications - they said, "Sounds fancy!" I agree. It is.

What is interactivity?? What is Interaction? Let's break down the word to simplify - Inter(a prefix occurring in loanwords from Latin, where it meant “between,” “among,” “in the midst of,” “mutually,” “reciprocally,” “together,” “during”) and Action(the process of doing something).  With this simplistic view, I attended my first physical computing class where we had to design a fantasy device. (Combining two ideas we came up with Love and Translation - watch video here)

What changed my perception and understanding of physical interaction, was going back and reading Chris Crawford's and Bret Victor's versions and explanations. What also challenged my notion was the content covered in my other classes - Applications(Carter Emmart) and Digital Imaging: Reset(Eric Rosenthal). We seem to have confined ourselves to a tiny corner within a field so vast. Bret clearly and rightly rants about our low aiming version of the future! Chris explains how we often mistake participation and reaction as forms of interaction and Carter and Eric both spent more than a decade trying to push these boundaries.

If I had to define physical interaction as of this moment(1:05 am on 13th September, 2016), I would say,"Two bodies capable of action, creating a chain of actions (& reactions) alternatively such that each successive action is a progressive step or response to the previous action." In my imagination, a physical interaction never ends. Unless, one or both of the bodies are no longer capable of action.

With this novel self defined concept of physical interaction, I have come to notice that most of the so-called interactive digital technology I came across, were not truly interactive. When I hold a button to call the elevator, it is not interactive. When we see a data visualization that records the number of internet users throughout the world, it is interactive but I am a mere observer.

The question right now is, when and where would it be most significant to use physical interaction? 

References - 

  1. http://worrydream.com/ABriefRantOnTheFutureOfInteractionDesign/
  2. The Art of Interactive Design - Chris Crawford
  3. Dictionary.com