from interactivity to back-channel (3/3)


Understandable reaction to boring lectures, in our early 21 century, is to hear the desire to have interactive ones. Wait, what do we mean by interactive courses?  Again everybody turns to digital technology for the answer, but is the answer there?

I start to believe that what we refer to interactive is when the conversation between me and the other is in balance. Understanding by other either a person, or a system or a thing, etc. The conversation will not exist if we do not want to listen, and one will never listen someone that one does not want to hear or it is not ready to hear.

When the conversation between two or more is in balance constructive-interactivity exits, because we are able to act on each other. 

I will try to make an example: let’s go with the “less” interactive media such as a book. It only has words, in the best of the cases perhaps some graphics. But some books one can’t put them down, because their content is really interacting with our inner, we do not need more sounds, smells or graphics, all it is between me and the book in full interaction. The book is “talking” to me, acting on me.  Am I acting back on the book? At the moment I am reading it I am not acting on it, but each time I recommend it or I talk about it, my actions have an influence on the book. The relationship human-book is a constructive-interactivity, however maybe no synchronous in time.

Let’s go to a webpage where we can push tons of buttons, where the information is messy and irrelevant, where the “interactivity” is “high”.  First one tries to push all what is possible to see what happens, if the system can capture my attention, after little while one gets bored and quit it. Was the system interactive? According to the definition “a program that responds to user activity” yes, plus the system had a reaction on us to quit it. But in this system did not exist the “conversation” between the user and the system, just an action-reaction type of of relationship.

Why all these babbling? Well, this weekend I “join” the conference of  State of Play” via my Twitter. A full experience, thanks to these folks that are SO ACTIVE, they have interesting topics but overall wonderful backchannels. One can say that these backchannels promote interactivity between their members on-site at real-time, using technology as a tool.

Liz Lawley in 2004 already made an interesting reflection about this backchannels. It calls specially my attention when she writes: “good content + great speaker(s) = near silence in the backchannel, as people focus their attention entirely on the stage“.

She has made a point that made me write these posts. When we talk about interactivity are we refering to physical action? to be entertain? to have a visible action-reaction system?  or to relevant an meaningful conversations? As we can see and experience, even if we use all the tools available (technology, resources, people, etc.) what it matters at the end of the day is the combination of the content and the speaker to keep an interactive conversation. Then, what do we mean as interactivity?

Time to the time, as I need to think more on this, and for sure as more I will hear about interactive lectures, interactive systems, interactive games, etc. as more  I have the impression I should understand what we “mean” with interactive.

people "backchannel" in a conference - Photo credit : Pete Lambert

people "back-channel" in conference. - Photo credit: Pete Lambert.


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