Using physical and digital artifacts to make us who we are : the case of paper and e-books
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Material culture research has demonstrated how relationships to physical artifacts are central to human lives, and that people use artifacts in processes of constructing their own identities and representing those identities to other people—and that the display of artifacts is central to these practices (Douglas & Isherwood, 1979; Miller, 1987; 2010). Recent human-computer interaction (HCI) research has suggested that digital artifacts do not function in the same ways as physical artifacts for these (and other) purposes (Kirk & Sellen, 2010; Odom et al. 2014). Research on human interactions with physical and digital artifacts over the past decade has revealed that people see digital artifacts as less reliable, less “real,” and therefore less valuable than their physical counterparts (Golsteijn et al., 2012; Kirk & Sellen, 2010; Odom et al., 2012; 2014; Petrelli & Whittaker, 2010). Although we increasingly rely on digital technologies, we tend to see them (and the digital artifacts that they support) as “throwaway” things—exciting and even essential for a time, but quickly outdated and replaced with new versions. This has serious ramifications for the roles that digital artifacts and the technologies that support them can play in human lives more generally. This dissertation investigates interactions with physical and digital artifacts through an in-depth examination of two types of artifacts: paper and e-books. It examines vii readers’ everyday and long-term book-related practices through a multi-method approach consisting of a month-long diary study, home tours, and interviews with twenty-seven participants. This investigation revealed new nuances in the complexities of interactions with physical artifacts in home settings, and additionally found that participants valued digital artifacts differently depending on the rules for interaction with artifacts that applied within the digital system that supported access to those artifacts. This finding revealed, then, that it is possible to create digital systems that promote the value of the artifacts within them through supporting the visibility of digital artifacts, and supporting people in taking maintenance and collection management actions with those artifacts— that is, it is a combination of artifacts’ visibility and having reliable control over them (through ownership) that allows artifacts to become valuable for their owners.