mmindding - gilly leshed

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  • Designing Technologies for Multiminding: Learning from Farm Families

    Gilly Leshed Information Science, Cornell University

  • Image:




    home-work split

    We all lead busy lives, we all want to get things done. In this context, home, work, and other aspects of life are seen as separate spheres with boundaries between them, more or less blurred. Each of these spheres is associated with a set of activities, and they all need to be juggled effectively in order to balance home and work.

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    Productivity apps and technologies are then designed to help individuals, families, and organizations help juggle effectively ever-more tasks, activities, commitments, contacts, opportunities, and information and regain the balance between spheres.

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    single mindedness

    I argue is that the very existence of home-work split assumption leads to single-mindedness designed into these technologies, even when the lines are blurred: when one is at work and taking care of carpooling of the kids - their mind is on the family; when one is at home but reading work emails - their mind is at work.

  • School



    home-work merge

    But what happens when the home-work split assumption does not exist or is flipped? This is the farm office in the home of one of the families that I visited. It is off the kitchen and living room. Naomi, the mother, uses the computer when she is at home taking care of the toddler and baby to do finances for the farm business, she folds the laundry, and she waters the tomato seedlings until they are ready to be transplanted outside. Like in other families, Naomi is also juggling different activities in her life, but the juggling looks different given the Home-Work Merge in these farm families.

  • What does multiminding look like when the home and work are intentionally merged?

    I wanted to understand what multiminding looks like when the home-work split assumption is non-existent or in this case flipped.

  • What can we learn from these families for the design of multiminding technologies?

    Understanding the everyday practices and experiences of families who strive to keep a lifestyle that merges home and work, can provide us with new ways of thinking about designing technologies for multiminding.

  • 13 small-scale organic farm families in Upstate New York

    Producing vegetables, fruit, meat animals, honey, flowers, and farm products, e.g., cheese, cider, fiber

    0-9 children living on the farm from newborns to adults

    With Maria Hakansson, Chalmers University of Technology

    To address these questions, in the spring of 2012, we visited 13 small-scale organic farm families, all located in Upstate New York. They produce vegetables, fruit, meat animals, honey, flowers, and farm products such as cheese, apple cider, and sheep fiber. They sell directly to customers at farmers markets, restaurants, grocery stores, and CSA programs. The families ranged in size, from couples with adult children no longer living at home to large families with 9 children all living on the farm.

  • Multiminding across space and time

    In understanding these families practices, I looked at two factors across which they coordinate their home and work activities: space and time. For each, I will discuss what we learned about multiminding, and what new opportunities the findings provide for designing multiminding technologies.

  • Space

    Indoor vs. outdoor

    First, these families do not separate the spaces in their lives to home and work, but instead divide their spaces to outdoor and indoor. As farmers, these people love the outdoors, and they structure their activities so they can spend time outside as much as possible. Indoor activities are reserved for bad weather, in the winter, when it is dark, when young children need to nap, or when computer work needs to be done. In Skylark farm, Lori and Marty express their love to the outdoors. Their farm business has grown so that they have 5 full time workers and they complain that they spend too much time managing the farm business on the computer than doing outside farm work. Their computer is located in their homes laundry room, and it serves as both the family computer for Facebooking and organizing family photos and as the business computer, and the employees use it to access the many google docs and spreadsheets that Lori and Marty created to manage the farm business.

  • Space

    On the farm vs. off the farm

    Everything we do is happening on the farm: swimming, horseback riding, working, its all here. Our life is the farm and farming is our life. Mitch, Kane Acres

    Another way in which the families in our study divide the spaces is between being on the farm and going away from the farm. On the farm is where they see the core of their life it is where they do field work, animal care, child care, and homesteading activities. It is where they want to be. And when they need to go off the farm, they see it as a disruption that requires special coordination and planning: packing everything they need for the farmers market, planning all the errands in town which is a long drive away, and finishing up tasks in the farm or briefing employees before leaving. They have showed us lengthy to-do lists for organizing leaving the farm.

  • Space

    Structuring spaces and activities to be physically together

    The families put an emphasis on creating spaces so they can do many of their activities physically together. For example, the family at Singalong farm chose to have an on-site CSA where customers come to the farm, instead of selling at the farmers market. They have to deal with customers that come to the farm, some wonder around their house and fields and they have to somehow manage them. At the same time, they say that many of the long-term customers have become good friends with them and they enjoy spending time with them in the CSA shed. Families that homeschool their children also organize their spaces to combine activities that serve different purposes. For example, the family at Halfmoon farm built together this chicken plucker as a science project for the children. Working together in the barn on building the plucker had multiple goals teaching the children scientific principles and technical skills, streamlining the butchering process for the poultry business, and spending time together.

  • Opportunities for Design: Space

    Space can be divided in ways other than home/work

    Importance of extended local community

    Reconceptualization of private/public

    Our findings point to a new ways of thinking about designing multiminding technologies: that spaces in everyday life can be divided in different ways other than home and work or school. The families in our study see

    a distinction between being inside and outside, between being on the farm and away from the farm, and between being together and being apart. They value being outside, being on the farm, and being

    together over being inside, away from the farm, and apart from each other, and they structure their activities to be able to spend time together on the farm.

    Trying to make everything happen on the farm also means that there are more people in what we may consider the family private spaces: customers come to the farm to buy produce and meat, neighbors stop by

    without notice, or farm workers who use the family computer and sometimes live and eat with them. This demonstrates a strong sense of a local community, but also blurs the lines between private and public. This

    means that conceptualization of private vs. public may not necessarily be universal across all kinds of families, and that there is room to reconsider what public and private mean in different contexts.

  • Time

    Structural and natural rhythms

    We also looked at multiminding practices from the perspective of time. All of the families adhere to what we call structural rhythms temporal patterns that are governed by social and organizational structures such as school, religion, and markets. We see this in their ways of using calendars, which are similar to previous findings of family coordination. Here IFM is the Ithaca Farmers Market, an important day of the week that the entire family takes part in by preparing, selling at the market, and then breaking down and unpacking. There are also doctors appointments, school events, birthdays, and so on. But what struck us was the importance of natural temporal rhythms, dictated by natural forces like seasons and weather, and by growth of plants, animals, and children. At Kane Acres, Mitch uses to-do lists, and he prioritizes them by what needs to happen right now vs. what is seasonal. At Oak Ridge farm, Tony had to leave the interview to go cover the plants because there was a forecast of night frost.

  • Time

    Structural and natural rhythms

    We breed our sheep late so that the lambs are born really late, like April or May. So then our lambing chores don't really start until the weather starts to get better. Julie, Foxtail Farm

    Furthermore, a lot of efforts go into synchronizing the natural and structural rhythms. The family in Foxtail farm are homeschooling their children. Their primary farm business is sheep for fiber. They deliberately breed their sheep later than other sheep farmers, and changed their homeschool year to start early in August and finish in early May when the lambs are born so the children can help out when it gets very busy on th