START Conference Manager    

ASIST 2012 Annual Meeting 
Baltimore, MD, October 26-30, 2012 

J.J. Gibson and Marshall McLuhan: A Survey and Terminology and a Proposed Extension of the Theory of Affordances
Heidi Overhill

Monday, 6:30pm


Psychologist James J. Gibson coined the word "affordance" in 1979 to describe the relationship between the abilities of a living creature and features in the environment that afford action for those abilities. An affordance is something that is physically real, but it is defined as an affordance only in relation to a creature. The term is now used in cognitive science, education, design and human-computer interface (HCI). Sometimes it is used in Gibson's original sense, but it has also been applied to broader discussion of social life and cognitive functions, resulting in a certain confusion of terminology. This poster summarizes current uses of the term affordance, and goes further to propose that they could be simplified by using Marshall McLuhan's observation that "media are the extensions of mankind." In this analysis, an object like a cup is an extension of cupped hands because like hands it holds water. Defining some objects as body-extensions makes it clear that the relational quality of an affordance can be modified in two ways: by changing features that are available in the environment, and by changing the body of the user. This analysis simplifies the description of different types of affordance, and offers guidance to designers seeking to generate appropriate interactions with users.