Computing is a creative discipline. We can use it to help create the world we want to live in.

tatar at

Department of Computer Science, and, by courtesy, Psychology
Member, Center for Human-Computer Interaction
Member, Program for Women and Gender Studies
2202 Kraft Dr., Room 123, MC 0106
Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
Blacksburg,VA 24061

(540) 231-8457 (work)

(540) 231- 6075 (fax)

A polemic aimed primarily at students or potential students:

The internet and other important pervasive technologies work the way they work for a number of reasons. Some of these reasons are historical. Some are because it was overwhelmingly designed by very young, white, American men. Most technologies that pervade our everyday life were designed to sell or solve other business problems. Quality of life, kindness, and equity are secondary. Some people say that it was our early and long-standing interactions with animals that civilized us and made us human. Yet now we have lost that influence, and instead gained a computational mirror of the self.

What kind of world do you want to live in? How are you going to make influence it? Computing reserch is concerned with how we make the future. To make the future, we need to understand our opportunities.

In Measuring the World, D. Kelhmann credits Gauss with saying "It was both odd and unjust...a real example of the pitiful arbitrariness of existence, that you were born into a particular time and held prisoner there whether you wanted it or not. It gave you an indecent advantage over the past and made you a clown vis-a-vis the future" (p. 4-5). It is not necessary to be so depressive about the limitations of the times we live in. It is necessary to see them.

In the past, computing systems have been fluid. Lots of people made happy predictions based, in part, on that fluidity. But, increasingly, computing is solidifying. It is increasingly tied to larger social systems. Sometimes this is amazingly terrific. But not everything has to be terrific. One of our jobs as computer scientists in academia in training students and also in creating computing systems that honor the human.

Here are some keywords and concepts that are important to me:

Social attention and technology: Who is in charge? How does the presence of technology influence the ways in which we think about and interact with ourselves and one another? What happens when we are distracted or angry? How can we use the ideas in playground games to support a rich view of human interaction in and around technological artifacts?

Mathematics, science, computing, and engineering Education: Real-world technology projects that promote equity and excellence in K-12 and university classrooms.

Language and Ethics: Systems (especially Tuple Space-based) to support complex human face-to-face coordination around complex ideas and to support idea creation and problem finding.

CSCW/CSCL: Handheld, tablet, and large-screen computing.

Developmental Values in Computing Systems: Mothers tend to know is that there are no limits to the demands associated with parenting. You can let a child down, but you can't give the child back or exchange them for a newer model. Why does this matter? Because in fact that is true in lots of relationships. Many of the social interactions inherent in current computing systems focus on contingent relationships, assuming that particular people are background (and particular places are interchangeable as well). This is appropriate and can be thrilling for the developmental needs of young people, whose life-task is to network and establish themselves in careers and life partnerships; it also corresponds with the brutal side of capitalism that emphasizes individual benefits and happily assumes more general social good will follow. But even young people and devoted capitalists need other aspects of being. Ultimately, quality of life is associated with social agency, social capital, interpersonal connection, and working through what life deals you out. Computing does not create our social problems, but it can be different in ways that promote civilization.


copyright Deborah Tatar 2006-10