Friday, 10 August 2012

The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction… Ready-to-Hand and Present–at-Hand

O’Neill, S. (2008) Interactive Media: The Semiotics of Embodied Interaction. London: Springer-Verlag.

“Heidegger essentially posits two different ways of being-in-the-world in relation to stuff or equipment, to use Heidegger’s term, that one finds there (physical entities, such as tools and technologies that for our purposes, we shall identify as media); these are ready-to-hand and present–at-hand. (…) Heidegger claims that our everyday encounters with the phenomena of our world are the ‘first’ way in which we come to understand them. (…) Through this process of interaction we develop skilful use of the material of the world and we in turn develop tacit, embodied knowledge or ‘know-how’ that allows us to cope smoothly with the world around us, enabling our immediate survival. (…) Present-at-hand is an essentially different ‘disclosure’ of being, whereby we are no longer engaged in using the equipment of the world, but we instead are thinking about it. Our activities are internal and mental rather physical and active. This type of being-in-the-world provides us with a second kind of knowledge, ‘know-that’ rather than ‘know-how’.” (p35)

When discussing Heideggerian phenomenology in the context of interaction design then there are two ways to frame how we approach an interactive artefact: it may be either ready-to-hand or present–at-hand. The former is focused more on a physically active state of imminent use, but in the latter our activities are internal and cognitive, thinking about when to engage in active use. In both conditions we are aware of the interactive artefact without actually using it, but once we are ready we can begin interacting from these polar positions. 

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