For those adopting a digital lifestyle, the home is becoming a complex and hard to manage collection of computers. Our immediate and extended family brings home a diverse set of digital electronic gadgets. These gadgets are not islands, but instead are meant to transmit, consume, share, and synchronize music, video, and information with a range of other devices. The number of digital devices, connections and settings results in a huge number of configurations; some of which work but many that do not.

The work to setup and maintain the array of digital living devices in the home is similar to the work of IT professionals in the enterprise. But at home, rarely are there professionals with the benefit of help desks, problem tickets, and problem tracking systems. Indeed the growing complexity of interconnected digital devices results in more and more time spent solving problems with those devices and their configurations, an important part of computer use that we call "IT@Home".

The way in which individuals approach IT@Home, particularly how they solve or merely mitigate problems with complex devices and configurations, is the focus of this workshop. Individuals approach a solution from many possible directions; asking questions of a local guru, searching the web, posting questions to Usenet or manufacturer forums, some even resort to returning the offending device and selecting something from a different manufacturer. While "ease of use" is an important design goal, device complexity, a multiplicity of possible connections, and legacy devices will result in complex configurations that generate problems that cannot always be prevented by good design.

Workshop Focus

This full-day workshop will bring together social scientists, user centered designers and system builders to address ways to better understand IT@Home. The workshop will consider four specific areas:

  • Perspectives – How does IT and peer support in a large business enterprise differ from IT@Home? How does IT@Home relate to small office IT? How is adoption at home different from the enterprise? What theories apply when studying IT@Home?
  • Problem Framing – What are the important problems when studying and understanding IT@Home? Are the problems largely technical, device design, interconnection or protocol standards? Are there critical social issues, such as household status, power, economic control, that must be considered?
  • Empirical Study – How can we effectively study home IT work? Many people feel they are spending a large amount of time getting their technology to work, but how and when does the work occur? Invasive or heavyweight data collection methods might interfere with the environment and the validity of the data; expecting participants to remember what has happened in the past is unreliable. Which data collection techniques or instrumentation techniques allow us to study IT@Home?
  • Design – How or should the concept of "ease of use" be expanded to encompass IT@Home? Are there design directions that allow better home IT management? What are some social, organizational, or device design considerations for managing home IT work?