Friday, December 4, 2020

Improving Human Computer Interaction

Greeting from day two of OZCHI 2020, the Australian Human Computer Interaction Conference. Natasha Schüll's Closing Keynote on self-tracking technology, was troubling. Many of these devices seem to be designed to exploit consumers worry about health. As an example, a water bottle which monitor your consumption and prompts you when you need a drink. Apart from a tiny fraction of the population with specific medical conditions, such a device us necessary. This became even more worrying with the example of behavior modifying technology: electronic gadgets which don't just monitor, but emit signals to change behavior.

This is my second computer conference for the week (the first was ). As this one is or people researching how to make computers easier to use, it should work very smoothly online and so far it has. Part of this is in keeping things simple: ASCILITE had four parallel sessions, so I had to choose what to go to and work out how to get there. That is much easier online than face to face, but still can end up with what looks like a treasure map planning how to fit in all the sessions you have to chair, present at, or want to attend. 

 As with ASCILITE the timing seemed to be more generous with this online conference than with face to face ones. There was plenty of time for question and changeovers of speakers seem to go smoothly. This may be because there is no need for shuffling of chairs and movement of people. It may be in part because ordinary delegates, like me, can't see what is going on behind the scenes to keep the conference running smoothly. 

 However,at the Canberra get together of delegates organised by Jennyfer Taylor last night, there was praise for the sessions but worry about conference fatigue. I suggested the smooth flow of presentations may be contributing to "Zoom fatigue". As one session is quickly flowed by another, there is not the usual break when people shuffle in and out of rooms, and not the relief from sitting getting up to go to another room, with an incidental conversation with a delegate on the way.

ps: As with ASCILITE, Zoom was the primary technology, supplemented by Slack. Despite my low speed broadband wireless connection and slow computer, the video conference worked flawlessly. 

The success of low cost online conferences this year raised the question of what to do next year. Returning to face to face only, high cost conferences would exclude many potential presenters and delegates. I suggest this would be unethical and may also be unlawful. As alternative I suggest hybrid conferences, with a venue where people can attend in person, plus online participation. Variations on this can have multiple distributed venues, and use a "follow the sun" schedule for global events. 

For non-profit volunteer events an online conference with optional volunteer run local venues would be useful. The conference organizers would run the event as if it was all online. If someone wanted to provide a local venue, they could. This should prove attractive for universities who want to showcase their work: set up a venue and have their local presenters talk, inviting visitors to also attend.