Creating 'Users' and Studying 'Non-users' of Technologies
The social sciences and the humanities are beginning to play an increasing role in technology and innovation studies: it becomes obvious that the long-term social effects of scientific and technological development are important side of it. Similar studies are gaining momentum in Russia. For instance, HSE ISSEK has been measuring public perception of science, technology and innovation indicators in the framework of 'Monitoring the Innovative Behaviour of the Population' for more than 10 years. It latest results were presented by Alena Nefedova at the International scientific-practical conference 'Russian User Studies' (November 29 – December 1, 2018, St. Petersburg).
Sociologists, anthropologists, psychologists, UX researchers, and even media artists participate in user studies. The WrongTech team, uniting sociologists from Moscow and St. Petersburg, the authors of the Telegram channel, where they publish news from the world of science and technology, decided to gather at one place – the Sociological Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences – different views on one subject – users of new technologies.
Note: One of the key priorities of scientific and technological development of Russia in the Federal Target Programme 'Research and Development in Priority Areas for the Development of the Scientific and Technological Complex of Russia for 2014–2010' is 'ensuring the possibility of an effective response of Russian society to great challenges, taking into account the interaction of man and nature, man and technology, social institutions at the present stage of global development, including the application of methods of the humanities and social sciences'.
Unknown World of Non-users
The 'Russian User Studies' started with an analysis of 'non-users' – people who for some reason abandoned technological innovations or start using them later than others (in the English-language literature, they are somewhat derogatory called 'laggards'). The guest speaker, professor at the University of Maastricht (the Netherlands), Sally White, made the critical reference to the Rogers innovation theory of diffusion, which somewhat naively propose that eventually everyone will become users of a technology. Then the speaker proposed her own non-user qualification, which was empirically tested in Germany by other colleagues.
'Does the Robot Cry?'
At the conference, participants actively discuss the issues of human-robot interaction (HRI). A group of Russian researchers, developing conversion analysis (EMCA), presented the results of the analysis of call records to the call center with a robot operator. Andrei Korbut from the Centre for Fundamental Sociology at HSE noted that when a person talking to robot, he usually does not use the 'request-like' messages, which are more typical for human interaction. Instead, he use the 'order-like' messages. People quite often refuse to interact with the robot at all, not taking the latter as a valuable partner for conversation.
Autonomous Vehicles and Trams without Turnstiles
Special session was devoted to new transport technologies. Nikolay Rudenko (Sociological Institute of the RAS, European University at St. Petersburg) presented a range of different approaches to autonomous vehicles in various disciplines. For example, the main question for cultural anthropologists is: 'How to adapt a self-driving vehicles to a variety of driving practices?'; for social psychologists: 'How to generate a trust to self-driving car?', and for sociologists: 'What are socio-demographic groups are interested in of an autonomous vehicles?'
Alena Nefedova from the Laboratory for Economics of Innovations at HSE ISSEK presented the results of a sociological survey of potential demand for electric vehicles, car sharing and autonomous vehicles in Russia. In particular, Alyona presented the socio-demographic characteristics of early and potential users of these technologies. It turned out that these technologies have a similar consumer: men aged 16–34 years. At the same time, the self-expression values, as well as a positive attitude to science and technology in general increase willingness to try new transport technologies. The report also identified the main reasons for not using them: lack of necessity, as well as the experienced anxiety.
Konstantin Glazkov, a lecturer at Faculty of Social Sciences at HSE, studied the behaviour of passengers of Moscow trams, from which the turnstiles were removed. From his observations, it follows that passengers began to pay less attention to whether the payment for the trip went well (earlier it was more clearly confirmed by the ‘physical’ scrolling of the turnstile).
User and Service: Who Uses Whom?
Elena Gorbunova and Olga Gribkova from the Laboratory for the Cognitive Psychology of Digital Interface Users at HSE compared various research techniques for studying users-experience in website interfaces and mobile applications. Olga Logunova, associate professor at Faculty of Social Sciences at HSE, showed differences in online dating practices between men and women of different ages using the Tinder audience as an example. Representatives of companies Tatiana Kozulina (TSUM) and Lilia Yatluk (Modum Lab) and independent researcher Evgenia Korotchenko sharing their experience in UX-research of various services in the interests of business. At the end of the session, the participants concluded that UX-studies are particularly sensitive to issues of maintaining a balance of interests between different stakeholders: business owners and customers, because companies and services often use users in their purposes. These questions requires further reflection and study.
In Search for Alternatives to the 'User'
The final discussion was devoted to the search for alternatives to the concept of 'user'. Among the alternatives were named the metaphors of 'client', 'player', 'interactor' etc. Lilia Zemnukhova (Sociological Institute of the RAS, European University at St. Petersburg) questioned the very possibility of unite definition of this concept, emphasizing the power of an interdisciplinary view of this subject.
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