, Volume 25, Issue 1, pp 53–60 | Cite as

A different way of seeing: Albert Borgmann’s philosophy of technology and human–computer interaction

  • Daniel Fallman
Original Article


Traditional human–computer interaction (HCI) allowed researchers and practitioners to share and rely on the ‘five E’s’ of usability, the principle that interactive systems should be designed to be effective, efficient, engaging, error tolerant, and easy to learn. A recent trend in HCI, however, is that academic researchers as well as practitioners are becoming increasingly interested in user experiences, i.e., understanding and designing for relationships between users and artifacts that are for instance affective, engaging, fun, playable, sociable, creative, involving, meaningful, exciting, ambiguous, and curious. In this paper, it is argued that built into this shift in perspective there is a concurrent shift in accountability that is drawing attention to a number of ethical, moral, social, cultural, and political issues that have been traditionally de-emphasized in a field of research guided by usability concerns. Not surprisingly, this shift in accountability has also received scarce attention in HCI. To be able to find any answers to the question of what makes a good user experience, the field of HCI needs to develop a philosophy of technology. One building block for such a philosophy of technology in HCI is presented. Albert Borgmann argues that we need to be cautious and rethink the relationship as well as the often-assumed correspondence between what we consider useful and what we think of as good in technology. This junction—that some technologies may be both useful and good, while some technologies that are useful for some purposes might also be harmful, less good, in a broader context—is at the heart of Borgmann’s understanding of technology. Borgmann’s notion of the device paradigm is a valuable contribution to HCI as it points out that we are increasingly experiencing the world with, through, and by information technologies and that most of these technologies tend to be designed to provide commodities that effortlessly grant our wishes without demanding anything in return, such as patience, skills, or effort. This paper argues that Borgmann’s work is relevant and makes a valuable contribution to HCI in at least two ways: first, as a different way of seeing that raises important social, cultural, ethical, and moral issues from which contemporary HCI cannot escape; and second, as providing guidance as to how specific values might be incorporated into the design of interactive systems that foster engagement with reality.


User Experience Interactive System Compact Disc Cultural Information Natural Information 
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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag London Limited 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of InformaticsUmeå UniversityUmeåSweden
  2. 2.Interactive InstituteKistaSweden

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