Technology Essay: Are We in a Race Against the Machine

Sherry Turkle, in her essay No Need to Call, presented that technology is consuming our lives because everything we do requires its presence at the expense of personal interaction.

This is the age when you would rather see another person’s message than feel the emotions that come with it. A conversation no longer requires the rise and fall of a voice but a plain text is enough to convey a message. Even the comfort of another’s company is already transformed into words flashed in a screen because a bodily presence is not possible or that it is just inconvenient.

Indeed, almost everyone now use technology in the form of social media, texting and email to send a message be it personal or a business transaction. From the perspective of a working environment, texting and email gave rise to a more efficient and convenient transactions for a speedy completion of a task. It improved workmanship because messages can be conveyed in just a second.

This system ended the waiting for the arrival of a telegram. It also shortened the distance between loved ones and made it possible to reach out even from afar.  The downfall came when people abused it by using it extensively in their personal lives. People became used to having conversations while doing other things at the same time. In the article, a lot of the people who shared their sentiments admitted that they are losing their personal touch when a personal interaction is involved. They already prefer using an email or a text to say what they think. On the bright side, it the use of technology can be used to avoid awkward unwanted conversations. However, the sad reality came when a lot of the people interviewed in the article shared that they felt that pang of guilt when they realized that there were no more emotions involved in conversations with people who matter. Every response came out like an automated machine. What made it worse is that they do not want to mean it that way. They still care and they show that by sending a text or an email but they still have other things to do. Turkle slowly slammed in every reader the reality that electronic presence is still nothing compared to a bodily presence. The sound of a voice is way preferable than a text message. One cannot make a hug electronic and words will not comfort someone if it is in a text message.

Personally, the use of texting and calling would always depend upon the gravity of a situation. A call would mean an emergency and a text would be something I can respond to anytime I want. In terms of conversations that are personal, a call would mean someone on either end of the line is extremely angry, happy or sad and a text would only relay that someone has just been from an emotional turmoil. I would admit that there are times when a conversation is turned down if it involves something personal or emotional because I just do not want to engage in it. Regardless, I always make it sure that personal relationships remain healthy. This means that in any case, time must be allotted for making up for the lost moments.

As observed, our society is slowly leaning towards considering texting and email as a major form of communication. Every one of us is found in the people who shared their story in the article. You can be Tara or Rosie, who preferred a text and an email rather than a phone call to say that someone died. I can be Joyce or Karen who preferred a text message than a phone call to say congratulations. In these situations, the essence of being a human being is lost as manifested in the manner of communicating.

People became preoccupied in work and lost time for personal relations. The latter became a trivial part of life maintained through electronic messaging. But what is really more important in one’s life? If the focus is mostly on our material needs, what are we made of then? Our communication practices are starting to discredit the rationality we claim to have. If this becomes a custom, the future generation will adopt our ways. Time will come when the sound of a voice is unheard of because one can always send a message and there is no need to call.

The Theory of Contestable market

This theory was advance by William Baumol, an American economist, and postulates a market where entry and exit cost do not exist. In essence, it is a market with no entry or exit barriers. Since there is no entry barrier, the threats of a new entrant and the underlying competition dictate the operations of the market participants. Therefore, antecedent competition has no role in this kind of market. The table below depicts the types of firms and the corresponding number of firms in a neo-classical gamut of a contestable market

ASSUMPTIONS OF THE THEORY

The main supposition of the contestable market theory is that there is no barrier to entry into, and exist out of the market. A firm can simply enter or exit the industry at will. The assumed openness of the market to new potential entrants is basically anchored on three conditions: lack of impediments to entry, non-existence of sunk cost and great market and industry knowledge.

Barriers to Entry

The impediments or barriers to entry are the prevailing conditions that make it intricate or unworkable for prospective firms to venture into an already existing industry and compete favorably with the already existing industry participants. The impediment to entry thus defines the threats of the imminent competition. The aforementioned barrier may exist in different forms such as: high, unrealistic initial costs, existing monopoly, legal issues, and marketing limitations, amongst others.

The pre-existing firms may be in ownership of some critical contractual accords that may limit new firms from venturing into the industry. Similarly, the initial capital expenditure, together with high fixed cost and technological ineptness may render it impossible to enter and compete on the same level with the incumbent firms. Additionally, the incumbent firm may be possessing high brand loyalty that make it hard for new comers to match. The amount of advertisement expenditure would be very high for such firms. Moreover, in some industries, the only way to operate profitably is by economic of scale which is possible only for few, of possibly one, firm in an industry. This eventually results into a situation of intrinsic monopoly.

In a contestable market, however, the above discussed factor does not exist or are very minimal, resulting into an open and freely accessible market to prospecting new entrants.

Sunk Cost

Also referred to as retrospective costs, sunk cost are expenses that are already incurred but can never be recovered by a firm. At the time of entry, if a firm determines that there would be high sunk cost, then it becomes a hindrance to entry into a new market. Sunk cost is a loss to the firm. The amount of money spent in research and development (commonly referred to as R and D), irrecoverable advertisement costs, the time value spent, equipment and assets that cannot be resold, training and hiring bonus, are some examples of sunk costs.

As much as in a contestable market there assumption is that the entry cost is fully recovered at and that exit is totally costless, in reality, in a contestable market, the retrospective costs are seen to be insignificant.

Perfect Knowledge of the Market

Having a great and perfect knowledge of the market and the industry would be a plus to the new entrant. The knowledge about the behavior of the already existing firms in regards to production techniques, labor costs, appropriate technology to apply, marketing and pricing plans and strategies, amongst others would obviously work to the advantage of the entrant. To this end, perfect knowledge would actually pose a threat to the incumbent as it enables the new entrant to forecast the possible behavior of the existing firms.

B) IMPLICATIONS OF THEORY

The scenarios above, presented about the contestable market, where there do not exist hindrances to entry and exit of a market, has a prevailing impact on the behaviors and operations of the firma that are already active in the market. It is noted that, in the long run, firms only operate to make standard/normal profit. Additionally, since competition is in the air, firms operate as if they are in competition; even when in reality there is no competition.

Normal Profits

Normal profit is a situation where a firm operates in such a way that the amount of revenue generated equals the amount of const incurred. This, in essence, implies that the economic profit equals zero. The firm is making the least possible profit that is able to keep it in operation. Since there lack economic profit, normal profit is not enough to attract new entrants. For normal profit to be made, the average cost must equal the average revenue.

The scenario of free entry and exit would essentially imply that firms, if given enough incentives, would easily infiltrate the market. The incentive here would be, for instance, abnormal profit, that would encourage firms to rush into the industry and make as much profit as economically possible. To protect their interest in the industry, the incumbent firms are comfortable operating at the normal profit so long as their market share is not wrinkled by possible new entrants.

Irrefutably, a downward pressure on prices is presented due to the existing competition in the contestable market structure. This implies that firms are willing to operate at levels of output where profit in normal, instead of where profits is abnormal. As per the below diagram, if a firm opt to produce at the point of profit maximization, Q1, then the resulting price charged at that level would correspond to P1. This results into creation of abnormal profit represented by the areas P1ABC. However, in a contestable market case, firms normally opt to operate at normal profits that corresponds to Q2 for quantity and p2 for price

Competition rather not Collusion

The firms that operate in this market are in constant competition with one another and with a possible new entrant. This implies that prices are not fixed but varied, abnormal profits do not exist and there is need for advertisement. The competitions seem to be strong even when it does not really occur.

Direct Manipulation

Introduction

Direct manipulation has been beneficial in the realm of interface design for the last two decades. The benefits have prompted designers to reduce indirection and change domain objects to first-class interfaces. Before the invention of direct manipulation, Human Computer Interaction (HCI) largely depended on a conversation metaphor such as command-line interfaces. This interface was abstract and indirect hence the new paradigm improved human interaction with computers. This paper examines the principles of direct manipulation, benefits and weaknesses of direct manipulation as it relates to command-line interfaces, and its usage in video game control.

Principles of Direct Manipulation

Direct manipulation is linked with three major principles. First, there is constant demonstration of the object of interest demonstrated in a permanent visual feedback. Second, it is characterized by physical action rather than intricate syntax. Third, there is spiral or layered method to learning, which allows usage with minimum knowledge (Shneiderman, 1982; Shneiderman, & Maes, 1997). In video games, users are able to spontaneously initiate control using knobs and buttons, which basically map out the character’s movement on-screen. Joysticks and buttons are the common de facto methods of input in direct manipulation interface in video games. The objects on-screen are visually indistinguishable from real-world objects, which they represent (Dix, 2009).

For example, an avatar represents the player in the virtual world. Another example of the application of the direct manipulation principles is that users’ actions are continuously displayed on-screen. For example, a gun used by an avatar serves similar functions to that in the real world. Lastly, there is immediacy of user actions. For example, when a player presses shoot button in a one-person shooter game, the avatar initiates a shooting action accordingly. For this reason, actions executed by a player are instantaneous.

Video game-type interfaces

First, video games interfaces are limited in their ability to represent reality. For example, such interfaces cannot create sensations of warmth, weight, taste, and smell. Presently, video game interfaces can only activate the senses of sight and hearing. Therefore, video games are not effective in emulating reality. Second, every command is routed through a user’s thumb to the physical character. Humans operate by different muscles which control activities as opposed to one thumb used in video game interfaces. For this reason, the interfaces limit real-life application due to the limited nature of their controls. Third, video games are unable to inhabit a narrative or designed environment. The player and the avatar can only interact through haptic, visual and audible means. Such interaction immerses the player a fictional world that cannot truly be represented in a real world. An imaginary divide, which separates the player from the virtual world, known as the fourth wall is a barrier to complete immersion. This means that video game interfaces are not effective in breaking this fourth wall, hence a player cannot fully immerse in a game to engage in real-world experiences (Fagerholt & Lorentzon, 2009).

In a video game interface, the user, usually a person interacts with a system, often an electronic device such as computer or game console, via a controlling mechanism such as keyboard or gamepad. In general, the controlling mechanisms have largely been buttons and joysticks. Joysticks correspond to directionality and/or spatial movement of objects while buttons usually correspond to user’s actions (Fagerholt & Lorentzon, 2009).

Benefits of Direct Manipulation

When assessing the benefits of direct manipulation against those of command-line interfaces, the example of travelling in a car sums up advantages. Using direct interface, a user drives the car by manipulating the pedals and steering wheel. The effect is that the car responds according to the user’s actions through a continuous visual feedback. If the user makes a mistake while driving the car such as turning suddenly on a sharp corner, the user can rapidly realize the mistake and initiate corrective measures. On the other hand, with a command-driven interface, a user is a passenger in the car issuing directions to a stranger (Dennehy, nd).  In this case, a user relies on the actions of a stranger who, if they possess inadequate skills may not fulfill the purpose of the journey.

This example shows that direct manipulation yields immediate, incremental and reversible results that are continuously visible by the user. This approach improves the impression that the user is executing the task. In addition, the user is in control as opposed to the computer responding to user requests while the user powerlessly waits to know if the commands are correct akin to the command-line interfaces (Dennehy, nd ).

Since direct manipulation is interactive in nature, the paradigm has benefits of visual representations related to learning retention and speed. It exploits these benefits leading to a system whose process is easy to understand and hard to forget. Another benefit is that because users do not need to memorize complex syntax, they can use analogical reasoning instead thus eliminating the likelihood of errors. However, when errors are made, users can easily correct them due to the ability of the paradigm to reverse actions through a constant visual feedback (Javed, Elmqvist, & Yi, 2011).

Another advantage of direct manipulation is that it is flexible to user specifications. The system allows users to customize functions compared to command-line interfaces. Therefore, users can eliminate complex functions or customize them to suit their preferences. In gaming, for example, users can change the functionality of the gamepad so that certain buttons perform different functions compared to the default settings. In addition, users can adjust some functionality such as speed, color, volume, and size accordingly. Direct manipulation enables users to make changes to the system without the need for system alerts and notifications common in command-line interfaces.  Such alerts often interrupt user experiences. For this reason, direct manipulation enables users to have a smooth experience without interruptions (Heer & Shneiderman, 2012).

Weaknesses of Direct Manipulation

There are various challenges associated with direct manipulation, especially for video content. Direct manipulation is criticized for deficiencies such as access, manipulation of multiple objects and intangible properties. The problem of access is based on the difficulty of direct manipulation to direct distant, small, or attribute-rich aspects under high precision, limited space, and high density. When an object is too small, users may find it difficult to grab or select it for resizing. The problem of access is compounded if there are numerous objects located in one area or in a distant area or outside of the screen in ubiquitous applications. This problem may be solved by zooming but it is subject to extra cognitive load and effort. Furthermore, objects that are inherently rich in attributes may incur the problem of access. Attributes may not be manipulated because of limited visual space to show controls. Visual representation may also be affected when interface controls are displayed (Heer & Shneiderman, 2012).

Interaction with multiple objects is cumbersome using direct manipulation, especially when they have different values such as font size. This means that the cumulative attributes of the chosen objects cannot be correctly presented, hence ambiguity in representation. As such, the predictability associated with the direct manipulation paradigm is lost because of such ambiguity in visual representation. Another challenge of this interface is manipulating properties of intangible objects. An example is abstract attributes with no natural visual aspect, such as spacing between many objects. Other examples include alignment, layout, and sorting order of objects. Manipulating such properties may induce visual clutter in applications (Tudoreanu & Hart, 2004).