Looking and Seeing

Quillinan, when asked abut his association with witnessing, makes the distinction between looking and seeing. Seeing refers to having concentrated attention where looking refers to a more general perception of only the barest details of an environment.

If you are looking around in a crowd, you often just see the different heights in the crowd. However, when looking around people seem to pick out familiarities and recognize for example a friend in a crowd. ‘Seeing’ a crowd may involve focusing on each person’s face and identifying how many women and men there are for example. When people look at a computer this distinction is important, argues Quillinan. Often people are looking at a computer but they are not really seeing what they see. Also, even more then seeing one needs understanding when interacting with a computer, Quillinan argues. Human-computer interaction, human interface design is very important for this reason. To understand what the difference is between what one person sees and another person sees is a particular problem for engineers and people who are designing systems. A lot of times when people are building computer systems, they are building it in the way they think it should be done. Even if it is a large organisation and there are defined guidelines for doing things, there is often an institutional memory about how things should be done. This is usually not intuitive for somebody who’s coming at this for the first time.