Place Matters: Social Encounters between the Physical and Digital

Elizabeth Churchill (Yahoo! Research)
Location: Marina Ballroom D

Last night a group of my friends were semi-co-present with each other. I say “semi”, because at any moment one or more of them would receive an email or SMS, or need to check something online or would be merrily Twittering. (Presumably giving a status update that everyone was watching them Twitter.) Even when a mutual friend sent a message, those of us who were sitting together experienced a simultaneous narrowcast .

Internet interfaces are still predominantly single user. And as a result, as internet sociality burgeons, more and more of social life seems to be about peering into a personal screen with our gaze studied, focused away from others with whom we are physically co-present. Even when we don’t want that to be the case, the hardware and software largely demands it (how often have you drawn up a chair and watched someone else type, or squished yourself in sideways get your face in the video chat?).

Human beings are embodied social animals. We are designed for walking about, designed to unexpectedly encounter others in our mundane daily perambulations. We are designed to share those encounters with others. Seeing together – me seeing that you see and that you see me seeing - is important. Embodied encountering allows us discover information, learn about others, learn from others, learn to participate by watching – being legitimate lurkers is how we become part of communities. Embodied, social, information encountering is the essence of being human.

Over 15 years ago, Mark Weiser presented a vision of ubiquitous computing, of computers that would disappear into walls (and everywhere else). In this talk I will describe research that is concerned with punching holes in the walls between online and offline social encounters. I pose the questions: How can the two be more effectively merged? What technologies will emerge in the next ten years to help us do that?

Elizabeth Churchill

Yahoo! Research

Churchill is a Principal Research Scientist at Yahoo! Research in Santa Clara, CA. She works in the area of Media Experience Research, her area of interest being social media. She is interested in thinking about the emerging digital media “ethnoscapes” (the fluid, shifting landscape of people and groups – passersby, tourists, immigrants, exiles) that make Internet life. Formerly, she worked at PARC, the Palo Alto Research Center, California in the Computing Science Lab (CSL). Prior to that she was the project lead of the Social Computing Group at FX Palo Laboratory, Fuji Xerox’s research lab in Palo Alto.


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