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Cultural Study

You will individually perform a mini-cultural study to reflect on the social and cultural problems in our environments and society and how technology might be able to address these problems.

Observation Diary

You will keep a journal for at least 5 days and write down any observations you have about how technology might change over the next three to five years. This means you have to start your journal at least a week before this assignment is due.

Your journal should be based on the things you see or experiences you have in relation to technology design. You need to ground your observations in how you are using technology in present day and how those around you are using technology. Focus in on specific social problems that you see emerging around technology usage. Don't just make stuff up and write about it. Actually observe your own practices and the practices of family, friends, and strangers around you.

For example, I might write the following for one of my journal entries:

"Sept 9, 2015:

Today I was walking my kids to school and I noticed a lot of other parents who kept looking at their smartphones. I had mine in my pocket but I was too busy walking and talking with my kids to pull it out. Yet other people had already dropped off their kids and were watching them play, so they pulled out their phone. It was interesting how people tended to not look at others around them. Instead they just looked at their phone."


Write a one page, single spaced document that reflects on your observations and suggests how technology will change in the next 5 to 10 years. Consider this a science fiction essay. You should start out the essay by summarizing your observations and making some reflective conclusions about what you saw. Then use those conclusions to predict how you think a specific form of technology will change in the next 5 to 10 years. Don't talk about technology generally; talk about specific type of technology (e.g., televisions, mobile devices, heads-up displays, laptops, traffic lights, car navigation systems, etc).

Make sure your essay's content is tied to your diary observations! You can't just make stuff up --- the observations must lead to the thoughts in your essay.

For example, I might write:

"I observed that many people use their mobile phones in the moments when they are not engaged with other people. <elaborate on this point... > I saw these lead to several social challenges. First, people tended to ignore other adults around them who might be interested in engaging in conversation.... Second, people did not actually supervise their children when they were using their mobile phones... Third, the idea of pulling a technology out of one's pocket started to seem like an unnecessary activity....

When I think about the near term future in the next five to ten years, I think that we will see the emergence of new types of behaviors around the use (or not use) of mobile devices. I believe that technology is going to transform such that we are not constantly pulling out a handheld device to connect with information and other distant people. The need to hold a device is going to feel more and more cumbersome and we will instead start to see.... "

Notice in the above example how I first set the scene to describe the basis of my argument from my observations. Then I went through several examples of the social challenges that I saw the technology situation creating. Lastly, I made my predictions about the future design of technology based on my own observations and some reasoned arguments. You don't need to use the above style for your own summary, but think about including similar components.

Note: my example was about mobile device usage. Given that, you should try to avoid having the same types of observations and arguments as me. Copying my idea won't get you a good grade.

What to Submit

You will submit TWO documents.

1. Observations: You should have at least two pages of diary entries. They can be handwritten or typed. It doesn't have to be neat and tidy. Don't go overboard and have 20 pages. Do what you think is reasonable to describe what you see.

2. Essay: Create a document of one page (single spaced) as per the instructions above. Base your argument on the observations. Writing short amounts is difficult, but an important skill. Make sure your document is less than one page as we will only read that much.

Submission: Bring a paper copy to Week 3's lab - hand in both documents. Email the Essay in PDF format to your instructor and TA, make sure the subject line contains "IAT 431". Bring the journal entries on paper or scan them and attach to the PDF.

Evaluation: You will be evaluated on the completeness of your observations and document, the quality of your speculations about future technology usage, and the quality of your writing. I want to see you focus your essay on major issues rather than minor points.

The assignment is worth a maximum of 1000 XP. A grading sheet is here.