GROUP workshop: Lunchtime walk

Melanie Trammell and Steve Harrison led a pair of work sessions at the ACM GROUP Technology on the Trail Workshop focused on a things that could be learned on a lunchtime hike at the Ding Darling Wildlife Nature Preserve at Sanibel Island.  Workshop participants were encouraged to bring their favorite piece of hiking technology to the conference and use it on the hike–sharing their data during a discussion period afterwards.  Most of the remainder of this writeup comes from Melanie, lightly edited and somewhat compressed.

Hike participants were encouraged to take on roles that had been discussed in previous activities that matched their general character and interests, and to choose to some kind of technology or absence of for capturing data on the walk. In addition, members were asked to have their walk into the trail to be framed as a wide eyed experience and their journey back as more of a touristic endeavor. Lastly, the neighboring workshop on refugees heard about this initiative and joined in for these directions and the actual walk.

Steve Harrison led the discussion session, asking participants “What did you do?” and “What did you see?”.  Participants talked about their goals and interactions with others, and how they went beyond just the things they saw to focus on smells and tech-enhanced seeing.   From this, Harrison went on to explain that these two questions are very popular ones used to explain how we make sense of our experiences. Still, are they the right questions for sense-making on the trail? To better answer this, Harrison presented different ‘cuts’ or other categories one can use to describe and understand experiences like individual vs shared experience, sharing experience, data collection, narrative, mediating experience, movement vs location, time and the context we come from. After this he opened the floor up to anyone who had particular aspects of their experience that they would like to share.

At this point Scott McCrickard brought up how he was most interested in pictures that focused on his family, not necessarily primarily focused on the wildlife. In fact his favorite picture was everyone looking at the wildlife. From this, he moved to questioning why others always take pictures of the same things (e.g., vistas, or famous buildings) when it is already highly represented in more professional ways. Melanie contested this point, trying to articulate that taking a picture, even of a highly represented thing, is meaningful. Thus postcards don’t have the same value as a picture that originates from oneself. Yet for McCrickard, the value was the people in the picture.

Others weighed in as well.  Brian McInnis commented on this balance between nature and family.  Birgit Krogstie put forth the notion of physical limitations of roaming due to mud and other obstacles in her position paper, and Michael Horning wondered what contrasts we could list through comparing this experience with that of her Norwegian walk. Shuo Niu shared a picture of him near an alligator in the everglades and connected it to his experience with the informational sculptures of scat. He first noticed these small sculptures and upon opening them learned about the creature that creates them. 

Participants seemed to mold the discussion and activity to the dimensions of technology on the trail that was interesting to them. In some ways this can be powerful; in other ways it leads to little overlapping discussion and high attention on the same items. This can be seen in that participants didn’t always position their experiences in the ‘cuts’ that Harrison proposed or structure the activity with a first wide eyed pass and second touristic one that was posed in the directions. In addition, participants were not asked to explain the role that they took and how that impacted both their experience and choices on the walk, and no member chose technology different than a camera (other than the absence of technology altogether). Lastly, it seems that this session raised more questions than answers, though there were some interesting observations on values that are listed below.

Interesting Observations

  • Some people value representation of people greater than the representation of the place, and vice versa (McCrickard vs Abigail)
  • Some artificial and low technology is acceptable and valuable (Shuo)
  • Some value education (Tim and Shuo)
  • The ‘different’ and ‘new’ can be valuable (Lindah and Mike) but others value the familiar (McCrickard)
  • Challenge can be valued (Shuo, Lindah, Abigail)
  • Familiarity may lead to taking on a different role (Mike)
  • Some goals (Abigail) do not benefit from some reflective technology (camera)
  • We are intellectuals – thus much of our conversation cuts right to the deep things
  • Topics that were not brought up
    • Who are the other people on the trail?
    • What do tourists do?

Generated and Still Present Questions

  • Are cameras used just as a reflective device? And if so, is it to reflect later or reflect in the moment?
  • What are the ‘right’ questions to make sense of a hike/hiking experience?
    • What did you do?
    • What did you see?
  • Why do we take pictures of the same famous thing? Is a postcard as valuable or functional as taking a picture yourself? When we take a picture, what role or reason is motivating us?
    • You are nature looking at them
    • Documenter for private or public record
    • For the current moment
    • Is the role you play derived from the task or the audience  of the artifact, or both?
  • How does ‘free to roam’ impact sense making and our sensibilities on the trail?
  • How does (if at all) technology affect the ways we tell stories about our experiences?
  • How is technology and the processes around them managed within a group on the trail?
  • How do people navigate importance/value of place vs people?
  • How does technology change planning?
  • How does technology change adventurous attitudes?
  • If technology is only giving us representation of the trail, what gets dislocated?
  • Is the purpose of technology in sense making an epistemic action? Or something else?
  • How does transportation (to and from the hike) qualify as technology on the trail?

To recap this session of our workshop and capitalize on any revelations since then, we held a reporting out session on February 7, 2018 with most members of the original session. We focused on presenting the above takeaways, discussion about any post-realizations and a mini activity to further our understanding of pictures as representation of experience.


After presenting the values and questions we inferred at our workshop, Tim brought to light some thoughts he had post-shop. This included the intersections of nature and man-made structures – how there was a walkway through a swamp, with signs and other infrastructure to also control the kinds of human interaction that were taking place. As a group we mused how postmodern perspectives come into play here, along with how features around a place can influence the creation of a trail. For instance, in Ding Darling Wildlife Reserve there are many dangers like quicks and alligators. Does this lead to creating a trail that is more regulated? Are other places (such as Norway with Birgits ‘every man’s right’) less dangerous and thus supports less regulation of traversal and other norms of trails?

From this, we moved on to question what is a trail in general. For instance, sidewalks on Virginia Tech campus have their own origin stories and norms. Overtime, weathered dirt paths on the Drillfield will often get paved to become more official trails. Also the corps of cadets have strict rules about how to walk a sidewalk when it comes to rank (right side, 90 degree turns) and the uniform (cannot walk and text). However, some areas utilize the same physical trails for different activities – like Pandapas Pond combining walking, horses, biking all on the same trail. Along with this, we also mused on the western phenomena of naming things.


Next, we asked everyone from our workshop to pick a picture that represents your experience of our walk through Ding Darling Wildlife Reserve. With it, participants used it to describe their experience to us all. From their stories we had to pick apart the different elements of their narrative.  Mike’s story was about critique, whereas Scott’s story was about warmth. Some involved goals being achieved, and that goals are emergent (i.e., only one person set out with a goal, and even then it changed). For Shuo’s story we see that the intended goal for the clay poop sculptures was achieved! In addition, we mused on how age affects people’s attitude towards objects. Thus it is likely this technology worked for Shuo because older people tend to gravitate toward competitive objects, while younger people tend to gravitate toward action objects. This idea of mementos to remember a place was also talked about briefly, detailing the different artifacts we favor for this function (magnets, postcards, ornaments).

In the end we concluded that the only similarity between all of these experiences was the physical location and that everyone chose (more or less) pictures as their representation. Other than that, the way they described their experience showcases the variety of needs, values, expectations etc. that lends to differing technologies.

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