Social context in HCl: A new framework for mental models, cooperation, and communication

  • Mantovani G
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This article considers current research in computer-supported cooperative work (CSCW), computer-mediated communication (CMC), and distributed artificial intelligence (DAI). These areas need an articulated model of social contexts to bridge the persisting gap between social and technological dimensions in computer system design and use. A conceptual model of context is presented to account for both cooperation-conflict and communication-negotiation processes. The model conceives of contexts as including not only physical objects and other people but also social norms which influence both individuals and organizations. It assumes that computer system use occurs in social scenarios in which the features cannot be reduced to any type of input or data in the world that designers and users con process along with other information coming from the current task. The model is built on three levels: from social contexts as normative order (Level 1), to specific and intrinsically complex situations (Level 2), to person-computer interactions for the performance of particular tasks (Level 3). The model has three main implications. First, Human-Computer interaction (HCI) studies-especially scenario-based design-may profit from a fresh top-down approach to designers' and users' mental models taking into account normative social processes which have been neglected in previous research. Second, CSCW may realize how deeply discrepant perspectives affect multi-agent environments and why in real working life negotiation is intertwined with cooperation. Designers may use this insight to design systems allowing more place for negotiation among actors. Third, we should dismiss the view that CMC lacks adequate social cues and fosters impulsive behavior. Cognitive processes such as categorization, stereotype construction, and social identification can make electronic environments even more strongly sensible to social norms than face-to-face communication. Context, according to our model, is not restricted to the physical co-presence of other people but consists mainly of processes providing situations with socially recognizable meaning.

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  • Giuseppe Mantovani

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