I just returned from Dalhousie University where I delivered the final lecture in the Killam Lecture series (http://dalgrad.dal.ca/killam/lectures/2006/). The trip was fraught with travel difficulties that make one wonder at the false confidence provided by technology. My return flight was cancelled when I arrived at the airport, fully 45 minutes (and a $55 taxi ride) after I had checked the web site which reported it as on schedule. The lack of any human representative at the United desk meant passengers were forced to call a helpline and wait over 60 minutes to get help – if you had no cell phone, who knows what you would do? That one hour turned into news that it would be 2 days and 4 flights before I could get home again, though it was only 65 minutes before I made my views on this particular socio-technical structure known to its designers in less than technical language. Just how hard can it be to leverage the interconnectedness of everyone to provide clear instructions on what is happening and how it will be resolved? Very hard, one imagines, but very much harder when the attitude of the airlines seems to be one of shoulder-shrugging indifference and the knee-jerk locking down of all spare seating capacity to control its allocation in the days ahead for maximum profit.
Travel woes aside, the Killam lecture was a marvellous event and allowed me to speak fairly directly about third force issues of design ethics, human and social values, and the need for new perspectives that transcend simple disciplinary divisions. The Q&A at the end took us even further into such territory and I was delighted to have the chance to hear so many voices raised in favor of us taking greater control over our information architecture.