Obvious

When I was doing my PhD I was reading a bit, or a lot, Sociology of Science and Technology (STS), particularly in Actor-Network by Latour and Law and Callon. At one point my supervisor Anni said something about Don Ihde. I googled him and found an interview that he’d done with a recently graduated PhD student. If you, like me, aren’t up on your Heidegger, Husserl and Merleu-Ponty, the conversation can be a bit obtuse. At one point, Ihde has just finished explaining a simple phenomenological experiment that can give some sense of how a blind person perceives the foot-path through their cane. Ihde uses this as an example to illustrate how technology mediates human experience. Then the interviewer says:

 Interviewer: I think it is a very interesting theory. You have also said that if technology did not change human experience there would not be a motive to use it at all. That is of course true, so in some way your theory states the obvious?

And I love Ihde’s response.

 Ihde: In some ways everything I do is obvious, but not easily obvious.

I try to keep this in mind when someone make a comment about my work is, or a reviewer says my conclusions in a paper are, “obvious”.

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with obvious. I aspire to obvious. My task as a researcher is to look at situations in which people use technologies and say how that use comes about. If I find that there are already models and theories to explain a new use in a new situation, so much the better. And if my explanation needs to invoke new models or propose new constructs to explain how people interact with technology and the explanation still strikes you as obvious, that’s great too, because it means I’ve been sufficiently clear.

It seems to me that if my job is to explain how people use things and my explanations aren’t clear then I’m not doing very well. Obviously.

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