Fishkin’s Taxonomy and the Rain Room

One UI that I wondered about (and struggled with how to characterize), is that of the Rain Room. The Rain Room is an embodied, immersive art exhibit that allows a visitor to enter a room and be surrounded by falling water, without getting wet. The room itself responds to the presence of humans and adjusts the rainfall accordingly, so that each human has a small envelope within which they can stand and not be caught “in the rain.”


When reading Fishkin, the Rain Room seemed initially like an example of calm computing. My main rationale for classifying it this way was because the human participants don’t use their hands for controlling the rain—something Fishkin emphasizes as one of the requirements of a TUI rather than calm computing. However, there are many TUIs that do not rely on the hands for the input (someone else’s example of Dance, Dance Revolution comes to mind, where input comes from participants’ feet, mainly). Thus, classification of the Rain Room seemed somewhat problematic: the human participants do control the rain, in the sense that their physical motion is the input that the computer system detects, to then alter output accordingly. However, they do not control the rain with their hands, which seems to be a requirement. Yet, all of Fishkin’s examples of calm computing seem to revolve around systems that do not take any kind of direct input from humans, and the Rain Room most definitely does. If it were an example of calm computing, I would posit that it fits into the “nearby” category of embodiment (which Fishkin couldn’t find offer an example of), and perhaps the verb level of metaphor (after all, moving to avoid the rain in the rain room is like avoiding the rain in real life). Yet, in some ways it seems like “full” metaphor to me, because there is none. To avoid the rain in the Rain Room is to avoid the rain. You are physically being acted upon, experiencing the computers output, in the same manner as in real life.

However, in the end this doesn’t seem to me to fit clearly into any of the taxonomical categories—I would suggest modifying the taxonomy to include a broader definition of input than just hand manipulation, so that the Rain Room could be classified as a TUI rather than calm computing. Much like some of the other students mentioned, it might be helpful for us to discuss more deeply where to draw the line between “what is a TUI” and “what isn’t a TUI,” especially as our computing devices rely more and more on physical manipulation to accomplish our goals.