Password is SH2019

Last month our research partners The Practice Insights successfully submitted a 16minute film featuring video insights and evidence from the Connected Living project to the EPIC Conference in Rhode Island– the premier international conference on ethnography in business.  Director of Lived Experience at The Practice Insights – Nick Agafonoff, says that their film (Agency in the Smart Home of the Future) was just one of four films shown at the conference mainly because it hit on the key theme of the conference being Agency:

Today, businesses increasingly look to “intelligent” technology to enhance their value. Organisations seeking competitive advantage invest in AI, machine learning, and predictive analytics that aim to take humans “out of the loop,” optimizing and automating everything from business intelligence to customer engagement to personal style. But human agency is not disappearing with such advances; it is evolving and reconfiguring. The value proposition of these new technologies still requires deep humanistic perspectives.

EPIC2019 focused on human agency in this new age of automation and explored what it means to have opportunity, choice, and influence, and the ways in which agency is exercised in an increasingly complex world. When machines make business decisions, what is the impact on human agency? Considering the theme of agency through the lens of film offers many avenues for exploration, in terms of both the stories that film can feature and the power of the film itself to be that agent of change.  

Agency in the Smart Home of the Future tells the story of the unique design fiction social experiment that is the Connected Living project. Comprised mostly of trace evidence video footage recorded by Nick Agafonoff and Rigas Harbilas on their smart phones during fieldwork interviews, the film takes audiences directly into the reflexive lived experience of four Australian households, each of who agreed to have their real homes transformed into fully functional smart homes for the research project. Smart speakers, smart TVs, smart fridges, robo vacs, sensor lighting, and other devices are installed into their homes as a gestalt to generate a paradigmatic shift in their everyday living and interactions. In the process, we discover how human agency and structure reproduce in this potential living environment of the future.

The film was well received at the conference generating lively debate amongst an audience that consisted of lead designers, UX researchers and consumer anthropologists from companies such as Google, FaceBook, Uber and Microsoft. Many people commented that the mixing of Design Fiction with ethnography research was an innovation in methodology and storytelling. Others noted that the creation of a gestalt connected living environment within real homes was also a first of its kind. Most were surprised to learn that the film had been shot entirely on smart phone. However, the EPIC audience ultimately warmed to the authenticity and honesty of the film’s main characters – the connected living participants who became the willing guineapigs in this unique experiment. Edited by Nick Agafonoff, the intention of the film was to allow the participants to tell the story of their experience without a narration. This technique not only provided subjective insights, but also produced humour and generated deep empathy for the EPIC audience with their lived experience.

Graeme Wood

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