ECSCW–the Rise of the Machines?

ECSCW 2018 took place in the beautiful French town Nancy and was hosted by Inria. As always there was a friendly atmosphere and a nice mix of presentations. I was there to present an exploratory paper by Rebecka Cowen Forssell and myself, on the Digital Work Environment. (A presentation most likely to remembered mainly for the art nouveau homage to Nancy, I’m afraid). However, there were a lot of interesting presentations, and here I will highlight just a few topics that I personally found interesting.*

The initial keynote by Antonio Casilli on the micro work behind AI was worth the trip alone. It was a great presentation on a very important topic. Indeed, this dispelling of the myth of AI was a theme that came up in a number of talks, not least in relation to the promises of automation in Industry 4.0. I also had the opportunity in one of the breaks to listen to Edgar Daylight’s historical perspective on this–AI being notoriously famous for recurring hypes.

The presentations covered a wide range of topics, from the Tatbeer ritual (Majdah Alshehri) over socio-technical heuristics (Alexander Nolte) to digital sticky notes (Sarah-Kristin Thiel) but somehow it all fitted together. I guess part of this can be explained by some of the traditions of the ECSCW community.  Here, Stuart Geiger’s presentation of documentation work was a fine example of the ever present ethnographic perspective. The humanistic values were evident in Renwen Zhang’s talk on online support groups for depression in China as well as in Isaac Holeman’s plea for Silence.

There were quite a few presentations that were more directly relevant for my own work, including Luigina Colfini on work-life balance, Nina Boulus-Rødje on supporting knowledge workers and Pernille Bjørn on variations in oncology consultations. I also found Yuri Lima’s poster on a tool for assessment of disruptive ICT in the workplace very promising. In their study on collaborative design projects in school contexts Netta Ilvari and her colleagues used service research as a theoretical lense, a theory I have been considering using myself. 

However, the conference had a special focus on computer support for qualified industrial work—Industry 4.0/the industrial internet of things—and the challenges were well summarised by Thomas Ludwig from Siegen. The Siegen crowd was as always strong in quality as well as in quantity. There is a lot of interesting research going on there that seems to touch on many of the same topics we are studying, although in an industrial setting. As proven by the panel discussion, similar studies are of course taking place in other countries as well, examples were given from Austria and France.

Speaking of Austria, ECSCW 2019 will take place in Salzburg and we got a glimpse of the venu and the playful new facilities that Verena Fuchsberger and her colleagues are enjoying.

Who knows, maybe I’ll be back…

*A formal note: I refer just to the presenter here, in most cases there were co-authors, see the Eusset proceedings for full information.

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