Interaction. It Matters

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Interaction. It’s something that a lot of people don’t really think about, yet it’s generally something that, on the whole, we all really care about. In the “Interaction” section of Software Studies\ a lexicon, Fuller discusses the basis of interaction in the context of computing and software. When you expand a menu, or input values, you are interacting with your software in the simplest sense.

Expanding the framework of interaction that Fuller notes, you essentially have a system, and an external force, whatever it may be, that changes that system in some way, be it positively or negatively. In the computing sense, there is an interface displaying information. For example, a home page with a menu containing links to the rest of the web page proper. The external force, the actant, is the force that changes the system. In this example, the users themselves are the actants, changing the page, the system, by clicking through its links.

Consider another example. My ecology, Carlyle Court is a system with a lot of different players inside of it. These include, as I have previously noted, a variety of groups of individuals with varying motivations. For the purposes of this post, I will reduce them to simply the residents. The system in its steady state is quite simple really. Residents live in the residence hall, typically because it’s closer to campus and affords them the opportunity to live with fellow students. Residents wake up in the morning, get ready for the day, and head to class. They then return roughly six-eight hours later, usually tired from the day that has passed. Then they do their homework, eat dinner, perhaps chat with friends or watch TV, before inevitably going to sleep and starting over again the following morning.

In a steady state…that’s really it. That’s all there is.

To be honest…that kind of living experience, especially in college, sounds really mundane, unexcited, and quite frankly…really boring. And, if left unchanged, this is how the system will remain. How then, does it change? Well, as you may have guessed from the beginning of this post, it is through interaction.

Let me now introduce my external force, my actant into this system. It’s the Resident Assistants, the RA’s, like myself. We are the forces that are supposed to change this system, and make it better hopefully. However, it’s not quite as simple as it sounds. As I alluded to earlier, there are varying levels of interaction. Clicking a link is very minimal interaction, and typically goes unannounced and unnoticed. This is comparable to mundane RA activities and uninspired floor decorations. As a staple of being an RA, we are tasked with posting fliers on our bulletin board to “keep residents informed.” However, as I know from personal experience, residents typically do not pay much attention to these boards. They go unnoticed. It’s a weak form of interaction.  Don’t get me wrong. These are very important in creating a floor community, because they do enable information to be shared passively instead of actively. But frankly, they may be necessary, but they are far from enough.

What RA’s do needs to be catered directly to the residents, as they are the people we seek to benefit overall. Similar to how all interactive elements should be catered specifically to the frequent users of the web page. They shouldn’t simply be there for the sake of being. Engagement is the focus here. Talking to residents is the only way that we can understand what it is they want us to do. An RA can NEVER reasonably expect to put on compelling events for residents if they do not take the time to understand exactly what it is that those residents want. It just won’t happen. Interestingly, this is a two way street. Just as RA’s should seek to engage with residents to increase attendance and build community, so too should residents communicate to their RA’s what they want to see one in their floor. Sometimes, those within the system can become actants and change the system from within. Fuller noted the following:

“…Interaction involves seeking a kind of magical moment of transformation, a moment when one begins to get back more than what was put in; an unexpected moment when the system seems not only just to work, but to almost come to life; a moment when what had previously been a noisy mess of buggy half-working mechanisms seems to flow together and become a kind of organic whole” 

I’ll end with this anecdote from just yesterday. Yesterday, I took 30 residents from across 3 buildings to see Phantom of the Opera. On my floors, and across the undergraduate population, Broadway shows are among the most requested programs because we can offer discounted prices. However, they typically do not happen because they are complicated to plan and RA’s typically tend towards simpler ideas. After the program, I went back to my room within Carlyle to do some work. Around 5 minutes later, there was a knock on my door. It was one of my residents who had attended the show. She said, with a huge smile on her face, something I will never forget:

“Hi John, I just wanted to thank you for putting on that program. It was definitely the best program that I’ve ever been too at NYU and I just really appreciate the work you put in to make it happen. It’s definitely a highlight of the semester and my time here in general. It was awesome, and you’re the best.”

Interaction. It matters. This resident was someone that “got back more than was put in” when they came to Carlyle. All because I decided to put on a program that I knew she, and many others, wanted. All because I went out of my way to interact with them.  

-John

~ by jeg417 on October 30, 2013.