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Chapter 7: What Humans Make looks at how people's cognitive capabilities are both structured and some more natural much like how people interpret their surroundings of both the natural areas and man-made structures. Similarly how people interpret data presented in each of these types of areas utilizes both types of capabilities since man made stems from out of nature. The most prevalent argument made in this chapter has to do with the way individuals use context clues and interactions with their surroundings to create a perceived understanding. As a result, the way people perceive the things around them plays a large role in the understandings and mental models and "cognitive maps" people create to explain the world around them.

The Built Environment Edit

The Built Environment discusses how all individuals are a result of their environments even though these same individuals create these environments. According to Kevin Lynch, individuals seek to create understanding by putting experiences/observations into "human terms". He came to this conclusion after a 5 year study looking at persons living in American cities and observing how they navigated and learned utilizing aspects of life such as: "surfaces, objects, layouts, and places of a city" [1]. The first aspect assessed is the concept of “imageability” and “wayfinding” to describe ways to understand and cognitively interpret their surroundings. The more fascinating outlook presented is each persons perception of their surroundings can be very different. Additionally, what ultimately separates individuals in their perceptions can be categorized into two separate extremes of the same spectrum: “cognitive active” and “cognitively passive”. Those able to more actively, fully participate in their surroundings are, as would be expected, more able to recall more accurate and precise details; vice versa, for those considered more passive cognitively. The ranges individuals could fall into within in this spectrum directly result in the amount of information able to be used to come to a conclusion about their meanings. Ultimately, the implications of these understandings and studies shows surroundings are vital to all living beings to orient themselves within the world.

The Elusive "Cognitive Map" Edit

Hinton describes cognitive maps to not be as simple as an individuals way of creating “mental models” to categorize and evaluate the world around them. However, the phrasing of "cognitive maps" can often be misleading to what the intended definition is. The Cognitive Map address the mental models humans inherently create to better understand life. But, these mental models are rarely static or stable, constantly changing and being molded with each bit of new information gathered or learned. Instead, cognitive maps lead to people relying on their abilities to recall facts and images with a focus on being more aware of their surroundings. Humans' abilities to recall these facts and images comes down to a sort of "muscle memory"; an example being able to remember a location better by walking to the destination rather than if one would have driven there. As a result, the role of the environment serves as a form of context to actively participate in each person's surroundings.

The Social Environment Edit

A lot of the perceptions people make lead to how they define the world around them in large part depends on the interaction with other living things. The human-to-human interaction leads to an "extended cognition and memory" which allows them to draw not only on their own observations but others as well. Interestingly enough, however, many people do not even realize the extent of which this social interaction impacts their mental models and thoughts. Furthermore, the Asch Conformity Experiments of the 1950’s show how due to environmental cues such as perceived pressure, can be enough to cause individuals to incorrectly recall details. Another example the author provides is the "contagious[ness]" of obesity due to social interactions regarding consumption of food. When individuals do not assess how eating with others at times convenient to other people's schedules affects their bodies, they are not realizing the passive effect acting on them. Numerous studies like this exist studying the impact of group think and how putting things in terms of social groups affects individual behavior.

Meaning, Culture, and "Product" Edit

Meaning, Culture, and Product all affect people's definition of what constitutes their social environment and what they know as “culture”. Culture is more than how most people think of it, culture is not just the art, architecture, or music. Culture accounts for every small detail like park benches, sporadic trees, or perhaps even the unsuspecting mailbox. John Seely Brown describes how essentially in order to market products, companies have to understand the environment and culture. His research looked into how initially the market for photocopiers was very small because buyers did not understand the relevance of photocopiers in everyday life. Originally, the machines seemed complicated and unnecessary until the product was reframed and presented in a way buyers could relate. The concept is essentially what the author says: "cultural environment are built up from information that eventually traces back to affordances," [2]. How the author intends "affordances" is such that certain objects in life afford certain actions; for example, door handles afford turning and cups afford drinking. So the idea is when people introduce new products into culture, creators must consider the affordances associated with the item and the clarity with which the public will relate to the item and find it relevant; i.e. the iPhone every time it upgrades. This is best summarized by Brown with this statement, "The whole notion of portability of best practices has been a major setback for understanding how situated technologies must be and how it is the content coming together with the context, and the interaction between the thing and the context, that produces value," [3].

AnalysisEdit

What ultimately separates individuals in their perceptions can be categorized into two separate groups of “cognitively active” and “cognitively passive”.  Those individuals who are able to more actively, fully participate in their surroundings are more able to recall more accurate and precise details; vice versa, for those who are more passive in their environments. Various aspects of these environments might affect the perception each person receives such as pressure to recall facts or how some objects might be a trigger of memories someone else might not have. In whatever way people may perceive things, their surroundings do in fact have a large stake in what is perceived.

While people pull out context from their environments, the environment is also interacting with them just as much. The point made in The Social Environment section which stands out the most are how humans present animation within the same environment which allows for the “richest and most elaborate affordances”. How the author describes this is that as humans interact with their environment containing these other humans, these people and the environment interact back. Because of this interaction learned at such a young age, individuals apply this concept to all interactions; thereby meaning all interactions they have in some way elicit an interaction, real or perceived, from their environments, making it “social”.

A real world application from this chapter discusses the fact that people's entire basis of understanding contextual clues and interactions perceived from their environments is important information can be applied in ways such as marketing products. To understand these clues humans use to understand the world around them, marketers can hone in on what types of messages they want the buyers to be picking up on. The entire economy is essentially based on these concepts. In summation, in terms of digital writing, the information being presented is more than "a list of features" [4] but rather a part of something bigger; it is ultimately a part of language and a way to communicate while considering social and environmental impacts.

ReferencesEdit

  1. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 114
  2. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 121
  3. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 123
  4. Hinton, Andrew, and Peter Morville. Understanding Context: Environment, Language, and Information Architecture. Sebastopol: O'Reilly, 2014. Print. Page 124

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