Dissertation Defense: Digital Naturalism: Designing a Digital Media Framework to Support Ethological Exploration

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Andrew Quitmeyer
Digital Media PhD Program
Georgia Institute of Technology

Date: August 4th, 2015
Time: 12pm EST
Location: TSRB Auditorium, Atlanta, Georgia


Principle Advisor: Michael Nitsche
Carl DiSalvo
Ali Mazalek
Stephen Pratt (ASU)
Garnet Hertz (Emily Carr)


This research aims to develop and evaluate a design framework for creating digital devices that support the exploration of animal behaviors in the wild. In order to carry out this work, it both studies ethology’s foundational ideas through literature and also examines the contemporary principles at a rainforest field station through on-site ethnographies, workshops, design projects, and interactive performances.

Based upon these personal and practical investigations, this research then synthesizes a framework to support digital-ethological practice. Finally, this framework is utilized to design additional ethological expeditions and activities in order to assess the framework itself. The resulting framework encourages digital technology that supports four key concepts. Technological Agency pushes for devices that promote understanding of their own internal functions. The tenet of Contextual Crafting leads designers and ethologists to create devices in close proximity to their intended use. Behavioral Immersion promotes visceral interactions between the digital and organismal agents involved. Finally, Open-Endedness challenges researchers to create adaptable tools which strive to generate questions rather than answering them. Overall, this research, referred to as Digital Naturalism, explores a developing design space for computers in the wild.