Affective environments: configuring the affective user?
Heidi Tikka, Media artist, researcher, Cultural Usability project, UIAH Media Lab 2001
An updated and shorter version of the article has been published in Discovering New Media, Working Papers, University of Art and Design Helsinki UIAH, publication series F 26, Helsinki 2003.
You may quote this online version within the academic conventions or download it for personal use.
Recently, interaction design and research have become increasingly interested in the affective aspect of user experience. In my paper, I will argue that affectivity should not be treated in isolation from socio-technical and cultural production. Three research, design and art projects that approach affectivity in varying ways will be looked at in order to investigate how the user becomes conceptualized in each project as an affective subject. I will pay specific attention to how these projects address sexual difference. Following Donna Haraway and Lucy Suchman, I will argue for the importance of considering both user's embodiment and social place as well as the socio-technical contexts of design. But I will also propose that critical design practice should be aware of the operation of the unconscious in the design process. Looking closely at the presented three works, I will trace possible "repressed thoughts" in their discourses.
Affective environments in research and design
During the last few years, interaction design has become increasingly interested in the complexity of user experience. Contemporary interactive environments do not address user as a cognitive subject only. Rather, they engage the user into an interactive process that can best be described as affective. This means that the user in these environments emerges as a corporeal, emotional and social entity, the complexity of which is crafted in the socio-technical networks of production and the intersecting cultural networks of meaning production.
In the following, I will approach the new affective environments in the context of these networks, for it is my understanding that affectivity should not be treated in isolation from the socio-technical and cultural production. Instead, affectivity should be inquired as one of those mechanisms, through which users are being engaged into the global networks of power and economy. From this point of view, affectivity in user interface design is not only a matter of designing subjective experiences, but has political implications as well. Often these implications concern that which has remained unthought in the design process.
It is then my intention to engage in a dialogue with three projects that in different ways approach questions related to affective environment design. These projects share the idea that the affective dimension in interactive experience can be developed using interface solutions that take certain corporeal processes as components of interaction. The projects include the Affective Computing research, directed by Rosalind W.Picard at the MIT, the virtual reality environment of Osmose by artist Char Davies and the prototype of inter_skin by artist and designer Stahl Stenslie. All three projects are quite different both in terms of their approach and their scope.
Affective Computing  is an entire research area at MIT consisting of thirty research and development projects, the main focus of which is to create personal computational systems that can sense, recognize and understand human emotions and respond to these emotions in an intelligent and sensitive way. The virtual reality environment Osmose  first premiered in the Museum of Contemporary Art Montreal in 1995. Equipped with a head-mounted display and a vest sensing breathing and balance, the user - or the immersant, as Davies calls the user - can explore the three-dimensional, audiovisual world of Osmose. It has since been exhibited worldwide and more than 10 000 people have already immersed into the worlds of Osmose and Éphémère, Davies' following work. The inter_skin  project remains in the stage of prototyping. Stenslie's idea was to develop a body suit, that would transmit touch, accompanied with sound and thus engage on the very practical level in the cyber sex discourse.
What will follow, is a preliminary version of a work in progress. In this stage of my work, I will mainly focus on how these projects present themselves, how do they conceptualize and contextualize their work. I am also interested in looking at the actual design applications, but so far, only as design concepts. This framing is due to the fact that I do not have corporeal knowledge of engaging in any of these interactive environments, which I consider essential for a more complete picture. I believe that particularly in Osmose and inter_skin there is a component that remains unimaginable on a conceptual level.
The main source for looking at these projects consists of their web pages. In the context of Affective Computing, I have looked at the most general level in which the various research areas (such as Affective Pattern Recognition and Modeling) and individual projects are being presented. In the following I will refer to this level as the Affective Computing overview. In relation to Osmose, I will draw on the introductory pages of Immersence Inc. the company of Davies, some of her own publications as well as some commentaries and the audio-visual recordings of an immersive journey in Osmose. The source material for inter_skin consists of the web pages, designed and produced by Stenslie himself.
As a practicing media artist, working on experimental and tangible forms of interaction, I find myself in the position of alliance in relation to some of these project' intents. For this reason I want to proceed in a dialogical manner, recognizing, that my engagement is a process of sharing in which I do not only think with these projects but also have them constitute dialogic relations with each other. I can also see how thinking with them might help me with my future artistic work.
What does affective really mean? My starting point here is not to produce any concise meaning for the affective, but rather to elaborate on its slippery character. I am interested in looking at what kinds of uses "affective" is being put into within the contexts of the three projects. In other words, I am interested in looking at how "affective" becomes constructed within the networks of both technological and semiotic production. This means that I will approach the affective drawing on Donna Haraway's discussion of the figurations and their productivity. Figurations, as Haraway sees them, are both literal and material. That is, they produce meanings, but also have very real effects on socio-technical arrangements, such as technological implementations. "Figurations are performative images that can be inhabited. Verbal or visual, figurations can be condensed maps of contestable worlds... We inhabit and are inhabited by such figures that map universes of knowledge, practice and power." (Haraway, 1997, 11) For reading figurations, multiple, perhaps irreconcilable literacies are needed.
In order to inquire into the construction of the "affective", I will approach it questioning the effects of the affective for user construction. I will ask, who is the affective user subject in each of the three projects. As all of them, through their corporeal interfaces, address the user as an embodied subject, I am curious as to what kind of a body is imagined for the user. How does design take into account the fact that these users may have different bodies? I will particularly focus on inquiring how sexual difference is addressed both explicitly and implicitly in the interface design of these projects. By focusing on sexual difference, occasionally bracketing out other differences, such as age, possible disabilities, socio-economical status, ethnic and religious background or sexual orientation which all, I would imagine, have an effect on how user appears as an affective corporeal being, I do not want to underestimate their importance. I will use sexual difference as a reagent for testing, what each projects understands by a human embodied user, believing that the test might open ways for addressing other differences as well.
There is a wide agreement that certain paradigm shifts can be detected in how users have been conceptualized in human-computer interaction discourse (HCI). These shifts can be conceptualized as a series of concentric circles stretching outbound, starting from machine considerations and gradually extending towards human users and the situated contexts of use. 
Drawing on Jonathan Grudin's identification of different levels or approaches to interface design, Kari Kuutti describes three levels, that roughly correspond to the broad tradition of HCI research: the technical level with its roots in ergonomics, the conceptual level of the cognitively oriented HCI research and the third level addressing the contexts of use or as Kuutti describes it, the level of work processes. This most outbound level, which for Kuutti indicates a certain paradigm shift, can be seen in search of approaches for dealing with the complexity of interactive processes. (Kuutti, 1997, 20-24)
Situated user, situated design
It seems then, that the idea of the situatedness of user experience has provided one such approach. In "Plans and Situated Actions", Lucy Suchman pointed out the importance of seeing the particular social and physical circumstances in which actions are taking place and which the goal oriented cognitivist approach tends to overlook. In the context of feminist epistemology and the "Situated Knowledges", Donna Haraway has elaborated on a knowledge practice, that would take partial perspectives as the basis of its production. She argues for the located knowledges and for the network of connections that would be capable of translating knowledges - while accepting the partiality of both knowledges and their translation - between different, and differently empowered communities. This embodied objectivity would replace the "view from nowhere" of the traditional epistemology with the perspectives of the embodied and locatable visions. (Haraway, 1991, 187-189)
The interest in regarding the user subject as an affective and embodied subject, could, certainly, be seen against this background of situatedness. However, as Alison Adam has suggested, there is an interesting discrepancy in how situatedness has been approached within the technoscientific discourse. While the majority of social constructionist technology studies has been predominantly interested in the social situatedness of the technology and its users, such fields as artificial intelligence and situated robotics have looked at situatedness in the context of embodiment, ignoring the social dimension of technology and its use. (Adam, 1998, 129) Both of these stances may then risk forgetting an important aspect in understanding how power is simultaneously inscribed in socio-technical relations and bodies inhabiting them. In the context of feminist theory, situatedness is understood as the embodiment of subjectivities, but also as the practice of locating oneself within the socio-technical networks of power. As such it is not possible to think about situatedness without the recognition of difference. Situated subjects are subjects living and acting within particular bodies and inhabiting particular and partial realities that have very real consequences on those subjects and their bodies. Consequently then, following the line of thought of Adam, the notion of situatedness, with its ethical and political dimension, can turn out as an invaluable tool for the elaboration of difference within the context of feminist theory only if it recognizes both aspects of situatedness.
In order to inquire into how the user of a particular technological design is being conceptualized, one has to proceed to interrogate the technical choices of the design. For, as Madeleine Akrich has pointed out, user representations most often remain unarticulated only to become objectified in the design process as those technical choices. She argues, that even though such explicit techniques for constructing user representations as market surveys, consumer testing and feedback information seem to be highly appreciated by the marketing people, their contribution to the actual design process may remain somewhat marginal. For Akrich, the implicit techniques that position a series of unarticulated representatives for the user, such as the designer, the "expert" or another comparable product, might prove out to be more powerful. (Akrich, 1995, 177, 182)
Akrich argues for the recognition of the complexity of the socio-technical contexts of use and the need to develop methods for making user images more visible. (Akrich, 1995, 177, 182) Even though she explicitly addresses only technical and marketing aspects of design and their reconciliation into a successful product, it seems to me, that this recognition also concerns larger cultural constructions. This has also been argued by Lucy Suchman, who sees the unarticulated aspects of user construction as symptomatic for technological design forgetting its own situatedness in the socio-technical networks of production. Suchman argues that there is a close link between understanding technological design as the production of commodities and what she calls the "design from nowhere". By separating the technological objects from the design process and reinforcing the divide between designer-creator and user-consumer, such conceptualization forgets about the socio-technical contexts of production and the various mediations and translations through which technological design proceeds. (Suchman, 2000, 4)
As Suchman points out, designers are encouraged to keep a distance from actual contexts of use, while bonding with the sites of production, whether they be research labs or work places. The mechanisms enabling such bonding include various methods for constructing a selective reality as an isolated social world, "within which one can be deeply engaged, but which remains largely self-referential, cut-off from others who might seriously challenge aspects of the community's practice". These constructions serve to mediate a potential discrepancy between the autonomous status of designers-as-creators and the interests of the organization by naturalizing this bond as a commitment. Consequently, for Suchman located accountability would mean situating oneself within the actual sites of technological production and use, including the more extended networks of global economy and the division of labor. (Suchman, 2000, 4-5) Being sensitive to the existence of these relations enables one to form alliances across the boundaries of disciplines, conceiving design not as producing objects, but as producing what Suchman terms "artful integrations" constituting technical systems. But the sensitization of the design practice for accountability also means perceiving the work of translation in the technological design practice as well as its partiality. (Suchman, 2000, 5-9)
There is an important point that Jeanette Hofmann makes in her study of the gendered user images in word processing software that resonates with Suchman's account. The socio-technical contexts of use are constantly changing, as technical objects and people are in the process of reciprocal exchange. In her study, Hofmann came to the conclusion that even though technological design has a tendency to reproduce existing, gendered socio-technical arrangements, this reproduction is never complete. Hofmann thus argues that it is important to investigate the relations between gender and technology from a procedural, rather than structural point of view, for these relations turn out to be context-dependent. (Hofmann, 1999, 239-241)
The user image that emerges through these accounts is then not very easily drawn. Its contours can be traced in the technical choices of a particular implementation, its connections to the various networks of production - both semiotic and socio-technical - can be approached through multiple and simultaneous frames of reference and its procedural and fleeting character resists positing it against any simple argument. For my work in elaborating on the situatedness of the affective user subject, I then want to extract two related concepts from above, the practice of translation and its partiality, suggested by Suchman and Haraway and the procedural point of view, proposed by Hofmann. In addition, I would like to propose a third one, namely the work of the unconscious in the design process, that from my point of view participates in all cultural production and the trajectories of which can be detected in the finalized technological product. Consequently, the completed design will never be what the designers think it is, for there will always be something that slips through the material-semiotic process of design.
The skin as technological and semiotic figure
As all three projects that I am going to discuss establish a link between corporeality and affectivity through their interface solutions that connect directly to the body, I am interested in inquiring what this "directly" means in every case. What are the technical solutions used for accessing body? What kinds of translations are needed? How is the partiality of translations dealt with? Is there something that insists in the design as that which has escaped the work of translation?
In order to inquire into the work of translation, I will then introduce another notion that for me is suggestive of that work, namely skin. Skin is that which separates the inside and the outside of the body, both in the material and the semiotic sense. In each of the projects, skin figures, either through technical choices or metaphorically - or both. I will then question, what does skin stand for in each project. I will ask how these projects ground themselves conceptually and in terms of their design in skin and how consistent are these groundings. In other words, I will interrogate how skin is produced in each of these projects both metaphorically and practically.
There are however other reasons for looking at these projects in the context of skin as well. I hope that this work, passing through various material and semiotic articulations of skin will help me to rethink some of my previous work on the metaphor of skin. As early as in the ISEA'94 I proposed the notion of inter-skin as a way to challenge the dominance of the visual in interaction and its metaphysical grounding in the phallogocentric economy of representation, that, as I argued, also became articulated in the representational practices of contemporary inter-faces. Drawing on French feminist theory, particularly the writings of the philosopher and psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray, I imagined a fluid surface that would enable a multiplicity of transmissions. What I had in mind then was a metaphor for certain boundary breakdowns that seemed to be emerging in relation to immersive and dynamic representations of synthetic worlds and through distribution and virtualization of agencies in the communication networks. I was interested in inquiring whether the metaphor of skin could establish a different economy for that representational practice in which both information and the user accessing it are configured. In other words, I started from the premise that such feminist intervention as my notion of inter-skin could serve as a gesture for retextualizing contemporary interface design discourse. What I now find in the need of further investigation is how the metaphor of skin has been put into practice in ways that echo some of the ideas that I had in mind back then. 
It may turn out then, that the technological implementations of the transgressive and fluid like qualities of skin are multiple and contradictory. It is here that Haraway's notion of figuration turns out to be particularly helpful, for it seems to me that the metaphoric and artefactual skins of these projects are partially incommensurate, not only in relation to each other but also in relation to themselves. I am therefore intent on applying the notion of skin also as a critical tool, informed by the psychoanalytic concept of repression. I am interested in investigating whether there is something that insists in these multiple articulations of skin in ways that are indicative of the work of repression. I will do this, bearing in mind that it insists not only there, but also here in my encounter with these works of art, design and research and is therefore partially produced by my engagement with them. However, with this encounter some foreclosed realities of others could, perhaps, be made more visible.
Affective Computing: representing affect
Affective Computing Research Group,  directed by Rosalind W.Picard at the MIT, is undoubtedly one of the most influential projects conducting research and development on the emotional aspects of computing at the moment. The project started in 1995 and now involves thirty subprojects, including projects in Affect Recognition, such as Computer Response to User Frustration, Detecting Driver Stress or Affective Jewelry and in Affective Interactivity, such as Affective Tutor or Mood Interfaces. The research project understands affectivity as the emotional aspect of human-computer interaction. It is "computing that relates to, arises from or deliberately influences emotions. (The) research focuses on creating personal computational systems endowed with the ability to sense, recognize and understand human emotions, together with the skills to respond in an intelligent, sensitive, and respectful manner toward the user and his/her emotions."
Emotions, in the project, are understood as "dynamic states that consist of both cognitive and physical events". Consequently then, the modeling of emotions has to pass through translations between these physical events, the cognitive processes that are involved and that can be symbolically communicated, the equipment and the type of data used for modeling and the existing models of human cognition. In the Affective Computing research, skin plays a significant role in communicating the physical aspects of emotions. The Prototype Sensing System consists of the Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) Sensor measuring skin conductance, The Blood Volume Pulse (BVP) Sensor measuring blood pressure, the Respiration Sensor measuring the depth of breath and the rate of the user's respiration, and The Electromyogram (EMG) Sensor measuring the electrical activity of the muscle when it is being contracted.  The complex system of modules processing data from thereon can be roughly conceptualized in a following way: The data will be processed first by the Affect Pattern Recognition Module, the purpose of which is to determine and categorize relevant affective signal features and then by the Affective Understanding module, which will receive, process and store the information provided by the sensing and recognition modules. The purpose of the Understanding module is to model both the user's current mood as well as his or her emotional profile. It will receive and pass information between itself and the other modules and eventually build and maintain a more complete and contextually aware model of the user's behavior.
The affective user subject
What I am curious about is, how, exactly are the parallels between the physical states, the cognitive states and the affective models being drawn. Are there some aspects in how the affective user is being conceptualized that remain unthought? As the overview of the Affective Computing research does not address user representation particularly, this does not seem to be of central concern for the project. Were there reference groups? Who did they consist of? How large were they? How did such culturally significant determinants as age, gender, socio-economical status, ethnic and religious background or sexual orientation, which all, I would imagine, affect the "emotional life" of the user, become categorized and recorded during the research?
The user has a body, for it is through body that the affective states of the user become articulate and measurable. Does it matter, what kind of body? Do bodily attributes, such as age, gender or ethnic background count as differences? As the group is careful to point out, the baseline for skin conductivity, for instance, is affected by such factors as "gender, diet, skin type and situation". What does this mean? How are these biological differences taken into account in research? Are baselines considered individual or are there categories of baselines? What counts as a significant difference in the determination of the baseline or in the categorization of a group of baselines? Do baselines operate as background information that serves in the factoring out of difference in order to arrive at clear, distinct representations of emotional states? In other words, how are cultural, social and biological differences taken into consideration? Within the tradition of the HCI research, the Affective Computing research is taking an adventurous step towards taking the embodiment of the human user into account. Yet, as it seems to forget the social and semiotic situatedness of the subject, it may risk representing the affective user as a cognitive subject equipped with an additional channel for affective information, that is free from all social and cultural determinants.
It is possible, that the absence of social context in the discourse of the Affective Computing is related to its isolation into the confines of a laboratory, that often characterizes the preliminary stages of such innovative development. There are some references in the Affective Computing research overview, that suggest an inadvertent slippage of a designer into the place of the user. When describing the "Affective Understanding" module, which constitutes the "brains" of the system, the designers express the need of the module to recognize if "the user has not slept in several days, is ill or starving or under deadline pressure". For this kind of context sensitivity the module should respond for instance by "playing uplifting music" or even opening "an application that can carry on a therapeutically-motivated conversation with its user". However, it seems to me that the missing contexts should be critically interrogated also in the preliminary development stage, for else, what will become inscribed in the prototypes that may significantly structure future developments, are the unexamined values of those in the privileged position of doing the prototyping work.
The purpose of the Affective Understanding module is to model user's present mood as well as the user's emotional life and ultimately "build and maintain a more complete model of user's behavior". The latter involves the modeling of user's cognitive abilities to the extent that "the more accurate a model of the user's cognitive abilities and processes can be built, the better the system will be at predicting the user's behavior and providing accurate information to the other modules within the Affective Computing system". It is also believed that in future Affective Understanding module could be interfaced with such Artificial Intelligence applications as Doug Lenat's Cyc: "The Cyc system might be able to functionally provide a model of the user's behavior, rationale, and motivations to the Affective Understanding module."
Doug Lenat's and R.V.Guha's original aim in producing Cyc, was to build a vast knowledge base that would contain a huge amount of human common sense type of knowledge. Their idea was to overcome the brittleness of expert systems, that failed to cope in a sensible way with anything that was outside their narrow range of expertise. The building of the large enough consensus reality database that would be used as a universal standard would provide an intermediary substrate for other expert systems to communicate with each other. In its current state, Cyc exists as a knowledge database owned by the Cycorp, Inc., consisting of 1.000 000 hand-entered assertions. In the Cyc product family there are various applications for database integration and information retrieval. 
During their existence symbolic systems, such as Cyc have raised a considerable amount of critique, the most interesting of which, from the point of view of this paper, concerns the possibility of representing reality through propositional knowledge only, the asymmetry of humans and machines and the premises of the so called "consensual reality". As the critique of symbolic AI, particularly that of Dreyfus' and Suchman's, has pointed out, the weakness of expert systems is caused by the failure of their designers to recognize embodied and situated knowledge as an essential component of cognition. From the phenomenological point of view of Dreyfus, the brittleness of expert systems is the effect of their lack of embodiment in the world. For Suchman, human-machine asymmetry is the effect of the gap between plans and situated actions. (Adam, 1998, 85-88)
In her critique of Cyc, Alison Adam focuses on interrogating the type of knowledge represented in Cyc, the way it is conceived and the nature of the subject that is doing the knowing. She sets out to challenge the grounding idea of Cyc: that there is an unmediated access to reality, representable as a series of propositions that together describe what is understood as the "consensual reality". Yet, from the postmodern point of view, the "consensual reality" should rather be perceived as the dominating view of the world. As she points out, the rather simplistic examples used in the demonstration of Cyc, serve to cover the fact that there is a vast area in which decisions concerning whether a particular proposition is a piece of common knowledge involve power. "Cyc's models of the world are hegemonic models - unconsciously reflecting those of the powerful, privileged positions." (Adam, 1998, 85-88, cit. 86) It seems then, that the interfacing of the Affective Understanding module into an application, such as Cyc, might expose it to similar critique, concerning the unexamined transportation of hegemonic values into its system.
Skin as the underside of human communication
What kinds of emotions figure in the Affective Computing overview? It seems to me, that the most common one is frustration. There are several projects that recognize frustration in the form of driver stress, in various situations arising at the computer or in relation to videoconferencing. In "Computer Response to User Frustration" project, for instance, an HCI agent is designed to "support users in their ability to recover from negative emotional states, particularly frustration. The agent uses social-affective feedback strategies" for recovery. The status of frustration is clear, it prevents the human-computer system from achieving its goal, whether it is successful learning or safe and pleasant driving. Emotions then appear in the form of positive or negative feedback that the system needs to be able to recognize and regulate in order to stay functional. Both emotions and the physical states involved are seen as unintentional layer of interaction, arising independently from the goal oriented action of the user.
This kind of approach places skin in a curious position in the translation from physical emotional states into representations of emotions. Skin, as the surface of the body, becomes that mediating surface through which the unintentional, and to some extent uncontrollable flow of fluids, such as sweat, is translated into representable data. The Galvanic Skin Response (GSR) Sensor figures as a piece of equipment that turns the flowing underside of human communication into controllable representations. What does skin stand for in this one-way process? Semiotically, it seems to take the place usually reserved for nature in the technological discourse. From the psychoanalytic perspective, skin serves as the limit between the inside and the outside, and as the membrane through which the transgression from the reality of uncontrollable fluids into the reality of symbolic representations is being most intensely articulated.
There is an aspect in the discourse of the Affective Computing overview, that I, personally, find most intriguing. The ethical dimension of the Affective Computing is addressed in relation to privacy. Apparently, a considerable amount of security measures have been designed into the system in order to protect the privacy of the user. With these security measures, the affective user is then pictured as an individual, independent subject that has private access to and the ownership of his or her emotions. There is, certainly, a significant danger in how this kind of technology could be used for politically suspect purposes, and one doesn't have to read too much science fiction in order to imagine some scary instances of such misuse. The strong emphasis on privacy may risk, however, ignoring other kinds of political dimensions, for one may ask, whether emotions are such a private business after all.
In the context of situatedness, I would prefer to see the affective user as an embodied, culturally conditioned, socio-technically located and connected subjectivity. From that perspective, affectivity does not appear in the form of private property but as an amalgam of mechanisms through which these subjectivities are constituted as intelligible, culturally meaningful beings and as actors in the global networks of power, economy and technoscience. That is, as situated subjects, affective users are seen as agencies, the actions of which are constituted and conditioned by their locatedness within these networks. From the perspective of situatedness, emotions form an essential element in how human beings are being integrated into the networks of power. Consequently, emotions should not be seen as discrete entities, but within the larger framework of culture that participates in the production of the complex psychical realities of the speaking and interacting subjects. The discourse on emotional privacy, which for me alarmingly echoes the rhetoric of capitalism, may inadvertently participate in covering the very operation of those mechanisms of production.
For me then, there is something in the discourse on privacy that insists on further interrogation. As the Affective Computing overview states, "research focuses on creating personal computational systems endowed with the ability to sense, recognize and understand human emotions, together with the skills to respond in an intelligent, sensitive, and respectful manner toward the user and his/her emotions." I am curious as to how the Affective Computing research would have to readdress its agenda, if the group decided to develop an affective interface, requiring corporeal contact, for public use instead of personal use. Let me imagine a public information system, an arena for communal exchange that might greatly benefit from being emotionally responsive. Could an implementation based on skin contact be used for such purpose? It seems to me that the design could proceed in two directions, at least.
First, I could imagine a wearable interface that would, perhaps wirelessly, connect into the public information system. Such an interface would remain in personal use and become an additional skin-like layer. The actual, physical contact point between an individual user and the public system would be technically mediated. There would be no skin contact between the physical body of the user and the public information space. This kind of solution would raise questions concerning the social contexts of use. Would wearable interface elements be available for anybody? And if not, would they constitute an exclusive border between affective and non-affective information access - or even a border between accessible and inaccessible forms of information. This potential asymmetry in information access raises questions concerning information design, for interfaces are not to be considered as external layers for information only. How information is structured for accessing with a particular interface technology makes a tremendous difference in the user experience. Whose experience will be taken for standard? The division between fast connection Flash animation interfaces and reduced html interfaces already exists in web design. One may only imagine how tricky future information design will become in terms of setting standards for user experience, with the development of ubiquitous and multiple points of contact for information access.
Second, I could imagine an implementation in which the user's skin would constitute the mediating surface. An application, based on direct skin contact, might; however, lead to a different set of questions that border the issue of exclusion from another direction. For, as a designer of such a system, I might not be able to avoid reflecting, whether there are any bodies after which I would prefer not to interface with the system. So far, I have been able to locate surprisingly few references to hygienic concerns in relation to interfaces requiring extensive bodily contact,  but if they are ever considered for implementation into any publicly accessible information systems, the political dimension of the hygienic concerns is likely to become more explicit. Any unwanted conductivity, such as an outbreak of a new disease, might constitute the basis for exclusive practices, in which the questions of identity, politics, economy and intimacy intertwine, as the recent decades of struggle over the rights of those with AIDS have proved.
Conductivity turned bad
The year 2001 began with the news images showing European countryside with the burning carcasses of animals with, or suspected of having mouth and leg disease. These bodies testify the disappearance of animal rights, when weighted against the profits of the farming industry. If the images of burning bodies visualize the failure of the European farming policies, the images from supermarkets depicting loathsome piles of beef are often used to address those private sentiments consumers are faced with when an everyday object has suddenly turned bad. For me, these series of images are intimately connected, for they bring the unconscious dimension of the unwanted conductivity to the foreground. Repulsion involves painful, both psychical and corporeal negotiations about the contours of the body. What was once assimilable, might become violently rejected, thrusted away in the spasms of vomit.
In the very beginning of her meditation on abjection, Julia Kristeva addresses abject as that which threatens the certainty of the border separating the inside and the outside of the "I". Abjection emerges in a process in which a not-yet-subject makes an effort to separate itself from what is to become an object. In Kristeva's words: "We may call it a border; abjection is above all ambiguity. Because, while releasing a hold, it does not radically cut off the subject from what threatens it - on the contrary, abjection acknowledges it to be in perpetual danger." (Kristeva, 1982, 9) In abjection the indeterminacy of the border exposes the "I" to a pulsatile process of incorporation and rejection. Abjection then epitomizes the uncompleted process of identity formation. It is, as Kristeva states, that which disturbs identity, system and order. The abject element does not belong to the system, but neither can it be externalized from it. It remains there, disturbing the system, contaminating its purity.
In the context of Kristeva's account, one is then tempted to think about skin conductance, not as seamless and neat, but as a leaky process, in which there will be something, a leftover that is not mappable into the artefact. The inexplicable and nauseous uneasiness, evoked by the idea of skin conductance turned bad, might suggest that this uncertain terrain is the site of abjection. As the border between the inside and the outside of the body, skin embodies both psychical and corporeal negotiations, in which the inside and the outside of the "I" becomes established. These negotiations as Kristeva suggests, constitute an ephemeral and ambiguous process, in which the "I" may try to violently separate itself from the part that threatens its identity.
Later, Kristeva has addressed the rejection of a "stranger" in the context of difference, associating it with the experience of otherness. What is not culturally assimilable becomes rejected. For her, the process of positing the other as a stranger draws on the psychical mechanism, in which the disturbing and irreducible otherness of the self is externalized. (Kristeva, 1991, 191-192) There is, then, in her discourse, a link between abjection as a psychical process and as a mechanism, that participates in the constitution of the social reality, which, for me, is of great importance. The unthought matter of hygiene or "bad conductance", that in my reading contaminates the margins of the Affective Computing overview, may also indicate the exclusion of certain social realities. For, it might be that as soon as their existence was taken into account, designers would also have to deal with the abject dimension of those realities as well as their own otherness to themselves.
The transgressive skin of Osmose
Osmose,  an immersive interactive space, created by Char Davies was first introduced in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Montreal during the ISEA95. It is an immersive virtual environment, utilizing stereoscopic 3D computer graphics and spatialised sound through real time interaction. The "immersant", Davies' term for the user, enters "Osmose" wearing a head-mounted display and a motion capture vest with breathing and balance sensor. The interface is highly body-centered; with breathing the immersant is able to rise and fall in space and with altering one's balance to change direction. Osmose thus demonstrates a new, more physical approach to the relationship between the perceiving body and the experiential virtual space. The interface does not bracket out the bodily processes from the means of navigation. Sense of balance and breathing constitute an interactive surface that, while moving the body in the immersive space simultaneously alter the physiological condition and state of the body. Deep breath does not only move one down in relation to the stereoscopic 3D space but also brings more oxygen to the body and affects its physical and chemical balance.
The interactive experience in Osmose is about "letting go". Using breathing and balance in navigation is intuitive to certain point, for it is impossible not to breathe. Interestingly, unlike the Affective Computing research that treats bodily processes as non-controllable, involuntary processes, Osmose lets the immersant use breathing as a way to control one's movement. In other words, in Osmose, the activity of breathing lingers between uncontrollable and controllable. Davies has pointed out the connection between her interface and the practice of breathing in meditation, in which breathing participates in altering the state of the consciousness of the meditating subject. (Davies, 1998: 1, 65-74)
A lot has already been written about Osmose and the work of its originator, Char Davies. The way Osmose is being presented both by Davies and her commentators, ascribes it to her vision in such an extent that the discourse always seems to pass through her personal experience as an artist, her unique position in the corporate world and her personal philosophy. It is as if Davies' person served to hold together the various discourses through which Osmose and the following Éphémère are being accessed, for in them technological, corporate and philosophical intermingle in an interesting way. Davies has also written extensively about her work, particularly on its philosophical aspects. Some of her partners in the philosophical dialogue are also present in the virtual world of Osmose as citations through which the immersant floats.
There are several interesting aspects in Davies' work that call for extensive discussion. Both she and her commentators have addressed the spatiality of VR, the limits of the Cartesian representation of space and the spatialization of the user and his or her experience within the representational space of the contemporary VR applications and the challenge this has posited for her to provide an alternative experience of space.  However, here I will focus on the interface of Osmose and how it addresses the metaphor of skin. In the context of Osmose, the limitation that I pointed out in the beginning of my discussion as not having personal experience of immersion in Osmose, is perhaps most pressing. For many citations of the user experiences testify for something very special taking place in the moments of immersion. People have referred to otherworldly experiences of loosing one's sense of time and place and the merging of the inner and outer space. Davies herself has been caught by surprise by the emotional responses to the piece, which have included both euphoria and tears of loss. One immersant confided afterwards for not being afraid of dying anymore. (Davies, 1998: 2, 144-155)
In the context of Osmose, skin stands as the metaphor for transmission and exchange, for the name of the piece refers to the biological process of osmosis involving passage from one side of a membrane to another. For Davies, osmosis is a metaphor "for transcendence of difference through mutual absorption, dissolution of boundaries between inner and outer, inter-mingling of self and world."(Davies, 1998: 1, 65-74) The thematic of the boundary breakdown in the experience of the world is prevalent in both Davies' own discourse and that of the commentators. Drawing on phenomenology she intends to place the immersive subject into an embodied relation to the virtual world, in which that which differentiates the inner and outer space is subject to constant flow and transmission to the extent of the dissolution of difference.
In the space of Osmose the metaphoric skin and the affective subject then form a chiasmatic entity. Skin is no more the surface that envelops the subject, separating the inside and the outside. It becomes a porous entity, serving as the vehicle for multiple transmissions. When describing the imaginary substrate forming the inter-skin, I have previously quoted Luce Irigaray's meditation on the "Mechanics of fluids": "(A fluid) is continuos, compressible, dilatable, viscous, conductible, diffusable... it enjoys and suffers from a greater sensitivity to pressures... it changes - in volume or in force... it allows itself to be easily traversed by flow by virtue of its conductivity to currents... it mixes with bodies of a like state, sometimes dilutes itself in them in an almost homogenous manner, which makes the distinction between the one and the other problematical: and furthermore that it is already diffuse "in itself", which disconcerts any attempt at static identification..." (Irigaray, 1990, p. 111) Following Irigaray, I suggested then that the inter-skin, as the feminine counterpart for inter-face would allow a multiplicity of passageways for continuous and changing processes and a great sensitivity and completion for receiving a variety of signals from the environment and capability of changing its state accordingly. It would change identity, sometimes dissolving itself into another surface in a way that makes the identification between the two impossible.  I still think that Irigaray's meditation on fluids is worth considering in relation to tangible and corporeal interfaces. However, my application of "femininity" as the metaphor for such mediations requires further consideration.
Immediacy of the maternal body
Even though Davies does not explicitly ground her discourse on Osmose in sexual difference - by for instance making claims about the "femininity" of the Osmose's space - it is hard not to think about Osmose in a gender specific way. Both she and her commentators suggest that Osmose provides an alternative for the Cartesian representation of space, which in the context of feminist theory has been criticized as the phallic acquisition of spatiality.  Moreover, many of the characteristics of the interactive experience in Osmose, such as embodiment, sensitivity, surrendering the desire for control or the enveloping quality of space, are culturally coded as feminine rather than masculine. Also, because the discourse tends to pass through Davies and her subjective experience, which is the embodied experience of being a woman, it is difficult to resist the temptation to read Osmose as the articulation of a female experience of space. However, I suggest, that it should rather be read as the fantasy of a female space, more specifically as the fantasy of the maternal body.
From the point of view of psychoanalytically minded feminist thinking, Osmose is then most intriguing. It seems to me that Osmose, in a very extraordinary way, situates the subject in a space that is the other to the dominant mode of representation. Davies herself has called Osmose a "counter-environment".  But it can also be thought of in terms of "second skin", a term proposed by Margaret Morse. In the psychoanalytic context of oral logic, which Morse elaborates as the play between the psychical mechanisms of incorporation - "swallowing" the object - and excorporation - impersonating by "crawling into the skin" of the other, "second skin" is the site of excorporative gesture. Where in the Aztec rituals this was conceived by donning and wearing the skin of the murdered prisoners impersonating Aztec divinities, in the context of virtual reality, one can apply the second skin with the means of data suit, helmet and gloves. Under the electronic skin, as Morse suggests, one can then adopt the place of another persona and experience the virtual world as if it was an immediate experience. (Morse, 1998, 132-133)
Who then, is the affective subject in Osmose? What characterizes the fantasy of the maternal body is the lack of distance, needed for the constitution of the subject and object in the symbolic relation of representation.  It seems then, that the immediacy of the experience within the embodied interface of Osmose provides access to this fantasy. In other words, Osmose draws the user into the fantasy in which the not-yet-subject is not separable from the maternal body. Interaction in Osmose is mediated simultaneously by the motion capture vest and the chemical balance induced in breathing, in such a way that these two constitute a diffuse substrate, which is unlocatable in terms of inside-outside dichotomy. The metaphoric skin of Osmose aquires connotations both through technologized mediation of the interface as well as through the physiological processes of the body. However, in the discourses surrounding Osmose, the bliss of dissolution tends to forget both aspects of the mediating substrate. Osmose is described as if opening an unmediated access to the experience of nature - or, in my reading, to the maternal body.  However, as Morse points out emphatically, the immediate experience is only possible because of the second skin. As skin, the mediating interface surface masks the very apparatus of that mediation. And as film theory has demonstrated, a series of negations and foreclosures are in operation when the mediating technology is organized to stay out of frame. (Morse, 1998, 134)
In Osmose, the artistic vision of Davies as well as her ethical commitment to the questions of ecology are so tightly connected to the audiovisual representation, the interface, and the discourses of Osmose that they might be seen symptomatic for such a foreclosure. This is not to say, that Osmose would not be able to produce those deep and engaging psychical experiences that so many have described. I seriously believe that the virtual worlds like Osmose could increase our sensitivity and our capability for empathy by placing us into the skins of others, helping us to see from the embodied perspectives of those others - and I believe, that in this, exactly, is the power of Osmose. However, what needs to be interrogated - and not only in the context of Osmose - how virtual and embodied technologies while opening heightened, immersive realities simultaneously foreclose others. In other words, the beauty of Osmose may seduce us from seeing its situatedness within the socio-technical networks of production. The discourse addressing Osmose as the site of privileged subjective experience and the body as its ultimate grounding risk forgetting Osmose's position as one of the technologies of the self, that, perhaps increasingly, will be used for aligning subjects into the socio-technical networks of the future.
inter_skin and the impossibility of heterosexual encounter
Inter_skin  consists of a datasuit designed for mediating touch by Stahl Stenslie. Its preliminary version, cyberSM by Stenslie and Kirk Wolford was presented in the ISEA'94 art exhibition in the Helsinki Ateneum.  Where cyberSM still used visual interface for controlling the remote environment, inter_skin wraps around the user like another skin. Inter_skin is intended for sharing an affective space with another affective and sensual subject. The interface enveloping user's body is designed to transmit affective touch in such a way that it becomes the extension of the user's skin both receiving and passing stimuli. As Stenslie describes the interface: "The main emphasis of the communication is in the transmission and receiving of touch. By touching my own body I transmit the same touch to my recipient. The strength of the touch is determined by the duration of the touch. The longer I touch myself, the stronger stimuli you will feel." In addition to touch, the user in inter_skin can communicate with voice.
As the material on this case is still relatively sparse, consisting only of a short description in Stenslie's personal website, I will limit my discussion of it in a few preliminary remarks. However, I think it merits a short discussion in the context in which I have, more extensively, addressed Affective Computing and Osmose. For what is interesting in inter_skin is that it takes the issue of cyber sex and tries it out in the real world. It helps to realize the missing sexual dimension of embodiment that characterizes the discourses of both preceding cases. Inter_skin is about the sexual aspect of affectivity. Stenslie specifically describes interaction in terms of a sexual contact. However, the sexual contact in inter_skin is quite difficult to imagine, for in it, strangely, autoerotic stimulation and the touch of the other are mixed and mediated by the datasuit.
Stenslie himself brings up the importance of autoeroticism in his discussion. I will quote him in length: "The fact that I must touch my own body in order to send tactile information imply several significant aspects to the communication. First of all I must do to myself what I want my accomplice to feel. This makes my own body to a self-referential object for the communication. There is no way to forget myself or hide out what actions I take. If I touch my genitals, you will feel that I touch them. In this way a very direct form of communication arises." Now, for me, what seems to be arising, is a series of questions concerning the embodied subjectivities in datasuits. What exactly does direct communication mean in this context? If Stenslie touches his genitals, how am I supposed to experience that? For, me being a woman, something would certainly have to be reconfigured in the datasuit. And after that reconfiguration, how direct would communication be? The idea of direct communication that inter_skin is built on, then seems to foreclose the possibility for heterosexual relation, for one to one mapping would require two similar bodies.
There are two images depicting inter_skin. One shows an androgynous figure posing with the datasuit. The other shows the upper torso of a male figure engaged in an activity that takes place below the frame of the picture. The image that schematizes the full androgynous body has erased any signs of sexual difference and only indicates with an arrow the place in which sexual stimulation is supposed to take place. The way the inter_skin maps the erogenous zones of the human body is then, to some extent left for the imagination of the reader. The images and Stenslie's account suggest for me that in inter_skin, the encounter between two similar bodies is not only homoerotic, but also, what Luce Irigaray designates as, hommoerotic, an encounter between two male bodies, which conceive of themselves as universal.
For it seems to me, that the way inter_skin conceptualizes human sexual body, forecloses heterosexual relation, because in its terms the female body appears, to certain extent, unthinkable.If the female body version of the inter_skin were specifically designed, the designer would have to figure out how to map the hole that in the male imaginary constitutes the female sexual organ. For in such representational economy female body is not enveloped, it envelops. How then, would this enveloping surface be conceptualized in terms of the technology constituting inter_skin? How can an enveloping surface be enveloped? Could inter_skin cover something that is inside body? It seems to me, that the negotiations, such a design task would have to engage in, would have to pass through the uncertain terrain of inside/outside ambiguity and the impossibility of its representation.
Inter_skin then seems to reproduce the old dream of symmetry of the self and the other, which here effectively erases the sexual difference from its system. But one may wonder how much the dream of direct communication would turn out as a fantasy, for even in the encounter between two male bodies an endless series of experiences, memories and meanings would inhabit the surfaces of the two bodies. For me, then, the potential of a system like inter_skin is not in the fantasy of direct communication but in the recognition of the fundamental difference between two embodied selves. This is why the voice is important, as Stenslie also points out. In my visions, evoked by Stenlie's inter_skin, something like inter-skin could be conceived of as an intimate, acoustic space in which tactile stories enumerating uncountable differences would be shared.
The three cases that I have discussed are fundamentally incompatible. They set out to explore the affective dimension in computing with varying frames of mind and with different goals. It is also important to notice how their idea of the affective aspect of interaction varies. In Affective Computing research, affect is understood as an emotional reaction and as component of a regulatory feedback system consisting of the computer and the human user. The situation with Osmose and inter_skin is quite different, for they both are interested in evoking affection. In Osmose, the interface enveloping body monitors respiration and balance, serving navigation in the virtual and immersive world. Inter_skin is intended to share an affective space with another affective and sensual subject. The interface that wraps around the user's body is designed to transmit affective touch in such a way that it becomes the extension of the user's skin.
By staging them against each other and by thematizing them in terms of skin, I have wanted to elaborate on that affective space that is emerging in conjunction with the innovative design focusing on corporeal interfaces. It seems to me that exposing these three interface solutions to the notion of skin has opened up some interesting spaces for further discussion. If skin in the Affective Computing research is taken as the measurable substrate mediating between the affect and the computer, the articulations of skin in the contexts of the Osmose and the inter_skin seem to gather an abundance of cultural connotations that they both consciously and unconsciously play with.
Engaging in a dialogue with them, I have wanted to show that affectivity cannot be conceived of in isolation from the socio-technical and cultural production. In order to make some of the trajectories of this production more visible; I have interrogated the affective subjectivities constituted by them. I have further inquired the metaphoric power of skin. In my discussion skin has figured as a technologically fabricated artefact and as the site of complex and conflictual meaning production. I have shown that multiple literacies have been needed to trace these various networks of production and particularly their intersections.
I have inspected closely those discourses framing the three affective environments. What I have attempted to show is, that there will always be something that the design leaves unthought, and that what is left unthought is likely to have social implications, invisible to the designers themselves. Moreover, I have suggested that this unthought can be approached as the "repressed thoughts" of the design process. In psychoanalysis the idea of the "return of the repressed" is conceived of as an inexplicable and uncanny insistence that comes to haunt the well-constructed realities of subjects. I have then investigated what is it that insists in each piece of affective technology, its context of use and the discourses in which it is framed. It is not surprising then that the corporeal technologies aiming at embodied and affective interaction tend not to think embodiment in all its viscerality. Drawing on Julia Kristeva's notion of abjection I have suggested that the foreclosure of certain embodied realities, which too intimately may come to touch upon the embodied realities of the designers, might result in the foreclosure of certain social realities as well.
However, for a conclusion, I want to introduce a more specific and a practical question, which the dialogue between these three affective environments seems to propose. How should one, as a designer, engage with the user? In other words, how should the designer place him or herself in relation to the user? As Madeleine Akrich argues, in technology development, more visibility is needed for the processes in which user representations are formed and applied. Her account also suggests that designers should be aware of their tendency to unproblematically slide themselves into the place of the user in the course of the design project. But as Lucy Suchman points out, neither should the designer isolate him or herself from the realities of users or the realities of technological production. Locatedness means increased sensibility to the consequences of one's design decisions.
Working from a situated and embodied perspective also means recognizing one's vulnerability. And this is what the dimension of abjection might suggest. Learning to engage with other located and embodied realities might mean learning to deal with the strange and the frightening within. It may be then, that as soon as the realities of the others were addressed, as soon as difference was, truly, taken into account, the designers of affective computing systems would also have to negotiate their psychical relation to the irreducible, unassimilable difference of the other.
[ 4] see extensive discussion of this point in Kari Kuutti (1997) and Minna Tarkka (2001)
 During ISEA'94 conference I had a talk with Char Davies, who felt that my proposal for the notion of inter-skin was very much in the spirit of what she was working on. Osmose was first exhibited a year later in ISEA'95, Montreal.
 The GSR Sensor measures skin's conductance between two electrodes. These electrodes can be attached to any part of the user's body, but are typically attached to the fingertips. Skin conductivity is understood as the function of the skin's pore size and the sweat gland activity, which is controlled partly by the sympathetic nervous system. When the subject experiences stress or anxiety, the skin's conductance will increase rapidly because of the increased activity of the sweat glands. After the excitation of the sympathetic nervous system the skin conductivity will decrease gradually as the duct of the sweat gland fills and pours out.
 Cycorp at: http://www.cyc.com/ see also Adam (1998, 81-84)
 Riedel, Oliver & Deisinger, Joachim (1996)
 see my discussion in Tikka (1994, 1995).
 Tikka (1994)
 see Irigaray (1990) see also my elaboration on Irigaray in the context of VR space, Tikka, (1994, 1995)
 Davies refers to McLuhan's concept of "counter-environment" and Henri Lefevbre's idea of "counter-space" in "Landscape, earth, body. being. Space and time in the virtual environments of Osmose and Éphémère" in "Women in New Media", ed. Judy Mallory (Boston: MIT Press, 1998) see also Marshall McLuhan and Harley Parker. 1969. Through the Vanishing Point: Space in Poetry and Painting: New York. Harper & Row, 241, 252 and Henri Lefevbre. Production of Space. 1991. Blackwell. Oxford, p. 407
 For an extended discussion of distance and the lack of it in representation, see my licentiate thesis "Negotiating Proper Distance", Tikka (1999).
 As Char Davies puts it: "As technology Osmose does not seek to replace nature. Immersion within Osmose is not a replacement for walking in the woods. Osmose is a filtering of nature through artist's vision, using technology to distil or amplify certain interpretive aspects, so that those who enter Osmose can see freshly, can become re-sensitized, and can remember what it's like to feelwonder. In reminding people of the extraordinariness of simply being alive in the world, Osmose acts as a spatialtemporal arena where we ca perhaps re-learn how to "be"." Davies (1998, 65-74)
 The work consisted of two suits and a graphical interface. However, it suffered from technical difficulties and did not work for the most of the exhibition. The presentation of the inter_skin does not specify whether what is presented is a prototype and how functional it is. For my purposes, the functionality of the piece does not matter, for what I am interested in, is how it conceptualizes skin discursively.
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