Exam Area III: Interaction Design for Social Media and Pervasive Computing

This post is a part of a series covering my qualifying exam research areas. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to each area, or click here for a general description of the process.


As devices and platforms multiply, so too does the amount of metadata produced by individuals in the course of daily life. This metadata, generated and collected via disparate sources such as social networking profiles, web usage analytics, and physical sensor systems embedded in mobile devices and the built environment, provides interaction designers with rich real-time information flows that model and visualize user behavior.

Understanding how to create responsive and context-aware interactivity based on these dynamic data flows is an imperative for designers working in the field of social media and pervasive computing interaction design. Equally important is an investigation of how participatory activities and games – from social games to ambient alternate reality games to locative artworks to collaborative production games and more – can leverage social media and pervasive computing to exist “inside the flow” of their users’ lives, rather than as cordoned-off activities that necessitate a pause or “stepping out” from behavioral norms in order to access. Key readings draw from game design, particularly discussions around so-called “casual” asynchronous play systems (Fullerton, Juul, Salen and Zimmerman); mobile and locative interaction design (Böhlen and Frei, Ermi, Montola, Schell, Vinge); information architecture, pervasive computing, and the internet of things (Benford, Berners-Lee, Bleecker, Kay, Krueger, Montola, Nieuwdorp, Shirky, Sterling); and human-computer interaction design (Csikszentmihalyi, Kuniavsky, Thackara, Ramsey, Simon).


Benford, Steve et al. “Bridging the physical and the digital in pervasive gaming,” Communications of the ACM, 48 (3), 54-57, 2005.

Berners-Lee, Tim. “Linked Data – Design Issues.” http://www.w3.org/DesignIssues/LinkedData.html

Bleecker, Julian, and Nicolas Nova. “A synchronicity: Design Fictions for Asynchronous Urban Computing.” Situated Technologies. http://www.situatedtechnologies.net/?q=node/102

Bogost, Ian. “Asynchronous Multiplay: Futures for Casual Multiplayer Experience.” http://www.bogost.com/writing/asynchronous_multiplay_futures.shtml

______. “Cow Clicker.” http://www.bogost.com/blog/cow_clicker_1.shtml

Böhlen, Marc, and Hans Frei. “MicroPublicPlaces.” Situated Technologies. http://www.situatedtechnologies.net/?q=node/104

Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly. Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience. 1st ed. Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008.

Dourish, Paul. “Embodied Interaction: Exploring the Foundations of a New Approach to HCI.” Xerox PARC, 1999. http://www.dourish.com/embodied/embodied99.pdf

______. Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction. MIT Press, 2001.

Ermi, Laura and Mayra, Frans. “Player-Centered Game Design: Experiences in Using Scenario Study to Inform Mobile Game Design.” Game Design Research Symposium, IT-University, 2004. http://www.gamestudies.org/0501/ermi_mayra/

Fullerton, Tracy. Game Design Workshop, Second Edition: A Playcentric Approach to Creating Innovative Games. 2nd ed. Morgan Kaufman, 2008.

IGDA Casual Games SIG. 2008-2009 Casual Games White Paper. International Game Developers Association, 2009. http://archives.igda.org/casual/IGDA_Casual_Games_White_Paper_2008.pdf

Juul, Jesper. A Casual Revolution: Reinventing Video Games and Their Players. The MIT Press, 2009.

Kay, Alan and Goldberg, Adele. “Personal Dynamic Media,” The New Media Reader. MIT Press, 2003.

Korhonen, Hannu, Hannamari Saarenpää, and Janne Paavilainen. “Pervasive Mobile Games — A New Mindset for Players and Developers.” In Proceedings of the 2nd International Conference on Fun and Games, 21-32. Eindhoven, The Netherlands: Springer-Verlag, 2008.

Krueger, Myron W. “Responsive Environments,” in Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick (ed.) The New Media Reader. MIT Press, 2003.

Kuniavsky, Mike. Observing the User Experience: A Practitioner’s Guide to User Research. 1st ed. Morgan Kaufmann, 2003.

Montola, Markus, Jaakko Stenros, and Annika Waern. Pervasive Games: Theory and Design. Morgan Kaufmann, 2009.

Nieuwdorp, Eva. “The Pervasive Interface: Tracing the Magic Circle,” Proceedings of DiGRA Conference: Changing Views–Worlds in Play, 2005.

Ramsey, Jim. “Designing For Flow.” A List Apart, December 4, 2007. http://www.alistapart.com/articles/designingforflow/

Salen, Katie, and Eric Zimmerman. Rules of Play: Game Design Fundamentals. Illustrated edition. The MIT Press, 2003.

Schell, Jesse. DICE 2010: Design Outside the Box, 2010. http://g4tv.com/videos/44277/dice-2010-design-outside-the-box-presentation/

Shirky, Clay. Letter. “Situated Software,” March 30, 2004. http://www.shirky.com/writings/situated_software.html

Simon, Nina. “Going Analog: Translating Virtual Learnings into Real Institutional Change.” In Archives & Museum Informatics: Museums and the Web 2009. Indianapolis, Indiana, USA, 2009.

Stein, Jennifer, Fisher, Scott, and Otto, Greg. “Connecting and Animating the Built Environment with the Internet of Things.” Internet of Things Workshop, 2010.

Sterling, Bruce. Shaping Things. The MIT Press, 2005.

Thackara, John, ed. Design After Modernism: Beyond the object. Gloucester: Thames and Hudson, 1988.

______. In the Bubble: Designing in a Complex World. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 2005.

Vinge, Vernor. Rainbows End. Tor Books, 2007.

Qualifying Exam Areas

I’ve also written a brief post on the ongoing role that this website is playing in my research:

Finally, you can download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.

Exam Area II: History and Theories of Participatory Culture and Art Practice

This post is a part of a series covering my qualifying exam research areas. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to each area, or click here for a general description of the process.


The increasingly “device agnostic” Web constitutes a vast and rapidly evolving multi-modal metaplatform for collaboration, performance, and community-building. The radical reconfiguration of spatial, institutional, and social boundaries that has accompanied and guided the emergence of network technology and social media has brought with it an irreversible decentralization of the production and dissemination of knowledge and culture (Benkler, Von Hippel). The effects of these shifts are only beginning to be felt, with policy makers, educators, cultural theorists, and corporations scrambling to adjust to/capitalize on a broad class of new participatory media practices. But while the breadth and scope of media participation have been vastly increased by the core affordances of new media objects and the dawning ubiquity of network technologies, the defining practices of participatory culture have been with us since long before the birth of YouTube and Web 2.0 (Jenkins). From the amateur operators of the early days of radio (Douglas), to the feminist “vidding” subcultures of the 1970s and 80s (Coppa), our engagement with media has always been just that: engagement, and not pure consumption. Until recently, personal and academic uses of popular culture artifacts — remixing, fan fiction, filesharing — have been largely invisible to the corporate apparatus underwriting their original production; but as amateur creators and remixers have flooded to the Web to share and discuss their works, hitherto “private” practices have become public, much to the chagrin of those with a vested interest in upholding the kinds of scarcity and centralized authority required for the maintenance of the status quo (Lessig).

The present moment is a crucial one in this regard. A failure by policy makers to imaginatively engage with the affordances of the Web could restrict or roll back the transformative potentials promised by the advocates of openness, transparency, and collective intelligence (Levy, O’Reilly). To steer clear of this kind of disaster, it falls to the makers of media — from on- and offline amateurs to corporate department heads — to identify the ways in which new arrangements of cultural authority and economic power, particularly in the realms of intellectual property and knowledge production, might emerge in the context of distributed and procedural authorship. Toward this end, it is essential to develop an understanding of the motivations, pleasures, requirements, effects, and potentials of participation across a variety of domains.

Three closely-related fields of study inform this understanding. Readings from Fan Studies provide insights into the role of participatory culture in the articulation of identity and resistance, with particular focus on the ways in which fans and producers negotiate, co-create, and contest meanings within the hybrid spaces of canon and taste (Coppa, Fiske, Jenkins). Seminal ethnographic and critical perspectives from cultural studies and social science (De Certeau, Foucault, Goffman) extend these insights beyond fandom and into broader conversations concerning performativity and the uncertain ontological status of the author/viewer divide. Within this context, investigations of the shifting logics of cultural production, circulation, and reputation help to establish frameworks for understanding how new technologies — from amateur printing presses to Web 2.0 — can disrupt existing legal and industrial structures as they give rise to new modes of engagement (Benkler, Berners-Lee, Bruns, Douglas, Green, McPherson, Lessig). Finally, a traversal of the history of avant-garde participatory art practice reveals a range of theories, aesthetic systems, and process-oriented artworks whose legacy constitutes a deep and wide working-through of the myriad theoretical and practical challenges facing contemporary media makers invested in notions of the participatory (Bishop, Boal, Bourriaud, Kaprow, Knabb, Kester, O’Donnell, Ranciere).


Anderson, Steve. “Aporias of the Digital Avant Garde,” Digital Humanities Quarterly, Summer, 2007. http://digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/1/2/000011/000011.html

Baym, Nancy K. and Burnett, Robert. “Amateur Experts: International Fan Labor in Swedish Independent Music,” International Journal of Cultural Studies, 12(5): 1-17.

Benkler, Yochai. The wealth of networks : how social production transforms markets and freedom. Yale University Press, 2007.

Berners-Lee, Tim. “Long Live the Web: A Call for Continued Open Standards and Neutrality.” Scientific American. December, 2010.

Bishop, Claire. Participation. The MIT Press, 2006.

Boal, Augusto. Theatre of the Oppressed. Pluto Press, 2008.

Bourriaud, Nicolas. Relational Aesthetics. Les Presse du Reel, 1998.

boyd, danah. “Identity Production in a Networked Culture: Why Youth Heart MySpace.” American Association for the Advancement of Science, 2006.

Bruns, Axel. Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life, and Beyond: From Production to Produsage. Peter Lang Publishing, 2008.

Coppa, Francesca. “Women, ‘Star Trek’ and the Early Development of Fannish Vidding,” Transformative Works and Cultures 1, 2008.

Darnton, Robert. “Readers Respond to Rousseau: The Fabrication of Romantic Sensibility,” The Great Cat Massacre And Other Episodes in French Cultural History. Basic Books, 2009.

Dena, Christy. “Emerging Participatory Culture Practices: Player-Created Tiers in Alternate Reality Games,” Convergence, February 2008. 41-58.

Diamond, Sara. “Participation, Flow, and the Redistribution of Authorship: The Challenges of Collaborative Exchange and New Media Curatorial Practice,” Museums and the Web. Banff Institute, 2005.

Douglas, Susan J. “Popular Culture and Populist Technology: The Amateur Operators, 1906-1912,” Inventing American Broadcasting, 1899-1922. Johns Hopkins University Press, 1989.

Fiske, John. “The Cultural Economy of Fandom,” in Lewis, Lisa A. (ed.) The Adoring Audience: Fan Culture and Popular Media. Routledge, 1992.

Foucault, Michel. “What is an Author?” in Lodge, D. (ed) Modern Criticism and Theory: A Reader. Longman, 1988.

Galloway, Alexander and Thacker, Eugene. The Exploit. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Goffman, Erving. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Anchor Books, 1959.
Green, Joshua and Burgess, Jean. YouTube: Online Video and Participatory Culture. Polity, 2009.

Higgins, Dick. “Dick Higgins on Intermedia,” Something Else Newsletter #1. Something Else Press, 1965. http://www.ubu.com/papers/higgins_intermedia.html

Jenkins, Henry, Puroshotma, Ravi, Clinton, Katherine, Weigel, Margaret & Robison, Alice J. (2005). Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, available at http://www.newmedialiteracies.org/files/working/NMLWhitePaper.pdf. Retrieved on 1/22/2009.

______. “Nine Propositions Towards a Theory of YouTube,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 2006.

______. Fans, Bloggers, and Gamers: Media Consumers in a Digital Age. NYU Press, 2006.

Kaprow, Allan. “’Happenings’ in the New York Scene,” in Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick (ed.) The New Media Reader. MIT Press, 2003.

Kester, Grant. Conversation Pieces. University of California Press, 2004.

Lessig, Lawrence. Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy. Penguin Press HC, The, 2008.

McGonigal, Jane. “Why I Love Bees: A Case Study in Collective Intelligence Gaming,” Ecologies of Play. Ed. Katie Salen. MIT Press, 2008. 199-228. http://www.mitpressjournals.org/doi/pdfplus/10.1162/dmal.9780262693646.199

McPherson, Tara, ed. Digital Youth, Innovation, and the Unexpected. MIT Press, 2007.

O’Donnell, Darren. Social Acupuncture. Coach House, 2006.

Ranciere, Jacques. The Emancipated Spectator. Verso, 2009.

Qualifying Exam Areas

I’ve also written a brief post on the ongoing role that this website is playing in my research:

Finally, you can download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.

Exam Area I: New media spaces, or: Alternate Realities, Database Aesthetics, and the Poetics of Space

[This post is a part of a series covering my qualifying exam research areas. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to each area, or click here for a general description of the process.]


Phenomenologically speaking, our engagement with new media objects is predominantly spatial. Linearity naturally emerges out of this engagement as we sequence one experience after another, but we begin and transition by “navigating,” “searching,” “scanning,” “browsing,” “downloading,” “visiting,” and any number of other verbs that imply movements across, through, to, from, and around. Further, the increasingly tenuous boundaries between new media objects — where does Google end, and where does the information it indexes begin? — imply a kind of limitless and endlessly reconfigurable hyperspace, one that extends well beyond the confines of the screen and into the hybrid digital/physical spaces that constitute our lived environment. As this mode of engagement becomes dominant, what kinds of changes are we seeing in epistemology, representation, identity, and narrativity? What is newly possible, and what is foreclosed — and for whom? And finally, what are the poetic affordances of this spatiality?

Coming to terms with the many valences of “space” in this context requires a multi-threaded interdisciplinary investigation. The first thread of this investigation looks at space through the lens of twentieth century critical theory and cultural studies (Bachelard, Benjamin, Foucault, Lefebvre, De Certeau). These texts inform an understanding of how space is used as a means of (re-)inscribing and resisting economic and cultural hegemonies; how this use co-constructs, renews, and reshapes meaning; and how these meanings reflect and feed back on the social and economic orders that circumscribe our experience of place. Lurking in the background here are several related spheres of discourse, including intersubjective systems theory; notions of mutualism, multiplicity, and nomadism; and theories of emergence and utopia. The second thread draws on several relatively recent texts examining theories around the phenomenology and epistemology of the spatial modalities inherent in our engagement with new media objects (Aarseth, Hayles, Harrigan and Wardrip-Fruin, Manovich, McPherson, Vesna). The central metaphors of navigation and database found in these works provide crucial context for the final thread of this research focus, which examines a variety of media artifacts and theories that operate within spatialized engagement modalities, beginning with postwar and late twentieth century critical interventions and theories of play (Nieuwenhuys, Debord, Huizinga), following through the ascendance and praxis of transmedia storytelling and distributed narratives (Bleecker, Jenkins, Walker), and concluding with spatial new media story/play systems such as alternate reality games (Dena, Hon, McGonigal, Szulborski), pervasive games (Montoya, de Souza e Silva and Sutko), site-specific art movements (Kwon), and social media games.


Aarseth, Espen J. Cybertext: Perspectives on Ergodic Literature. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2006.

Bachelard, Gaston. The Poetics of Space. Beacon Press, 1994.

Batchen, Geoffrey. “Spectres of Cyberspace,” in Mirzoeff, Nicholas (ed.) The Visual Culture Reader. Routledge, 2002.

Benjamin, Walter. “Paris — Capital of the Nineteenth Century,” Selected Writings, vol 3, 1935-1938. Harvard University Press, 2006.

Bleecker, Julian, Jake Dunagan, Sascha Pohflepp, Stuart Candy, Jennifer Leonard, and Bruce Sterling. “Design Fiction: Props, Prototypes, Predicaments Communicating New Ideas.” Mp3. SXSW 2010. http://my.sxsw.com/events/event/465

Bush, Vannevar. “As We May Think” in Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick (ed.) The New Media Reader. MIT Press, 2003.

Certeau, Michel de. The Practice of Everyday Life. University of California Press, 2002.

Dena, Christy. Transmedia Practice: Theorising the Practice of Expressing a Fictional World across Distinct Media and Environments. Doctoral Dissertation, 2009.

Deleuze, Gilles and Guattari, Felix. Thousand Plateaus. Athlone Press, 2000.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces,” Diacritics, Spring 1986. 22-27.

Harrigan, Pat and Wardrip-Fruin, Noah. Third Person: Authoring and Exploring Vast Narratives. MIT Press, 2009.

Harvey, David. “The Right to the City.” New Left Review 53, October, 2008. http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2740

Hayles, N. Katherine. Electronic Literature: New Horizons for the Literary. University of Notre Dame, 2008.

Hon, Dan. “Everything you know about ARGs is WRONG.” http://www.sixtostart.com/onetoread/2008/everything-you-know-about-args-is-wrong/

Huizinga, J. Homo Ludens. Routledge, 2008.

Jenkins, Henry. “Transmedia Storytelling 101,” Confessions of an Aca-Fan, 2007. http://henryjenkins.org/2007/03/transmedia_storytelling_101.html

Knabb, Ken. Situationist International Anthology. Bureau of Public Secrets, 2007.

Kwon, Miwon. One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity. MIT Press, 2004.

Lefebvre, Henri. The Production of Space. Wiley-Blackwell, 1992.

Manovich, Lev. The Language of New Media. MIT Press, 2001.

McGonigal, Jane. “This Is Not a Game: Immersive Aesthetics and Collective Play,” Proceedings: Digital Arts and Culture 2003, edited by A. Miles. RMIT University, 2003. http://hypertext.rmit.edu.au/dac/papers/McGonigal.pdf

McPherson, Tara. “Reload,” in Mirzoeff, Nicholas (ed.) The Visual Culture Reader. Routledge, 2002.

Souza e Silva, Adriana de and Sutko, Daniel M. Digital Cityscapes: Merging Digital and Urban Playspaces. Peter Lang Publishing, 2009.

Szulborski, Dave. This Is Not A Game: A Guide to Alternate Reality Gaming. New Fiction, 2005.

Vesna, Victoria, ed. Database Aesthetics: Art in the Age of Information Overflow. University of Minnesota Press, 2007.

Walker, Jill. “Distributed Narrative: Telling Stories Across Networks,” AoIR 5.0, September 21, 2004. http://jilltxt.net/txt/Walker-AoIR-3500words.pdf

Wardrip-Fruin, Noah and Montfort, Nick. The New Media Reader. MIT Press, 2003.

Qualifying Exam Areas

I’ve also written a brief post on the ongoing role that this website is playing in my research:

Finally, you can download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.

Building a database of research artifacts

This post is a part of a series covering my qualifying exam research areas. Scroll to the bottom of this post for links to each area, or click here for a general description of the process.

“It is better to live in a state of impermanence than in one of finality.” Gaston Bachelard, The Poetics of Space

Much of the early part of my qualifying exam preparation process was consumed with trying to come up with flexible-yet-precise titles for my exam areas. Since all knowledge is interconnected, this is always going to be a big challenge; but in the context of interdisciplinary new media theory and practice, I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s extra-super-hard to establish and maintain boundaries. Distinguishing between productive overlap (e.g. “History and Theories of Participatory Culture and Art Practice” is a powerful complement to “Interaction Design for Social Media and Pervasive Computing”) and outright redundancy (e.g. “The Poetics of Collaboration” would work as a subset of “History and Theories of Participatory Culture and Art Practice,” but would double-up on a lot of material if it were conceived of as a separate exam area) requires a whole lot of iteration and reshuffling. Some texts that began in one exam area are now comfortably in the middle of another. Because of the inherent either/or nature of the exam area structure (“text A is either in research area X, or it isn’t”), I found that some texts that were relevant to two or three of my research areas were being arbitrarily forced to exist in just one. What I really longed for was a non-hierarchical relational database that would provide an interface to my research alongside the more traditional “three exam areas” approach. Such a database would evolve as my own thoughts evolve. Like the impermanent, always-ahead-of-us dream space proposed by Bachelard, such an information architecture’s dynamism and impermanence would have the capacity to energize and liberate the imagination through serendipitous connection and unexpected emergence.

This website (https://remotedevice.net) is an effort to model what something like that might look like. Using WordPress, I’ve set up custom taxonomies for each of my three research areas into which I can place “research artifacts” — reading notes and summaries, quotes, links to resources and RSS feeds from relevant sources, blog posts, tweets, etc. These artifacts can then be tagged with keywords, categorized, and discovered through sitewide searches, allowing them to be accessed from vectors beyond the tight ontological constraints provided by the exam areas alone. The goal is that this will make visible and usable (to me and to anyone curious about my work) the connections between materials across the totality of my research.

As of right now, I’ve got a pretty substantial backlog of stuff to integrate into this system (doing so is the main work ahead of me as I review and collate and reflect upon the material I’ve generated over the past few months), but curious readers can peruse my exam area archives as they evolve by clicking on the “blog archives” links below.

Qualifying Exam Areas

You can also download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.

Progress Report: Qualifying Examination

[TL;DR: it’s been a whole lot of reading. Skip down to Qualifying Exam Areas for a description of exactly what it is that I’m reading about.]

In just under three weeks, I write my qualifying examination. Preparing for this ritual hoop-jumping has occupied most of my time over the past few months. It’s been an arduous and eye-opening process of discovering exactly how much I don’t know (or, at least, didn’t know when I started), and of teasing out the boundaries and relationships that define my research specializations and situate my dissertation project.

At iMAP, we’re following the exams schema set out by the School of Cinematic Arts’ Critical Studies program (with the addition of a “portfolio review” of creative work, which will take place in January). According to this schema, doctoral students need to identify three distinct areas of inquiry or specialization. Reading lists and descriptive statements outlining these research areas are submitted to the student’s committee in advance (I submitted the first draft of mine back in March of 2010), and the scope of the questions on the exams is limited to the material covered in the reading lists.

The exams themselves consist of five days of non-stop writing in response to three questions the student chooses from a pool created by their committee members. The answers to these questions take the form of imaginary dissertation chapters — which, hopefully, can become early drafts of actual dissertation chapters.

The official rule with this process is that the student should submit a reading list, then stick to it. While this rule undoubtedly has many good and practical reasons for existing, it’s a constraint I’ve had a bit of trouble observing. As I’ve read through the texts on my original list, I’ve learned more about exactly what it is that I’m investigating. References to other writers, projects, movements, and theories demand to be followed up on, and some of these tangents have ultimately become foundational to my research.

The big questions underwriting my work — questions around the poetic, social, and cultural implications of pervasive computing and social media — have functioned as a kind of razor here, shaving off truly irrelevant material and preventing the process from turning into a random walk. But my reading list now — and the ways in which I frame it — has evolved rather massively since last March. I expect it to continue to do so right up until I start writing on lucky December 13th.

With all this in mind, I present the following descriptions of my research areas, along with bibliographies for each.

Qualifying Exam Areas

I’ve also written a brief post on the ongoing role that this website is playing in my research:

Finally, you can download the latest version of my exam area descriptions and bibliographies in .pdf form here.