Are SatNavs dangerous?

31 July, 2008

The Daily Mirror recently put out a summer story on the risks of using SatNavs. While I would question the statistics and the reliability of the information, as it is probably based on a quick phone survey of 2000 people and then extrapolated in some unclear manner, I do think that we need to understand more about the tunnel vision that SatNav devices create in user’s mind.

The problem of showing a users only small section of reality without the full context is surely the right way to provide information in a short burst that does not risk them too much. While I still want to see some research on how long do users look at their SatNavs using an eye tracker (if anyone is willing to sponsor this – we’ve got the equipment!), I’m confident that there is solid reasoning behind the visualisation as it is now.

So, although this is suitable visualisation, we have an unintended consequence of tunnel vision view of the environment through which the user navigates. We are now starting to see some of the misshapes that occur due to this, and that is an area that requires more research and understanding.

See also the comments in the recent Interactions by Elisabeth Churchill about SatNav

Adena Schutzberg of Directions Magazine has written about the many announcements from GIS vendors about easy-to-use GIS products. She suggests that a lot of the problems with GIS are about confidence in using a product and hearsay from other users.

For me, it is noteworthy that, while she has been in the industry for many years, Adena’s analysis shows lack of familiarity with basic usability concepts such as satisfaction, error tolerance, learnability, memorability and others. This is not surprising as the GIS industry is willing to pay lip service to ease of use, but in reality it does not engage seriously with usability engineering and GIS. Actually, there is really no attention paid to or willingness to invest in usability testing or integration of usability expertise in the design process. One of the best examples of this is that, even though ESRI has a usability engineering section on its site (http://www.esri.com/software/usability/index.html), a search by Google shows that no other page is linked to it!
At AGI GeoCommunity ’08 conference I’m going to talk about usability and GIS, so I hope to have some interesting conversations about the ‘usability culture’ of the GIS industry…

A speech from Al Gore was published last Thursday in the New York Times calling for the US to go on a 10 years project to switch to 100% renewable energy (well, electricity). The link is to the annotated version from Andy Revkin, the scientific correspondent of the paper – which adds an important insight.

It makes a very interesting reading about the links between climate change, energy security, the economy, and the ways in which the challenges of moving to an environmental sustainable mode of economic activities will be negotiated by society.

Especially interesting is to read the text critically, and to consider what is included, and why. Noteworthy is the roles of different domains of human activities  – science is used to demonstrate the problem, technology to offer a solution and the power relationships in society in both the financial investment and the political arenas are playing their part to benefit from the potential disruption of climate change.

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