With the advent of ubiquitous computing, interaction design has broadened its object of inquiry into how smart computational artifacts inconspicuously act in people’s everyday live. Following Actor-Network Theory, this research recognizes that artifacts and humans share the capacity of influencing society and meshing with each other, constituting hybrid social actors. From that standpoint, the research offers a triadic structure of hybrid social interaction as a methodological basis to investigate how smart devices adaptively mediate people’s interactions within activities based on relational models of their social context.

Such triadic unit of analysis accounts for the interactions within and between human-nonhuman collectives in the actor-network. The within interactions are those that hold together humans and smart artifacts inside a collective and put forward the collective’s assembled meaning for other actors in the network. The between interactions are those that occur among collectives and characterize the dominant relational model of the actor-network.

In this research, the triadic approach is used to analyze the interactions of participants in empirical studies of social activities with communal goals, each mediated by a smart artifact that enacted – signified – a balanced distribution of obligations and privileges among subjects.

Overall, the studies reveal that actor-networks exhibit a social viscosity that hinders people’s interactions. This is because when people try to collectively accomplish goals, they offer resistance to one another. The studies also show that the intervention of smart artifacts can ameliorate the achievement of cooperative and collaborative interaction between actors when the artifacts enact the dominant moral principles which prompt the preservation of social balance, enhance the network’s information integrity, and are located at the focus of activity.

The theoretical conceptual framework, methods and tools developed in this research are relevant to product and interaction designers, ubiquitous computing and science and technology studies (STS) researchers; as well as practitioners interested in making the interaction between humans and computers smarter, more intuitive and more enjoyable. The outcome of this research is addressed to designers, engineers and urban planners who are responsible for the design of the new generation of computational artifacts that will cohabitate today’s transportation terminals and vehicles, offices, parks, streets, among other social spaces of the constructed world.

November 10, 2012

Last update April 19, 2016