Squandering the Cognitive Surplus

UXLx | 2011 See all

Squandering the Cognitive Surplus

Speaker: Christopher Fahey

Clay Shirky coined the phrase "cognitive surplus" to describe humanity's untapped mental energy, energy being put to spectacular and beneficial use in collaborate efforts like Wikipedia. User experience designers are rapidly learning how to tap into this surplus through social and psychological insights into human behavior, inviting users to channel their intellectual energies into technologically-mediated interactions that people find emotionally rewarding and deeply compelling.
But where is the line between compelling interaction and compulsive behavior? With so much enthusiasm about "gamification", game mechanics, and behavior change, and with millions of people tagging other people's content and checking in every time they move around, designers of interactive systems should be asking themselves: what kinds of compelling and powerful interactive experiences actually enrich our lives... and what experiences simply drain our time and energy while providing nothing of value in return? How can we be sure we are using these psychologically engaging new interaction design patterns to make people's lives better?

We'll look at some real-world "anti-patterns" of interaction design, where human behavior is, to put it bluntly, being exploited. But we'll also look at how well-intentioned interactions might inadvertently dehumanize users by failing to address their deeper personal needs. Finally, we'll try to define some guiding principles around how to create engrossing, even addictive products and experiences that nonetheless empower and enrich the people who use them.