Prof Richard Harper

Richard Harper is Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research in Cambridge and co-manages the Socio-Digital Systems group.

Richard is concerned with how to design for 'being human' in an age when human-as-machine type metaphors, deriving from Turing and others, tend to dominate thinking in the area. Trained as a sociologist and with a strong passion for ordinary language philosophy, he has published over 120 papers and recently published his 10th book, Texture: Human expression in the age of communication overload, (MIT Press).

Amongst his prior books is the IEEE award winning The Myth of the Paperless Office (MIT Press,2002), co-authored with Abi Sellen. He is currently working on an edited collection called At Home with Smart Technologies: the future of domestic life (Springer, due Summer 2011).

His work is not only theoretical or sociological, but also includes the design of real and functioning systems, for work and for home settings, for mobile devices and for social networking sites. Numerous patents have derived from his work.

Prior to joining MSR, Richard helped lead various technology innovation and knowledge transfer companies, while in 2000 he was appointed the UK’s first Professor of Socio-Digital Systems, at the University of Surrey, England. It was here he also set up the Digital World Research Centre. Prior to this he was a researcher at Xerox PARC's fifth lab, EuroPARC, in Cambridge. He completed his Phd at Manchester in 1989. He lives in Cambridge with his wife and three troublesome but occasionally delightful children.

In his keynote, Richard will be talking about the following:
The emergence of more visual and interactive techniques for sharing and creating content has led many to propose that our society is moving toward a post-literate age, one where new forms of the visual are increasingly replacing the textual. In this view, the values of a written letter are being replaced by those created through a YouTube video posting; what one gains from reading is being displaced by what one watches. I am not so sure. I want to suggest that the world we are creating is certainly a different one, but one that is above all richer in the ways it allows people to express and articulate themselves. The webs of sociality that people want to create and the manner that they are creating those webs are not best understood through this visual-textual contrast. I will suggest, rather, that this richness can be thought of as a texture, one that binds people in diverse acts of communication. Learning to express, I will argue, is not turning around more visual modes but incorporates these modes alongside other sometimes older but most often textual forms. My arguments will be illustrated with remarks on the fate of a diverse range of communication and content creation technologies, some of which I have been involved in developing.