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Chapter 5: Attention, Control, and Learning defines the types of cognition as a spectrum between tacit and explicit. Tacit actions are automatic reactions to the environment, while explicit involves conscious thinking and decision-making. Our environments directly impact how we think, remember, and learn. The user will act without conscious thought whenever their environment allows it, meaning that while digital environments should accommodate the entire spectrum of attention, designers should create environments that are easy to be tacit in. 

A Spectrum of Conscious Attention Edit

Hinton reiterates that our bodies contribute a great deal to the thinking process. Other theories operate under the idea that there are conscious parts that actively direct action and there are unconscious parts that react without thinking to the environment. In response, Hinton offers a model that “shows how these states of mind are not cleanly separated but instead function on a spectrum of conscious attention between Explicit and Tacit[1]. Explicit refers to the conscious, deliberate, and reflective elements of the previous models, while tacit is related to the terms unconscious, intuitive, and automatic. The tendency for the mind to act efficiently drives us towards the tacit end of the spectrum because making conscious decisions, on the explicit end, burns energy. 

Michael Polanyi proposed the Explicit/Tacit model for knowledge, defining tacit knowledge to be something that is hard to communicate through explicit means, like how to ride a bike. Knowledge can pass from explicit to tacit when we start to use it in a natural way, like how language becomes tacit when we learn how to speak.

Anything that does not fit with an individual’s tacit habits needs to be learned explicitly. The danger arises when we act based on our tacit understanding of an environment, and that understanding turns out to be false. Designers of digital environments need to be careful to not inadvertently trick their users into interacting with the environment in a way it is not intended for.

Environmental Control Edit

Behavior is a function of the person and their environment. It emphasizes the environment of a person in their moment of perception. The individual has agency, but the ability to act follows the information we get from our environment. Both nature and technology influence how we act and think by changing how we perceive our bodies and abilities. The technologies we use affect our sense of what we can and can’t do, and in turn, it changes our behavior.

The environment’s information shapes our understanding and actions. This “nudging” effect explains how complex social systems affect behavior, like how having a program being “opt-in” or “opt-out” affects participation. Because of our drive for efficiency, only those that feels strongly will change the decisions made for them. For technology, “software can all too easily trick our perception into assuming our environment has a particular stable structure that isn’t really all that stable or universal”[2]. Designers need to be aware that users will use the most obvious and easy-to-use features, even if they might not be designed for that use.

Memory, and Learning the Environment Edit

Memory complicates the interaction between the environment and mental constructs. “Memory is a crucial part of how people experience context. However, … we can’t count on a stable, fixed memory,” [3] when designing for users. How memory works is still largely a mystery. Many models of how memory works offer distinctions based on patterns, but the embodied perspective is less clear-cut. Users will cite past experience in a similar way as they cite current perception.

Memory does not begin in the mind. Rather, it is built up from the ongoing activities between body, brain, and environment. Some memory is retained, allowing us to have brain-centered thoughts, experiences, and recollections, but it begins in the body. Memory is a process of picking up experience and reconstructing what it means to us. Every time we remember something, according to the process of memory reconsolidation, we alter the contents of the memory. This process is tied to the idea of learning. Humans will use environmental clues like pictures or other accounts and alter their memories accordingly. Because the brain evolved to support the body, we recall only the bare minimum of our surroundings to survive. “Factual accuracy is an artificial idea we’ve invented in our culture”[4] because organisms do not separate fact from interpretation.

Explicit memory is the intentional act of consciously trying to remember something. Implicit memory, on the other hand, is how our bodies remember how to do something. Tacit learning can happen over time with practice or in a short period of time, if we experience an intense emotion. These memories can trick us into reacting to situations incorrectly. Conversely, explicit learning is much better at retaining information, but it requires considerable forced effort and continued exposure to the material.

What Does All This Mean for Design? Edit

Hinton advises that designers require as little memory on the part of the user as possible: “The system should do as much work as possible toward making its affordances clear without requiring memory”[5]. We should put required information in the world in a manner that works tacitly with implicit memory.

Keeping in theme with adapting design practices to accommodate natural human interaction, Hinton advises that, “We have to rely more heavily on the conventions and implicit, structural affordances that users carry over from the physical world”[6]. We have assumptions that significant changes will have signs, but software makes some changes invisible. Changing how an environment works without providing notification leads to users taking inappropriate actions. 

Analysis Edit

Through Hinton’s analysis of memory theories, he created a new model for memory and learning. In turn, he argues, our understanding of how humans think of the world has changed, so the way we design environments must also change. In Jay Rosen’s article, The People Formerly Known as the Audience, we see users gain access to publication tools and using them for their own purposes. The tools to create content have become easier to use, to the point that amateurs can use them tacitly. Now users have a more direct route to voice their opinions—by creating content themselves. These users, however, are still a part of the audience. Both content creators and digital designers can take into account the drive for efficiency by making it easy for users to voice their opinions. For example, one-click sharing shows how making participation easy increases engagement.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 68
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 73
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 74
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 79
  5. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 82
  6. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 83

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