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Wabi-sabi in the design of ICT: aestheticising digital imperfections
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Mathematics and Computer Science, Department of Information Technology, Computerized Image Analysis and Human-Computer Interaction. Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Science and Technology, Mathematics and Computer Science, Department of Information Technology, Division of Visual Information and Interaction.ORCID iD: 0000-0003-2580-899X
2018 (English)In: Wabi-Sabi: Imperfection, incompleteness and impermanence in Organisational Life / [ed] Masayasu Takahashi, Tokyo, Japan: Chiyoda Cres Co., Ltd. , 2018, p. 162-163Conference paper, Oral presentation with published abstract (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

ICT is, at least in theory, promising perfection. It is the ideal vehicle for organisations that strive for predictability and efficiency. The correctness of algorithms can be proven, data can be verifiably accurate, and computations can be precise to any desired extent. However, in practice this is just a mirage. Any piece of software of reasonable complexity contains ​bugs​, data is often ​incomplete and erroneous​, and computations need to be approximated​ for practical reasons. The two first types of imperfections are caused by humans – by the programmers of the software and by the users who input information. The third type of imperfection is usually due either to the binary modelling of decimal numbers or limitations of computational resources. We can add a fourth type of imperfection, namely the small risk of random errors in the memory structures of computers, which is most often associated with ​cosmic radiation​.

The common reaction when an imperfection in ICT is noticed is to request it to be immediately fixed. This makes perfect sense in a utility-focused value system, but if we instead would approach the imperfection as wabi-sabi, we would perhaps be able to regard it as something more than a disturbing error. It could enrich the experience of using mundane organisational ICT systems by unveiling authorship and character. It could also serve as a reminder of our reliance on technology: the greater the negative effect of the imperfection, the more conceited was our reliance on an essentially fragile construction.

An undesired imperfection in code could be remedied in a way that leaves no trace of it ever having occurred, but that also means that the artifact’s history is lost. Tracelessly fixing an error deprives us of experiencing the maturation of an artifact and binds us in a non-temporal present in which development is a result rather than a process.

Wabi-sabi has been addressed to some extent in design research (e.g. Tasaknaki & Fernaeus, 2016). However, this research has focused largely on the visible and tangible features of technology – not on the hidden binary, algorithmic mechanics of ICT and how these impact organisations – but within the domain of digital games there is a clear example of wabi-sabi in a subculture that reveres imperfections – glitches – for what they reveal about the construction of a game and for the hidden affordances that they offer (see e.g. Stryder7x). This subculture could be categorised as striving toward hedonic goals but some lessons for professional organisations could still be gleaned by studying its dynamics.

In the current society there is a widespread tendency to value increasing productivity and efficiency, with little concern for how this impairs human experiencing. Aestheticising digital imperfections may be an avenue to better appreciate human fallibility, the (digital) material, and chance as inevitable characteristics of digital artefacts. From a rational point of view, contemplation over the ubiquitous imperfections could very well teach ICT-powered organisations to become more resilient and less vulnerable to technological breakdowns.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Tokyo, Japan: Chiyoda Cres Co., Ltd. , 2018. p. 162-163
National Category
Human Computer Interaction
Research subject
Human-Computer Interaction
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-394021OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-394021DiVA, id: diva2:1356624
Conference
ACSCOS/SCOS Conference (Australasian Caucus (ACSCOS) and Standing Conference on Organizational Symbolism (SCOS))August 17-20 2018 Meiji University, Tokyo, Japan
Available from: 2019-10-02 Created: 2019-10-02 Last updated: 2019-12-06Bibliographically approved

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Laaksoharju, Mikael

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