response to What Exactly IS Interactivity?

Crawford initially defines interaction as “a cyclic process in which two actors alternately listen, think, and speak,” further clarifying that these actors must be “purposeful creatures.” My first thoughts were — what counts as purpose and what counts as creature? A roomba and an automatic door might interact with each other, triggering each other back and forth. In some sense, they both have “purposes,” since they were both programmed to perform certain actions, and in some other weird sense, maybe the roomba is a creature (does it have a nickname? do we assign a personality to it?). But, as Crawford points out with the refrigerator light example, it’s not a very meaningful interaction even if it’s semantically appropriate (“this kind of interaction is silly and beneath the intellectual dignity of almost everybody”).

In my mind, the way we use the word interaction is basically confined to human beings, and maybe highly intelligent animals. A puppy can interact with its owner and even train them (barking until given a treat), but my plant isn’t interacting with me when its leaves droop, even if I tell my husband “she’s begging for water.” The puppy is anticipating (or hoping for) the owner’s next action; the plant can’t know it’ll be watered. Maybe “cognizant” feels more appropriate than “purposeful,” or maybe I’m just needlessly complicating an already elegant definition. All in all, I agreed with most of his description of interaction as a continuum — a definition doesn’t have to be black and white; it just has to be useful.

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