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Sunday, 7 April 2013

Persuasive Technology

Suzana Sukovic

Earlier this week Sydney was a gathering place for participants in the 8th International Conference on Persuasive Technology. I saw their announcement on a mailing list and decided to send a last minute one day registration. Since the organisers were CSIRO and NICTA, I expected highly technological talk, but hoped that the focus on behaviour and persuasion, in combination with announced multidisciplinarity, would make the proceedings less opaque to the unitiated. What did I know? As promised in announcements, the conference was truly multidisciplinary with lots of attention given to human behaviour, choice-making and the meaning of the word “persuasion”. Unlike other similar gatherings, no one even whispered the F word (“fluff”).  Papers presented a rich tapestry of ideas and perspectives from discussions about ethics of persuasion, possibilities to use lingering feelings after confronting computer games to promote reflection to considerations of factors influencing health-related decisions, to name some. The official part of the program on the day finished with a panel discussion about games and gamification. Proceedings of this interesting conference are available from Springer. Workshop proceedings are also online.

Attending events in other disciplines or areas outside one’s immediate professional circle is always invigorating, not only as a source of new ideas and perspectives, but also as an opportunity to gather some observations about group behaviours and topics of interest. I left the Persuasive Technology conference with two observations I’d like to share.

The first is that new fields arising from creative applications of technology inevitably deal with issues of naming. How do we call what we are doing? What is the implication of words we are using? How do we define our area in relation to neighbouring disciplines? These are the persuasive questions for those who work in the field of persuasive technology – exactly the same questions we hear at other gatherings where people define a new area of interest arising from application of computers in existing fields such as the digital humanities, computer art, and library and information studies.

The second observation is more a reminder how refreshing it is to step out of the confines of own discipline and culture. After attending a number of discipline-specific, predominantly monocultural conferences with a clear academia-profession divide, it was a breath of fresh air to be at a small gathering representing a variety of professional and academic backgrounds where people spoke English in different accents and occasionally chatted in other languages. Diversity not only makes it more interesting but, in my mind, also adds considerably to the credibility. When a topic is discussed by people representing a variety of perspectives, there is a better chance that relevant issues are covered and major biases avoided. I am not aware of anyone at the conference representing a LIS point of view, but I am sure that with our knowledge of how to present information and design electronic environments, we would have something to say about persuasive technology.

Dr Suzana Sukovic has positions in a high school and university. She usually enjoys when birds of different feathers flock together.

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