Driving with ambient media

A lot goes on when you drive a car. Your attention needs to be clear and fixed on the road, your mirrors, and whatever is happening around you. Moreover, the surrounding environment can be hectic with cars honking, traffic, pedestrians. It is a zone of constant, centered attention, and for some can be quite stressful. 

Yet, the car itself is also filled with ambient media. Take the dashboard as an example.  The dash can tell you about the gas level, how many miles per hour you’re driving, whether a door is open… but most of this information is calculated and shown in the background. You can bring bits of information to the center of your attention when you need to access it – say when you enter a zone with a lower mph and have to adjust. Alternatively, the car will bring information to your attention if something is wrong, like when a door has been improperly closed.

Contrasted with the video game example discussed in the Weiser and Brown article, the user experience is entirely different. Rather than balancing ambient or calm media with attention-grabbing media, these games barrage the user with information as a means to keep them engaged, excited and at times, overwhelmed. The car could display information in a way more akin to the video game – showcasing metrics more in your line of sight, or using sound to keep the user more abreast of the state of their car when everything is running smoothly. However, by maintaining this balance, car designers are making a choice about where the driver’s focus should be prioritized – on the road.

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