“Being Human: Human-Computer Interaction in the Year 2020”, Harper et al.

In “Being Human: The Human-Computer Interaction in the Year 2020”, Harper et al. explain the knowledge of what the future might be in Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). In 2007, the two-day forum brought together academics from the fields of computing, design, management science, sociology and psychology to debate, contribute to, and help formulate the agenda for HCI in the next decade and beyond (specifically 2020). They focused on four parts: major computer changes over the past several decades, how these changes are transforming the nature of our interaction with computers, how the community can move forward by focusing on human values, and recommendations for HCI in terms of how the field needs to change.

Harper et al. argue that knowledge of how HCI will evolve over the next decade or so is important because possessing this information empowers individuals as we approach the future, while ignorance will harm. A few questions they posit at the beginning are as follows: Will such developments improve the quality of life, empower us, and make us feel safer, happier and more connected? Will living with technology make it more tiresome, frustrating, angst ridden, and security-driven? What will it mean to be human when everything we do is supported or augmented by technology? They essentially answer these questions in four parts. The first part concerns the major changes in computing, living and society and suggest where we are heading. Moreover, it states the four computing eras: 1960s, Mainframe Era (one computer w/ multiple users); 1980s, Personal Computer Era (one computer w/ one user); 2000s, Mobility Era (several computers per user); 2020 and Beyond, Ubiquity Era (thousands of computers per user) and how we interacted with computers in these decades. They explain how we are moving from graphical user interfaces (GUIs), which enable us to interact with graphical objects on the screen rather than relying solely on typed commands to gestures, which allow us to overcome shortcomings of computer and mouse interactions and use multi-touch surfaces allowing us to manipulate objects digitally as if they were physical. They also explain how we are learning differently (interactive whiteboards and WiFi are commonplace in schools now), new ways of family life (computer applications allow people to easily track and locate family members), and how there are new ways of growing old with technology (Most retirees by 2020 will have had some experience with a PC). The second part outlines how these changes are transforming the nature of our interaction with computers and what this means moving forward. The transformation of human values related to HCI means the end of interface stability, the growth of technodependency, the growth of hyper-connectivity, the end of the ephemeral nature of data, and the growth of creative engagement. The third part looks at how the HCI community can help changing technology, people, and society at this alarming rate. Furthermore, it states that by 2020, society’s relationship with technology will be quite different from what it has meant to be ‘users’ of computers. Computers will quite literally be everywhere, from inside our bodies to roaming Mars. Indeed, there will be many opportunities to use them in diverse, new ways to express ourselves, be creative, and to nurture, protect, and care for one another in new ways. However, technological advances can equally support the darker side of what it means to be human. 

Harper et al. made some very clear and clever points on how HCI will affect us individually, socially, and globally in the succeeding years. Considering this forum took place in 2007 and it is now 2019, almost 2020 which is the year the discussion was centered on, it is pretty remarkable how accurate some of their predictions were. For instance, NASA’s InSight landed on mars in June 2018 and is digitally transmitting information back to Earth. We are more dependent on technology than ever before. Moreover in part two, it explains the growth of technodependency in today’s world, which answers one of the initial questions, “what will it mean to be human when everything we do is supported or augmented by technology?” and is one of the most interesting components of HCI. They explain how computing underpins almost every function of our lives now from shopping to travel to work to medicine, while at the same time, computers are becoming more sophisticated and autonomous, increasing our reliance on them. We can’t go anywhere without there being some computer device that surrounds us and we never leave the house without our cell phones. In that sense, technology has already become attached to our beings. In addition to this, thousands of people in European countries like Sweden have received RFID chips to enter work buildings. How do we draw the lines of transhumanism? Harper et al. also mentions how we are learning in new ways with new technology at alarmingly fast rates. Since I graduated in 2015, my high school has prioritized tablets/iPads in addition to the computers students use at school, so now every student is given an iPad for the school year. My nephew’s elementary school functions the same way in Houston, TX, it really is interesting. Will new digital tools and technology continue to augment human reasoning/learning or create an overdependence that will be harmful in the end? 


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