Changing How We Use Computers

Over the past two decades, we as a society have witnessed a revolution in how we access computers. Nowadays, almost every Irish teenager is walking around with a mini-computer in the form of a smartphone in their pocket. Irish homes typically have at least one form of computing device, be it a lapotop, phone or tablet. Although devices like these have brought about many positive changes for information access and digital literacy, the way in which we interact with computers has not really changed since the advent of personal computing in the late 80s. Glass screens and keyboards still dominate interface design, with swiping, clicking and pressing being the main ways we control our devices. Although these methods are perfectly adequate, they are unimaginative and unintuitive. When you stop to consider all the other countless ways we can interact with the world around us – through touch, movement, sound, gesture, behaviour, smell and innumerable others – it begins to seem strange that we have confined our interactions with computers to primarily pressing buttons or graphics on screens. Tangible Interaction is a field of study that seeks to change this.

What is Tangible Interaction?

Put simply, Tangible Interaction refers to the concept of interacting with the digital world using physical objects, gestures and behaviours in familiar or intuitive ways. People can access and manipulate digital data instinctively using recognisable objects and motions. For example, a student could receive reminders about what books to bring to class or if they are running late from their digitally-augmented schoolbag through audio, visual or haptic outputs. Another example is Reactable (see below), a Tangible Interaction interface designed to support multi-user creation and interaction with music through the movement of plastic cubes on a digitally-mediated table. In a world dominated by screen-based technologies, the field of Tangible Interaction has come to be regarded as an effective way to engage people and provide them with a novel yet instinctive method of engaging with the digital world.


Above: Reactable, a Tangible Interaction interface for creating and interacting with music by manipulating physical cubes on a table top (

Hundreds of Tangible Interaction projects are developed each year around the globe, breaking new ground in the way humans can interface with the digital world. What do you see as being the most (or least) useful changes Tangible Interaction has the potential to bring about in the world of education? Comment below or on Facebook, or send us a Tweet with your thoughts!


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