What is Interaction?

Person to person interaction at its core I think matches Chris Crawford's definition: a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak. However I think that that's very limiting when it comes to physical interaction - the way that technology has scaled today, we have a lot of interactions where it's multiple people using one device (or one person using multiple devices).

I define interaction as an action that provokes unique feedback to that action and prompts further action. For example, when I tap on a touchscreen there should be an indicator that the tap was registered and something should happen that I need to respond to. Hopefully this is a bit more general. 

What defines good interaction? Good physical interaction is dependent on unique feedback - if I perform two different actions, I should get results that are individual to each action. I think good interaction also prompts me to try different ways to interact with the object at hand; there is not just one way to use the object I'm interacting with. It's mentally engaging, as Crawford mentions later on. Finally, I think that good physical interaction is simple - it shouldn't take very long to learn in order for the user to interact with something. Bret Victor was concerned that the vision of future technology has moved away from the full scale of what we can do with our hands, but while I agree with his point that interaction can and should be richer I also think the interactions that are demoed there are simple due to the ubiquity of touch interaction today with smartphones and other connected devices. It's something that people have learned, so when they approach a similar device they already have a mental model of how it works.

With that in mind, I can't think of a work from anyone in particular that isn't interactive but there are a few samples of digital technology that I don't think are interactive or are pretty low on the scale of interactivity. Alarm clocks for example are not particularly interactive - they're not simple and don't really prompt the user to try different things with them. Smart TV is not particularly interactive for the same reason even though they have more functions. 

So what is interaction? The dictionary definition is "designed to respond to the actions, commands, etc., of a user". Chris Crawford described it as two actors who interact via listening, speaking, and thinking. Both are pretty close, but I think that when we think about what makes good interaction that it has to be more than just responding and to encourage us to try more ways to interact with objects than what we are currently used to doing, much like Bret Victor's point in A Brief Rant on the Future of Interaction.