Assignment 12: Beyond 'Couch Potatoes' and an Exercise in Learning for Understanding – Jodi Kiefer


Fischer, G. (2002) Beyond 'Couch Potatoes': From Consumers to Designers and Active Contributors, in FirstMonday (Peer-Reviewed Journal on the Internet), at

Briefly discuss the following issues:

1. what do you consider the main argument of the article?

This article expresses the need for the future technology to encompass an open system approach which allows users to become active contributors versus just passive consumers of the systems they use. This concept shift from a consumer to a contributory society will aid the development of our future by enabling the collaboration of multidisciplinary social groups.

2. do you agree or disagree with the main argument? give a answer based on your own experiences?

I do agree with the main argument of this article and in the way which is was presented – differentiating between various uses and motivational levels of the users. Drawing on my own experience, I can pinpoint multiple situations in which an open system methodology would have been beneficial, not only to the users but also to the designers themselves. Let me explain. I spend a year working at a company on production and environmental support teams. We acted as the middle man between the developers and the end users of the systems, working with both groups to find solutions, or more often than not, ‘work-arounds’ to resolve issues that the users were facing. There were numerous situations that would have been advantageous and time-saving for all involved (both developers and users alike) if the users had the ability to make customizations or modifications to the system.

3. enumerate in which situations

3.1. you acted as a designer/active contributor

I have developed multiple web pages and software programs throughout my undergraduate and working career in which I have acted as a designer/active contributor. To highlight a particular example, as an undergraduate I participated in a research group that worked with robots for use in Urban Search and Rescue situations. As a group we designed and built a ‘tether-bots’ which were robots whose main purpose was to hold and protect the power tether of another robot. They served as one part in a multi-robot team that could be deployed aid in Urban Search and Rescue situations as a collaborative effort.

3.2. you acted as a (passive) consumer

With a multitude of technologies available on the market today which are infused in everyday life situations, there have been numerous situations in which I have acted as a passive consumer. One example is working with my Ipod, a portable music player. My Ipod provided a music transfer program that allows me transfer my cds to my Ipod. I do nothing more than simply following the step-by-step instructions to load music and then listen to it on my Ipod.

3.3. situations in which you believe you should have acted differently

While working on a production and environment support team (as explained in #2) I wish that I could have been an active contributor rather than a passive consumer on the systems that we were working with. It is frustrating to have to settle with ‘work-arounds’ to avoid errors or to add desired functionality to a system. Another example where I wish that I could have played a designer role has occurred while designing websites. For anyone who has designed websites, one annoying aspect that is constantly encountered is the incompatibility of particular web browsers (i.e. Explorer and Netscape). A web page that appears as designed in one will be jumbled and wrong in the other. If I had designer privileges to the browsers, I could have helped to fix some of the issues.

An exercise in learning for understanding — pick one of the following problems and try to solve it

2. The Rope around the Earth

2.1. There is a steel ring around the earth at the equator touching the (flat) earth everywhere. We extend the steel ring by 1 yard in length and form a concentric circle around the earth (i.e., the distance between earth and steel ring is the same everywhere.

2.2. Question: Will a small cat be able to sneak through between the earth and the steel ring?

answer briefly the following questions:

1. describe your solution (if you found one) or why you were unable to find one?

I liked to claim that yes, a cat would be able to sneak through between the earth and the steel ring in #2. It would have almost half of a foot (.477) to do so. This is how I came up with the answer (with Google’s help). First of all I had to find out the circumference of the Earth and found it to be 24,901.55 miles which is equivalent to 43,826,728 yards. Using the equation of circumference (2đr) I found the radius of the Earth to be 6,975,240.401 yards. Now, take the circumference of the Earth, add 1 yard to it and then calculate the radius of the new steel ring to be 6,975,240.56 yards. That is a difference of .1591549 yards or .4774647 feet. Now I claim that ˝ a foot is a large enough of space for a cat to sneak through.

2. what did you learn solving (or thinking about) the problem?

Originally, before I solved the problem, I thought that there would be no way for a cat to fit under the steel rim being that the Earth was so large. I have actually done my calculations twice because looking back on the solution to the problem, it still seems implausible that 1 yard would add .477 feet to the radius of the steel rim.

3. what kind of knowledge was most important for solving the problem?

It was important to know how to break down a problem into smaller sub-problems. I divided the problem by first finding initial information about the size of the Earth and then using mathematical principles to derive the radius to compare the difference. It was also important to know how to attain information that you do not know (i.e. the circumference of the Earth). I used Google to help me find this information and also conversion data between miles and yards.

4. are (or would be) computers helpful in solving these problems?

Yes, programs could be written to solve or at least aid in the solution of problems like these. For this particular problem though, a programmer would have to input the equation to use to solve the problem at hand.