The Dark Side of the Moon

So what does Pink Floyd have to do with HCI? Why that post title?

Well, to be honest, I’m not even a big fan of Pink Floyd, just for the simple fact that I don’t know much of their music, at least not the early stuff. But I’ve read somewhere that the album’s title actually comes from a quote by Mark Twain: “Every one is a moon, and has a dark side which he never shows to anybody.” This, however, was just a bit too long as a title (and less catchy, I guess).

So, the HCI relation is clear now? Probably not, so let me elaborate.

I think HCI rarely addresses that “dark side of the moon” that lies in every human being. I’ve thought that several times in the past, but it ticked me off again during the opening plenary talk that Margaret Gould Stewart gave (thank you for that talk, btw!). The talk was not specifically about this topic, so don’t get me wrong and interpret my little rambling as criticizing her. In fact I found the talk quite refreshing, because it gave me an insight on a view on HCI from the perspective who actually does it (by designing Youtube).

Anyways, what ticked me off was the question of what to do when people abuse the creative freedom that is offered to them by services like youtube, facebook, and so on. Her short answer was that some form of moderation is probably needed.

Before I give me two cents on that I feel it necessary to elaborate a bit on what it actually is “these services” provide you with. I assume everybody knows youtube lets you watch videos, but what is that on a more abstract level? What it does is basically providing you an easy chance to create something. You can create a video, be creative in all the different ways this medium offers to you and actually reach millions of people with it. Home videos are no longer restricted to be seen by family and friends only (or, if they go wrong, “<country>’s funniest home videos”). And this is a good thing. It is no longer a question of money to reach people with your creativity. By getting feedback, you can even become better, “give something to society”. Creativity is always good, right?

Well… no. Sadly, there’s always a “but”. People get creative in other ways, bad ways. Of course you can upload other people’s videos to youtube, too. I’m not even talking about copyrights here, it happens a lot that people try to get the fame for something they haven’t done themselves. Stealing.

And then there’s the comments, which brings me to my major point (finally). Oh, the comments. Youtube still allows basically anonymous comments. I’m not a frequent youtuber myself and usually only watch stuff that’s recommended to me by other people, but every time I look into the comments… well, I wish I had not. It rarely happens that they’re used to give constructive feedback to the video. It usually pretty soon enters the state of several commenters arguing very harshly with each other, sometimes not even about the content of the video anymore.

I’m not going to guess about the reasons behind this observable behavior, nor am I going to mention the even worse places of the internet. The fact stays that people as a whole don’t always behave.

Back to the talk: Moderation, filtering. Is this really the best we can do? And who does the filtering or moderating? Will it be all about laws, or include general behavior? How about we force real names of people on the internet, so they can’t hide behind anonymity?

Personally, I don’t think this is the answer, in fact I am a big proponent of an open, anonymous web. I won’t go into detail here (I could do that for hours without end) and just say I don’t have an answer either.

To me, it appears that we all have a “dark side of the moon”. We have to live with this fact. We might encourage fighting it and should always try to be decent people, but we can’t deny that side, as a society. Policing thoughts has never done anything good, in my opinion.

A lot of HCI projects, talks and papers I’ve read, no matter what they deal with, usually paint a very humanistic picture. We’re not developing weapons, we’re usually trying to help people. But it is somehow always implied that people will use the new technologies we make accessible to them for good things. But they won’t. Sometimes, they will just be that offensive, ignorant jerk they are when the lights are turned off and the stage gets dark enough so that their faces can’t be seen. But when we present our next device to enhance the collaboration between coworkers at CHI, will we admit that this might lead to more gossip and badmouthing for some reason? Have we thought about it? Or the other way around: Will it lead to less gossip, potentially keeping people from venting every now and then, frustrating and burning them out in the end?

We all design and deal with humans in HCI. For that, we obviously rely to a certain degree on the image we have of what constitutes a human being. Unfortunately, I sometimes get the impression this image is more what we’d wish humans to be like than what they actually are. Nobody openly admits that sometimes, we all are that mean basement dweller that laughs and mocks the fat kid on youtube…

Mrs. Stewart said in her talk she believes people are good, if I remember correctly. I wouldn’t necessarily sign that, to be honest. We have good in us, but also bad. In the end, people are just people.

1 thought on “The Dark Side of the Moon

  1. I completely agree with you that each of us has his dark side. Furthermore very often people mix their bright and dark sides and don’t clearly distinguish either of the two (at least as per my observation). I’d like to refer you to a very early research in HCI that you definitely should know about and probably have read some time ago: Stanford Prison Experiment. I’d recommend reading it once more since it might be revealing and give you some further thoughts (hopefully).


    P.S. Philosophically I believe that a perfect human being could exist and as I am definitely far from that I try to push the dark side of me in the corner as much as possible. 🙂

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