Cognitive Artifacts:Watches and Audio Players

I will describe two kinds of cognitive artifacts in the article, watches and audio players.

As an artifact to tell time, a watch is an evolving product of a clock. A clock is also a kind of cognitive artifact. Time is expressed by symbols (numbers) on the surface of a clock. With a clock, people can read the current time, document the length of time, or calculate the length of time. As the development of time, people invented portable clocks, and made them more and more convenient to use for everyday life. Thus, there came clock watches, pocketwatches, and wristwatches (mechanical watch). Then, people can not only read time by staring at the bell tower or listening to the bell, but also know the time when they were working in the factory and calculate how much time is left if they didin’t want to be late. The first half of the watch development history shows that people have more chances to interact with “time”. Later, electronic watches hit the market. With more functions and more precisely expression of time which applies millisecond as the minimum unit to calculate time, now people can communicate with “time” in more ways. For example, anyone can use it to record running performance, or use it as a alarm, or read time in late midnight without light. Now, the latest version of watch is smart watches, which expand the scope of functions of a watch in a surprising way. The smart watches can corporate with smart phones, so users can not only interact with “time”, but other apps in the smart phones. As Norman says “When the informational and processing structure of the artifact is combined with task and the informational and processing structure of the human, the result is to expand and enhance cognitive capabilities of the total system of human, task, and artifact.”

An audio player has a language or system to process (input and output) the audio signal. With such a player, people can record, review, and play sound. Its supporting symbolic system is sound and music. In earlier times, sound was recorded in different kinds of media, thus there appeared different audio players, like LP players, cassette players, and CD players. The portability and capacity become better and better with the development. Latter, digital audio players came into reality with better portability, larger capacity, higher audio quality, and more extra functions. Thus, people can pleasantly enjoy music and sound in more situations. Now, audio player has become a function of a smart phone. The audio player’s symbolic system has become a small part of the smart phone’s integrated symbolic system. Wherever a user go, wherever the smart phone goes, and wherever the audio player goes, the interaction between the user and audio player is expanded to the largest extend.

Donald A. Norman, “Cognitive Artifacts.” In Designing Interaction, edited by John M. Carroll, 17-38. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press, 1991.
Zölzer Udo, “Digital Audio Signal Processing.” John Wiley and Sons, 1997.