#6: Adaptation

By | October 17, 2006

“You know why I like plants? Because they’re so mutable. Adaptation is a profound process. Means you figure out how to thrive in the world.”
— John Laroche (Chris Cooper), in the 2002 film, “Adaptation.”


Technologies that are highly responsive and adaptable to people’s needs are the ones that will have the greatest impact on and value to society.

This is the conclusion I reached after digesting this week’s assigned readings. The three essays appeared to touch upon disparate topics – the revolution of online learning in higher education; digital memories and abundant storage; and mobile application development and design.

But there did seem to be at least one thread tying them all together. The success of each depends upon usability.

I’ll start with the 2005 essay, “Education Goes Digital,” by Starr Roxanne Hiltz and Murray Turoff. The article cites the following societal forces as driving the “value” of online learning:

  • Flexibility. Students can more easily integrate education with the demands of work and family.
  • Instructors can treat all students equally, giving each one the same amount of attention.
  • Technology can aid in encouraging equal participation among students.
  • Instructors can save time by preparing and delivering materials to the course as a single entity.
  • Higher learning institutions don’t incur any extra expenses from providing online courses once the technological infrastructure is in place.
  • Colleges and universities with online learning are attracting students from beyond their immediate geographical areas, expanding their market reach and helping to ensure their long-term survival.

    Online education is proliferating because institutions, educators and students have determined that teaching or taking a class over the Internet is just as effective [useful & valuable] as a traditional face-to-face classroom environment. The modes of delivery are constantly undergoing change – adapting to improve users’ learning experiences.

    The second essay, “Digital Memories In An Era of Ubiquitious Computing and Abundant Storage,” (2006) presents the possiblities connected with cataloging a lifetime of digital memories.

    “Today’s low cost abundant storage makes it possible to record most life experiences involving audio, video and other types of data. Future networking promises to allow us to view and manage personal information from any device, any place, at any time.”

    Why collect so many memories? Easy answer: Because we can. But the usefulness of such an undertaking is questionable. Developers need to come up with a good reason why most ordinary human beings would need to record and save, literally, everything.

    “Recording, creating, receiving, storing and accumulating digital materials is easy, but managing and using them sensibly is difficult, especially as time passes and their immediacy fades,” the essay states. “Difficult technological, legal and social issues must be solved to make lifetime recording valuable.”

    There may come a time when societal forces require people to have comprehensive personal archives, but the idea doesn’t seem to be of any consequence yet.

    Lastly, the 2005 essay by Eeva Kangas and Timo Kinnunen, “Applying User-Centered Design to Mobile Application Development,” deals specificially with usability testing.

    Two case studies of new mobile phone products demonstrated to the authors that users needed to be involved in the design process.

    “When designing any product, good [user centered design] practices help to ensure the product works,” Kangas and Kinnunen concluded. “No feature should be added to the product only because it is easy and chat to implement, or because you think it is a good idea.”

    It’s that age old struggle between form and function. Just because something seems “cool” on the surface, doesn’t mean it is actually useful in the long run. The technologies that offer society the most functional value and that adapt accordingly will be the ones with the most impact and longevity.

    Citations:

  • Hiltz, Starr Roxanne & Turoff, Murray (2005). Education Goes Digital: The Evolution of Online Learning and the Revolution in Higher Education. Communications of the ACM, 48(10), 59-64.
  • Czerwinski, Mary; Gage, Douglas W.; Gemmell, Jim; Marshall, Catherine; Pérez-Quiñonesis, Manuel; Skeels, Meredith; and Catarci, Tiziana (2006). Digital Memories In An Era of Ubiquitous Computing and Abundant Storage. Communications of the ACM, 49(1), 45-50.
  • Kangas, Eeva & Kinnunen, Timo (2005). Applying user-centered design to mobile application development. Communications of the ACM, 48(7), 55-59.

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