Kuniavsky’s “Information Shadows”

Information shadows enable users to access information about their products and experience them in very different ways than could have been imaginable before the Internet. Today, products mean so much more to people and impact their product/customer experiences in new ways. With built-in ubicomp, customers experience products that have a much wider network of associations. Products can now be tailored to reveal previously nested information about them (their information shadows) that influence the meanings attached to identifiable objects and influences customer decision making processes. Products, themselves, become carriers of their own metadata when identification technologies are integrated in their making; information shadows are now highly accessible and affordable.

What links objects to metadata are what Tom Coates coined in 2004 “Point-at things” to mean: uniquely identifiable objects that allow, so to speak, pointing at information about it, possible (“item-level tracking and identification technologies”, such as: RFIDs, barcodes, etc.). According to Kuniavsky, the line between product and service design are now blurred by new technologies as they have shown to have enhanced User Experiences. Technology can make extend-able data objects could point-at by way of layering multiple data-sets about an object and relevant related web content that could help “users make sense of information.”

While going through this reading I somehow could not stop thinking about Frigyes Karinthy’s theory of six degrees of separation, which describes the network existing between any two strangers at any remote distance from one another being connected by six degrees (or six people). In a sense, Information Shadows also may represent six degrees of separation existing within the cross-layering of metadata of any given object, beginning with an object and extending outside of itself as it points-at other seemingly related data and ending in a loop back to where the object lives. This may describe objects as having connections to people and organizations, things (products) and non-things (services). Every entity would hold the potential of being connected to any and every entity outside of itself. This, to me, resonates well with what Kuniavsky seems to suggest when he writes that “The service possibilities of information shadows are enormous.” This enormity defines the scope and significance of user experiences.


user experience in ubiquitous-computing

In “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Some ethical guidelines for user experience in ubiquitous-computing settings,” Adam Greenfield (2004) delineated the fine line existing between: on the one hand, artifacts that neglect their users and the consequential impact of their dissemination in society; and, on the other hand, responsible, compassionate, and sensitive user-experience design that offers convivial products and services.

Because ubicomp is, by definition, present everywhere and at-all-times, it may either interfere or facilitate contextual actions, and hence change the ways in which we act upon and perceive the environment. For Greenfield, “we” –ubicomp designers– “are uniquely positioned to affect the emergence of this technological milieu for the better.” We can partake in the paradigm shift from technologies that provide uncertainty, insecurity, and that violate privacy, to designing technologies that empower users, and that support ethical, social, and environmental well-being.

It is my understanding that Greenfield’s aim is twofold: first, to encourage user experience designers to provide humane tools for society by copiously following a guideline that considers the social and environmental repercussions of man-made things; and second, to promote the application of ubiquitous systems as a practice that could empower users in their everyday actions.

Greenfield, Adam. “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace: Some ethical guidelines for user experience in ubiquitous-computing settings.” (Published 2004/12/01) (Last visited November 2010)

“calm technology” (Weiser & Brown, 1996)

The term affordance was coined by J. J. Gibson in 1977. He borrowed the word from ‘afford’ to mean: perceived elements in the environment that explain how the environment behaves. Gibson’s affordance includes both the environment and the animal; which is to say that it explains how both environment and animal affect one another’s behavior as they adapt to fluctuations in time and space.

According the Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown (1996), “peripheral information” extends the notion of “affordances” to describe action enabling technologies that are reachable, yet on the periphery of perception and therefore encalming. Designing for calm technology would then mean to provide non-invasive tools or cues for action that encalm while stimulating the senses.

source: Weiser, Mark; & John Seely Brown. “The Coming Age of Calm Technology.” Xerox PARC: October 5, 1996.

defining: Ubiquitous Computing

In 1991, Mark Weiser defined ubiquitous computing (which he also calls “embodied virtuality”, as opposed to virtual reality) as invisible and indistinguishable from the “fabric of everyday life”; that is, from human behavior. Which is to say that ubiquitous computing aims at providing humane tools with which beings can continue dealing with their world in very much the same behavioral ways. Embodied virtuality, according to Weiser, will be non-invasive, and will enhance and facilitate human(e) interaction. However, the examples given by Weiser (granted, that was 20 years ago) revolve around interactive tabs, pads, boards that help users in remote locations communicate on humane behavioral levels and at different appropriate scales of needs. Those tools adapt to human behavior and are non-obstructive, enabling devices to interact with one another.
What is curious in his prediction that “Computer access will penetrate all groups in society”, is that it is far from being the case. Which society was he referring to? Or was this an abstract concept? Did he mean that computation has the potential of offering computer access to all groups in this unknown ‘society’; in other words, “hundreds of computers per room” –tabs, pads, and boards?

13 years later, Malcolm McCullough (2004) suggested that not only is ubiquitous computing a way of turning computers into more humane interfaces for interaction, but ‘computing’ and ‘architecture’ are now closely related and determine new spatial content for action. His approach extends the previously defined scope of ubiquity to include buildings, information, and computation, that enable appropriate delivery of information for embodied interaction; that is, context-dependent interaction –situated interaction. “Interactivity changed the role of technology.” Technology is now interactive, and deals one the one hand with expectations (both of technology’s own role in society and of users’ expectations of what its role might be), and on the other hand with contextual participation (or the creation of and co-engagement in an “ambient social infrastructure” –”situations”).

If ubiquitous means anywhere and everywhere, anytime and at-all-times, and computing involves some level of digital response, then ubiquitous computing would have to include digitally constructed environments and/or contexts that respond to pre-programmed ‘types’ of actions occurring anywhere and everywhere, anytime and at-all-times (situated actions).

Perhaps that’s not the whole story… What is, then, involved in ubiquitous computing? What is clear is that it very much depends on the context of use and the content of that which is stored (data). And, ubiquity would seem to have two connotations or implications on the way we deal with our everyday world: a) computation is embedded in the architecture around us; it is invisible and controlled by others –it may collect data for good (enabling a special purpose need) or evil (which violates our personal needs for identity, security, and privacy); b) it is highly-visible and could be single-user, or multi-user benefits, and promotes a faster, easier, and efficient way of using technological tools or engaging in interactive spaces in order to better manage our everyday activities through situated embodied interaction.


McCullough, Malcolm. “Interactive Futures.” Digital Ground: Architecture, Pervasive Computing, and Environmental Knowing. The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts: 2004.

Weiser, Mark. “The Computer for the 21st Century.” September 1991.