The Context of Work

Human-Computer Interaction 16:305-322 (2001)
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The question of how to conceive and represent the context of work is explored from the theoretical perspective of distributed cognition. It is argued that to understand the office work context we need to go beyond tracking superficial physical attributes such as who or what is where and when and consider the state of digital resources, people’s concepts, task state, social relations, and the local work culture, to name a few. In analyzing an office more deeply, three concepts are especially helpful: entry points, action landscapes, and coordinating mechanisms. An entry point is a structure or cue that represents an invitation to enter an information space or office task. An activity landscape is part mental construct and part physical; it is the space users interactively construct out of the resources they find when trying to accomplish a task. A coordinating mechanism is an artifact, such as a schedule or clock, or an environmental structure such as the layout of papers to be signed, which helps a user manage the complexity of his task. Using these three concepts we can abstract away from many of the surface attributes of work context and define the deep structure of a setting—the invariant structure that many office settings share. A long-term challenge for context-aware computing is to operationalize these analytic concepts.

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David Kirsh
University of California, San Diego


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