For the last week I find myself wondering about interaction, trying to find a proper definition of the word. It was not easy as I truly believe that any human encounter involves interactivity in some way or another. In his book “The Art of Interactivity”, Chris Crawford suggests that the right way to look at interactivity is as a continuous variable. In general, I agree with his statement but I find it very confusing trying to get into details. Is our human understanding developed enough to determine a degree of interaction in a given situation? Crawford determines that the interaction between an actor on stage and the audience as an example is very limited, but I wonder, can we really tell the degree in which the actor is influenced and acts upon the audience state and mood?
I believe every human interaction involves projection of thoughts and emotions, even when interacting with a machine. We tend to forget we interact with a computer and find ourselves shouting at it when it doesn’t act as it should. Physical interaction between humans and computers is very different than pure human interaction, but I am not sure it matters when it comes to the way we perceive the interaction. In a subjective world, maybe that is the important question.
Is there an essential difference between proper physical interaction, which involves the feel of touch and texture, to a virtual one? Being away from home, on the other side of the globe, I find myself wondering about my interaction with family and friends when face to face meetings were replaced by “Facetime” meetings. Of course it feels different, but is it because of the lack of other parts of physical interaction or maybe it is something else?
I tend to think about “immersive experience” as an experience which is so vivid and real that our brain adds the missing pieces and forms an experience greater than the sum of its parts. My first experience in virtual reality, for example, involved standing in the middle of a snowy field. After standing there for a few minutes I started feeling the cold overtaking my body.
Superficially, immersive and interactive experiences are two different concepts, we see a lot of virtual reality experiences that are not interactive at all. I think that the two are bound together, as more as the experience is immersive we perceive it as interactive as well. If I imagine myself conducting a dialogue with a fictional character in a movie, does it matter if the dialogue happened in real life or only in my imagination? Of course it does, but I would like to think that the way the dialogue (fiction or real) influenced me is more important than the dialogue itself.
Let’s get back to virtual reality as an example of the potential of new immersive technologies. I think that the most interesting thing about virtual reality is that it allows us to explore something new – virtual interfaces in space, rather than through a window (=screen). As this experience is totally new, we get immersed (or rather confused) and project our feelings and thoughts to make it a fuller experience. We have seen examples in the past – we all know the story of the first screening of the Lumière brothers when the audience ran out of the cinema in panic in order not to get hit by a train. The only question is – will we be smart enough to take advantage of the new technologies and develop new interfaces and concepts, fulfilling its full immersive potential? or will we hold on to our outdated beliefs?