, Volume 17, Issue 2-3, pp 227-256

Place and Technology in the Home

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Abstract

The home is a complex environment, designed for general use but shaped by individual needs and desires. It is a place often shared by several people with different demands and requirements. It is a place embedded with technologies utilised at various times by people in diverse ways. Until recently most home technologies have been primarily functional; aimed at easing domestic chores such as cooking, washing and cleaning. In the last few years information and communication technologies have added to the technological complexity of the home. Entertainment technologies have become increasingly dominant, as the simple TV has given way to video, DVD and satellite or cable services. Technologies converge and diverge to create new hybrid experiences; a trend which we see continuing. Moreover in the future ubiquitous and ambient computing devices and functions will become hidden and communications between devices will become more complex. It is against this background that we undertook a number of studies into the place of technologies and technology use in the home. We studied the placement and use of existing technologies in five homes in Scotland using a novel, multi-part, naturalistic methodology. Transcripts from the studies were analysed using a grounded theory approach in an attempt to draw out key, recurring concepts concerning technology use at home. Eight concepts – place, learning, utility, interaction, control, cost, lifecycle and privacy – emerged from this analysis. Additionally, four types of space were identified in homes; communication, work, leisure (private) and leisure (public). In this paper we focus on these four spaces and how they fit in with previous work on places and spaces in the home. We present a contextually grounded method of investigation of home technologies, the technology tour, and show how the four spaces in the home can be understood and represented as maps of the home layout that are often different for different members of the household. This understanding of place can be set alongside an understanding of technology where the themes of utility, interaction, cost and lifecycle are most important. General design issues that cross place and technology in the home are discussed in the final section of the paper. These can be used to sensitise designers of both artefacts and physical spaces to the needs of people and their use of technologies at home.