CHI 2016

Written by Tom

The CHI 2016 conference was held this year in May in San Jose, California, USA, which, sitting at the foot of Silicon Valley seems an apt place to host a conference about human-computer interaction. NorSC had a strong representation of main track papers, as well as alt.chi papers and involvement with workshops.

I had the pleasure of presenting our work on Instagram around the Scottish Independence Referendum (IndyRef) and the UK General Election 2015. The explored how everyday, non-professional, users within Scotland shared images related to the political events, and described the way that a variety of content was posted. A full copy of the paper can be viewed here. The paper was scheduled in the Politics on Social Media session, which included some very interesting work, such as an exploration and analysis of technology use by political activists in Bosnia-Herzegovina.

There were a number of very interesting papers being presented, such as an excellent paper “Designing for Labour: Uber and the On-Demand Mobile Workforce.” In their analysis of Uber and Lyft, Gloss et al expose how these services leverage a new form of emotional labour, as well as highlighting the responsibilities of the technology designers in shaping and influencing the labour.

Another full paper was  presented by Shaun. Titled ““PS. I Love You”: Understanding the Impact of Posthumous Digital Messages“, the work explored posthumous messaging services – that are configured by a user to transmit pre-defined messages once they have passed away – and the experiences of those writing and receiving the messages.

There was also an excellent showing of NorSC folks at the various alt.chi sessions scheduled throughout the week. In one particularly lively session, Sheep captivated the audience with his paper about his novel I’m A Cyborg’s Pet and how design fiction had played a major role in shaping the technology and storyline of the book. The session reached a crescendo with Enrique talking about the shared collective dream of 2015, and how a non-functioning solutionist printer started to work.

Myself and NorSC associate also attended the Everyday Surveillance workshop hosted by Professor Pam Briggs and a number of other Northumbria colleagues. We presented a short position paper, “Managing Multiple Identities to Combat Stigmatisation in the Digital Age“, which focused on how features such as the real name policy of Facebook, restrict the natural ability and desire to accentuate different identities, by algorithmically and systematically reducing them to one, platform defined identity.

Shaun  also presented his work with Matthew Aylett in one of the alt.chi sessions. “The Smartphone: A Lacanian Stain, A Tech Killer, and an Embodiment of Radical Individualism” presents a somewhat polemical argument that smartphones, our mirrors, are an excellent embodiment of capitalism, and proposes an open call to debate amongst the HCI community, about whether we should be building “prettier mirrors”. A thoroughly enjoyable read for those interested in the politics around design, and Shaun’s presentation in Matthew’s place was particularly well received.

You might be wondering how a picture of a rural sawmill has any bearing on a post about an academic conference about digital technology. After the conference, myself and NorSC associate Ben Kirman took a roadtrip around California, and made a stop at a relatively unknown, but globally significant village called Coloma. The town, and associated sawmill, is credited with kick starting the 1849 California Gold Rush. The impact of the gold rush was significant to the world economy In turn, the gold rush is credited with creating modern day San Francisco and the Bay Area as we know it, by flooding the area with wealth, which was invested in railways, universities and civic institutions. This view of California as a place to find ones riches has persisted over many generations, and indeed today’s technologists in Silicon Valley are no different. Considering the global impact of the gold rush, as well its huge environmental and cultural impact, coupled with it’s direct relationship to the prevalence of Silicon Valley today, the visit to Sutter Mill on the banks of the South Fork of the American River felt very significant. Although we didn’t find any gold.