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Response to [Distributed cognition: …] by Hollan et al.

One Sentence

This paper discussed how distributed cognition can re-orient the foundation of human-computer interaction in the new millennium.

More Sentences

Specifically, the paper presents a distributed cognition approach: socially distributed cognition, embodied cognition, and cultural and cognition.

Key Points

  • We think the theory of distributed cognition has a special role to play in understanding interactions between people and technologies, for its focus has always been on whole environments: what we really do in them and how we coordinate our activity in them.
  • Principles of distributed cognition spoken to HCI:
    • -> the boundaries of the unit of analysis for cognition;
    • -> the range of mechanisms that may be assumed to participate in cognitive processes;
  • A process is not cognitive simply because it happens in a brain, nor is a process noncognitive simply because it happens in the interactions among many brains;
  • In distributed cognition, one expects to find a system that can dynamically configure itself to bring subsystems into coordination to accomplish various functions.
  • A cognitive process is delimited by the functional relationships among the elements that participate in it, rather than by the spatial colocation of the elements.
  • (About embodied cognition) In this view, the human body and the material would take on central rather than peripheral roles. As Andy Clark put it, “To thus take the body and world seriously is to invite an emergentist perspective on many key phenomena – to see adaptive success as inhering as much in the complex interactions among body, world, and brain as in the inner processes bounded by the skin and skull.”


So! What is distributed cognition? It believes that cognition does not only happen in the brain where the interactions between a person and the external environment also plays an important role in establishing cognition. If we set this assumption as the foundation of HCI in the new millennium, we can see it is naive to confine the interface only on a screen operated by a fixed set of input devices. Instead, we should develop meaningful interactions outside the scenario of one thinking with her own brain, and embrace a larger set of activities with a larger set of entities in the cognitive process.


About Xiang 'Anthony' Chen

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