SIGWEB Interview

Recently I1 was interviewed by Claus Atzenbeck for the SIGWEB Newsletter ( While it isn’t appropriate to reproduce the while thing – you can read the full interview it in the ACM DL, I was asked the question ‘If you had the choice, would you dis-invent any technological advancement?’ – the answer came as a bit of a shock even to me…



If you had the choice, would you dis-invent any technological advancement?
If I had a choice I don’t think I would dis-invent any technical advancement, but I would dis-invent some of our attitudes to the technology we create.
We as humans seem to have a problem with technical adoption, it seems to be all or nothing. Some people never want to use a smart phone, others spend an entire meal text messaging and Facebooking while ignoring the dinner companions right in front of them. In some cases it’s as though technology amplifies our insecurities in communicating with the people around us, or living in the environments we inhabit.
Technology is supposed to enable us to work when we want, to be more flexible, to ex- perience the world as we decide (or at least that’s what the adverts tell me). Instead, we never now seem to be disconnected – always contactable and always of the belief that those contacting us through technology deserve more attention than those in our immediate presence.
In the UK there is an insurance company which encourages us to protect our ‘bubble’; if any of our technology is stolen we can have an immediate replacement – which will maintain our disconnection from our immediate physical environment. Before technology, there was no bubble.
My friend Jim Allan, whom I work with on the W3C User Agent Working Group, has a quote attached to his e-mail signature by Marshall McLuhan, and made in 1964, it says “We shape our tools and thereafter our tools shape us.” If I could, I would dis-invent


  1. Simon Harper is Chair of ACM SIGWEB, a Senior Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Manchester, a Senior Member of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), Chair of the W3C WAI Research and Development Working Group, and research lead for the Web Ergonomics Laboratory, in Manchester. He is interested in how users interact with the Web and how the Web, through its design and technology, enables users to interact with it.

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