I've never been moved to offer a review on Amazon before. I'm a university academic from a different field (medicine). I ordered this book because I'm about to start a research project on how to design assisted living technologies for older people living in their homes. I'm not trying to design these technologies myself, I'm trying to understand "what needs to be understood in order to design appropriate technologies". I'd got as far as working out that "ethnographic" and "co-design" approaches were a good idea, but was hazy on the detail of what to do next - and on how to theorise such a complex and crowded field of inquiry.
Before I opened this book, I'd explored around the heterogeneous literature on 'real world' technology design and realised that the signal to noise ratio in this field is very weak (there's a lot of technical stuff, a lot of science fiction / speculation, some really sad stuff on smart homes, lots of deterministic experiments from geeky doctors, some fantastically clever sociology which is hard to apply in practice, and a splash of colour from the wackier fringes of actor-network theory). But I hadn't found much to help answer the question "but which conceptual / theoretical perspective[s] do I need for MY project to inform better ICT design?".
This book was the overview I was looking for. After setting ubicomp in a fascinating historical context, it offers a succinct and beautifully written overview of the key theoretical perspectives, introducing many, dismissing some and recommending a few (all with justification). Ethnograhy is needed not just to "get data" to inform design, but to illuminate the practices through which "culture" is constructed and technologies-in-use emerge (or not). Dourish and Bell go over some well-trodden ground (Geertz is in there with his "webs of significance", as are Bowker and Star on classification and Mary Douglas on sacred/profane etc etc), but these classics are all woven together and placed in the very particular context of what they mean for the future (and indeed the present) of ubicomp. Whilst the examples in the book are all miles away from my own (medical) interest in ubicomp, they were accessible to the non-specialist and illuminative of the theoretcial points made.
Congratulations to the authors for offering a 'way in' to this swampy intellectual territory and for leaving so many new interdisciplinary avenues open for further exploration.
I found this book an enjoyable and well read. It covers the cultural assumptions behind the concepts of ubiquitous or pervasive computing and compares them against other cultural traditions to show how fundamental concepts being touted as 'universal' are anything but.
There is much food for thought in this book for people in the field and those thinking of creating social media sharing platforms as well as those interested interested in hardware design.
This book is written in a clear, academic style. It is not written in the style of popular science or a popular business studies book. Those looking for ten top tips for the future will be disappointed - this book raises more questions than it answers. This is not a negative in my opinion and I have already recommended the book to four of my colleagues!
My daughter, a student of Social Sciences says: "As I have not read that much about the given area I found it fascinating, as it gave clear background information and introduced me to connections and ideas which I had previously not considered."
Being a technical guy in a business world, I always look to the future and try and make sure I know where my solutions are going to end up. This isn't just from a technical perspective but also from a business and social one. Doing so allows you to introduce future concepts gently and as early as appropriate.
I'd been given this book after a fascinating talk at a general IT conference by one of the authors and couldn't wait to get started on it, thinking it would give me some much needed insight into where I should be aiming. I can vouch that the author is definitely knowledgeable on their subject and in conversation, certainly provided some insights the industry needed.
Whilst I'm sure the information is in the book somewhere, I can't find it. That's not meaning to say it isn't a good book (which I'm sure it is) but it just isn't aimed at your general tech manager looking to get a leg-up on the future. Incessant inline use of referencing, reminiscent of medical papers or heavy research meant that I couldn't hold a train of thought long enough to connect the start and end of ideas - why couldn't it be in footnotes? In addition to this that the entire "narrative" seems to be written in individual quotes, quoted paragraphs and concepts assigned to researchers which made the whole thing even more difficult to get through. I found myself re-reading most sections and eventually gave up after a third.
I can see that for anyone used to ingesting medical research (in a previous role I saw a lot of it) or academic research may be able to 'get' it but whilst I'd recommend the writers and the concepts the book attempts to get across, I couldn't recommend this book to others in my field.
One person found this helpful.
Was this review helpful to you?