You’ve probably heard of or studied the Pygmalion Effect. Basically that peer expectation leads to either improvements or decline. The famous quote from the George Bernard Shaw’s play “Pygmalion” (the movie My Fair Lady):
“You see, really and truly, apart from the things anyone can pick up (the dressing and the proper way of speaking and so on), the difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves but how she’s treated. I shall always be a flower girl to Professor Higgins, because he always treats me as a flower girl, and always will, but I know I can be a lady to you because you always treat me as a lady, and always will.”
I have been thinking about culture’s perception of the interaction designer vs. the film maker. This Pygmalion Effect seems to fit with my initial thoughts. As interaction designers, I think we are seen as the simple “flower girl”. In contrast, I think the film maker is definitely considered a “lady” in our culture, living in Hollywood and living the good life.
Why is this so? There was a short time there in the late 90’s when the programmers in Silicon Valley were getting close to becoming the “lady”. Hell, they were almost rock stars. But then the dot-com crash and shazam… we are seen as simple “flower girls” again. And we definitely have molded ourselves in this image. Where once we were gaining invites to parties everywhere, now we are back to our 9 to 5 jobs making computer applications for the common good. Simply providing a public service. We seemed to have lost our luster, the public perception gone. Now you might say that companies like Apple are seen as hip and cool, the “Fair Lady”. I would agree, but I don’t think it translates down to the actual interaction designers.
So how does this fit with creating a language of interaction design? Well, we all play the signal game. Meaning that we all have our prejudices and expectations. You can only relate to someone in your genre through language (signals), and understanding comes from the correct interpretation of the signals we pass between one another. That is how we can read the articles Jeff gives us and actually interpret them in the correct way, the way that relates to our culture as information scientists or informatics peeps.
To create a language for interaction design, we don’t only need a shared vocabulary between ourselves. We need a public perception that can relate to our cultural subset in a way that people now have begun to relate to technology itself.
As an example, my parents had no idea what I was studying at SLIS while I was getting my Master’s degree. But I could speak a shared language with them that they had picked up via their own cultural influences. I could say that I was interested in studying the way information was organized and shared on the internet using computers. They could understand that, they got it. Their expectations increased based on our shared vocabulary and therefore they expected me to do great things and have an exciting job. Therefore my own expectations increased and I was then (somehow) able to get a good job. A simple kind of Pygmalion Effect.
So, I think that we need to be cognizant of this effect while we are trying to define our language of interaction design. Although we may walk and talk like a “lady” with our new, fancy language, we may still be seen as the “flower girl”. And as it goes, the expectations of the culture may lead us to our continued, hidden existence.
I have no idea if this makes sense… it was in essence a mind puke.