With two books published under MIT Press and a third on the way, as well as an extensive academic and professional background, Paul Dourish’s knowledge and perspective are a perfect fit for a keynote presentation at the 15th annual Information Architecture Summit.
As a researcher, Paul focuses primarily on understanding information technology as a site of social and cultural production. His work combines topics in human-computer interaction, ubiquitous computing, and science and technology studies. He has published over 100 scholarly articles, and was elected to the CHI Academy in 2008 in recognition of his contributions to Human-Computer Interaction.
Currently, Paul is a Professor of Informatics in the Donald Bren School of Information and Computer Sciences at UC Irvine, with courtesy appointments in Computer Science and Anthropology. He also co-directs the Intel Science and Technology Center for Social Computing. He holds a Ph.D. in Computer Science from University College, London, and a B.Sc. (Hons) in Artificial Intelligence and Computer Science from the University of Edinburgh.
While three questions can’t come close to covering everything we’d like to ask Paul, they’ll have to do until his keynote presentation in San Diego:
You’ve authored two books — “Where the Action Is: The Foundations of Embodied Interaction” (MIT Press, 2001) and, with Genevieve Bell, “Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing” (MIT Press, 2011). Rumor has it you are working on a third. Can you tell us a bit about it?
Paul: My current book project explores the materialities of information. Ever since information theory and information science were first imagined, they were based on the idea that information is an abstract property rather than a material object — something ineffable. But we only ever encounter information in material forms, and the specific material forms involved matter. It’s not just that computers have weight and information storage units take up space — although both of those are important. It’s also that the computational representations through which we do our information processing are in fact specific material arrangements. Recent studies in social science and humanities have examined the material foundations of cultural practice from different perspectives — this book tries to extend that examination into the area of information science.
You worked at Xerox PARC and Apple before moving into academia. What advice can you give other practitioners interested in moving into academia?
Paul: I was lucky that the groups I worked in at PARC and at Apple valued participation in academic settings and publication. So much of academia these days is driven by many of the same kinds of metrics and evaluation criteria that characterize industrial life too, whether that’s publication metrics, citation counts, or fellowships. So the most important thing is to remain part of the academic conversation, however one can and, I think, to do that with a pretty broad and wide engagement, since more and more of the places where HCI and IA research gets done are interdisciplinary venues.
What sparked your interest in Human-Computer Interaction?
Paul: I’d always been interested in the relationship between computer science and human sciences, which is one reason that I ended up in the first cohort of Edinburgh’s AI and CS program. I came to know more about and become involved in research in HCI when I moved to Rank Xerox EuroPARC in Cambridge, England. It was at that lab that I also got my first serious exposure to social science as well as to a highly interdisciplinary approach to research, both of which have marked everything I’ve done since.