For Professor Bonnie Nardi, the question is not whether societies around the globe will face challenges like declining oil reserves, air pollution, soil degradation and civil unrest. Instead, the real issue is what kinds of digital technology will be pertinent and necessary to help address these challenges. “We foresee a graceful scaling down of how we live,” Professor Nardi says. “As we head for a future in which resources are less abundant, we need to rethink what quality of life means.” Her work does just that, examining the role technology will play as we transition to sustainable environmental and economic practices in which waste is no longer an option.
How Less Becomes More
In a future of diminished resources, Professor Nardi sees growing opportunity. “Digital technology can make our society a more resilient, more localized and nourishing place,” she says. Among its advantages: enabling people to spend more time on arts, education and healthful activities like gardening and walking. “It’s exciting to think about using our technical capacities for the enhancement of life,” she says. “Informatics is the only discipline that makes this possible by bringing together the study of technology, society and the design of computational artifacts.”
The Games People Play
Another key focus of Professor Nardi’s work is video gaming — which, she points out, has a unique ability to provide robust social and cognitive stimulation. “Gaming encourages people from all walks of life to get to know one another and reduces the use of fossil fuels necessary to meet in person, since people often play from home or, in many countries, in neighborhood Internet cafes,” she observes. Today, video gaming is expanding to areas like education and health. “Gaming has become a huge industry,” Professor Nardi says. “But it is also generating new applications that go well beyond entertainment, with enormous potential to enrich our everyday lives.”