While digging through some citations for my book, I found this wonderful quote from Cameron Tonkinwise at CMU about affordances and their tendency toward future thinking:
“An affordance is an ‘actual possibility’, a ‘promised action opportunity.’ Affordances are the result of interactional perceptions, seeing not just a feature, but a future way of making use of that feature. The key to understanding an affordance is to realise its utterly unsemiotic nature; affordances are the opposite of digital communications needing decoding. If they are communications, they are direct communications, without mediation, communications, as it were, between things and my body without the involvement of my mind. I do not see a shape, but a handle, or rather a ‘handlable’; I see myself handling that shape; or more precisely, my hand sees that handlable, reaching out for it before I have even really ‘seen’ it (as if I were something other than my hand).” (Tonkinwise, Cameron. “Knowing by Being-There Making: Explicating the Tacit Post-Subject in Use.” Studies in Material Thinking 1.2 (2008)
It seems to me that Cameron is suggesting that affordances are a sort of forced abductive thinking: the perceiver must interpret possibilities for action and thus consciously shape a future state. This passage is a fantastic example of the blending of ecological and perceptual psychology with phenomenology.
I’m curious to hear others’ thoughts on it. Are affordances really a “direct communication…between things and my body without the involvement of my mind?” Does the perception of affordances always result in future thinking? What are the implications of the idea that we perceive action and potentiality (what it does) before the metaphysical properties of a thing (what it is) with regard to interaction design? Are affordances the answer to the old question of whether “everyone designs?”
These are all things the book tries to cover, but I’m interested in what other practitioners think.