Ubiquitous computing technologies, according to Weiser’s vision, fade in the background of user’s attention. This has been discussed as invisibility, and the discussion continues on whether this invisibility is physical, as when sensors are hidden or embedded in everyday products, or psychological, as when the engagement of the user with the technology is such that the interface “disappears” (see note 1).
Invisibility however is also a challenge from the user perspective. Invisible infrastructures subtract the spatial dimension from technologies and make it difficult for users to understand them. In some cases the benefit and the ease of using the infrastructure is so great that users adopt the infrastructure even without understanding it. However, there are cases where invisibility stands on the way adoption, as infrastructures require users to constantly engage with them. The Ubiquitous Computing field is full of examples like the automatic adjustments of settings in a smart home, the myriad of eco-feedback technologies, and pervasive CPU sharing or cyberforaging. If users do not engage with these infrastructures, they cannot deliver an acceptable service, hindering adoption again.
My idea, simple and intuitive, is to make these infrastructures available to perception. This approach addresses two objectives: first it provides for the users to explore the infrastructure before engaging with it, and to obtain feedback from their interaction with it. Second, it turns infrastructures into actors in the physical space where interaction takes place.
NOTE 1: Ubiquitous computing technologies are built on top of infrastructures, and together with them, similarly offer infrastructures through which services are delivered. Leigh Star describes infrastructures as invisible (embeddedness and transparency). Leigh’s invisibility relates to more to the fact that users obviate the infrastructures and focus on the tasks their are to accomplish. Taking the example of the gas pipe, it’s difficult to argue that the pipe is invisible (even if camouflaged), but it’s obvious that for most gas users the pipes are something we know about, but nothing to think about when we use gas.