Session 1

Technology Today


Environment, Technology, and Society

Exercise: Beginning to Think about Technology and Life


  1. To think about technology in several different ways.
  2. To think about how technology affects our lives.
  3. To acquaint yourself with members of the class.
  4. To learn what many of our sessions this semester will be like.


  1. Make a list of at least three different appliances, tools, or systems that use on a regular basis to do some job. This can include at most one computer program. Make sure that the systems on your list are as different from one another as possible. Then, rank them along two dimensions: ease of use and cost.

  2. Organize yourselves into groups of three people. Make sure that your group contains two people you don't already know. Introduce everyone in the group. Make a master list of the appliances, tools, and systems on your individual lists.

  3. Discuss the dimensions that you used in Step 1 to rank your systems. In what ways do ease of use and cost correlate positively with one another? In what what ways are they opposed?

  4. As a group, identify two dimensions different from the ones from Step 1. Try to make them as different in perspective as possible. Rank the systems on your master list along each of the new dimensions.

  5. Select a spokesperson. If your group is asked, the spokesperson will present informally the results of your group's work to the class.

At the End

  1. Turn in a write-up showing your master list of tools, a summary of your discussion of the dimensions you used to rank the systems, and your group's rankings along each of the dimensions.

Summary from Exercise

What is a tool? Some of you listed cell phones, microwaves, Internet Explorer, computers, cars, refrigerators, ... I mentioned a really simple tool, the common wood pencil.

Tools are diverse in nature. This semester, we will consider systems that have been created for human use or consumption as broadly as we can. Because I am a computer science professor, we will sometimes favor computing-related technologies--but they are so common and affect all of our lives in so many ways that this should be of interest to us all.

Comparing systems across categories (e.g., household appliances versus computer systems versus technical devices versus buildings) can be like comparing apples to oranges. So, understanding tools and their interfaces may require a lot of task- and domain-specific knowledge.

One can view software systems in many different dimensions: ease of use, age, reliability, aesthetic value, complexity, robustness, learning curve, time to complete a (typical) task, portability, cost, maintenance, user support, hardware requirements, availability.

A couple of great points from class today:

People do not always agree with one another when assessing the world.

A Quick Course Introduction

I am Eugene Wallingford, and I'll be your instructor for Capstone. Please call me "Eugene". This course will probably differ from any other course you have had, and it will certainly differ from other sections of capstone in several ways.

Some of the guiding ideas of this course will be:

Today is representative of what our class sessions will be like this semester. Our primary goal is that you learn to think about the interrelationships among environment, technology, and society from different perspectives. A secondary goal is that you become more independent as learners.

The course is different, but it should be interesting and more productive -- if you let it!

The course syllabus is on-line in this web space. Read it. Re-visit it occasionally if I announce changes. The course web page and the course e-mail discussion list will be our primary means of communication outside of class time.

I e-mailed you the URL for the course web page right after class.

Quick Comments from the Syllabus

Check out the grading criteria. You can read about all the parts of your grade on the course web. A couple of details:

Our textbook is on usability -- and cognitive psychology, and epistemology, and design, and people. I think you'll enjoy it.

Eugene Wallingford ==== ==== August 26, 2003