I'm Jane Gruning, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin's School of Information. In my research, I explore the small but growing overlap in the research areas of human-computer interaction and digital preservation, supported by my excellent committee: Ciaran Trace (chair), Andrew Dillon, Amelia Acker, Clay Spinuzzi, and Siân Lindley.


My goals as a researcher are to contribute to knowledge about human relationships to technology in service of improving technology and the lives of the people who use it. More specifically, I investigate how the integration of computing technology into daily life changes how people live and our relationships to the objects, digital and physical, with which we interact. I do social science research in the field of human-computer interaction, and take a variety of methodological approaches to the study of human relationships to digital objects, including ethnography, structural and textual analysis, discourse analysis, and qualitative interviewing. In my research to date, I have employed these methods to investigate two ways that digital objects function differently from physical objects: in their use and preservation over long periods of time, and in their mediation of relationships between people - which is a primary way that objects become important to people. I bring, however, an unusual perspective to this research area because of my background in digital archives and preservation. Digital archives scholars are concerned with the difficulty of preserving digital materials and the resulting danger of a “digital dark age” in recorded history, in which significant amounts of human knowledge, history, and cultural artifacts could be lost to dangers of bit rot and technological obsolescence. Within digital archivy, the primary approach to this problem is framed in terms of how it can be addressed after the fact as museums, archives, and libraries attempt to collect and preserve digital materials. My approach is instead to address this problem at its root, which is the creators, owners, and users of digital objects and the design of the technologies that they use in the processes of creation, ownership, and use. My research addresses those problems before they start by proposing changes to the design of technology and therefore changing the ways that people interact with computing technology in the first place. These changes will not only contribute to making the digital historical record more vital and robust from the moment of its creation, but will improve everyday computing technologies as well.

Dissertation Research

My dissertation research investigates differences in how people use one type of digital object (e-books) and it’s physical analogue (paper books). Recent research on this subject shows that people who read e-books typically continue to read paper books as well, suggesting that these objects may actually perform distinct functions for their readers despite the fact that they are purported to fulfill the same functions. This usage scenario provides an ideal space in which to examine the perceived differences between those two types of objects. The study I designed for this purpose employs a qualitative multi-method approach, combining a diary study, home tours, and interviews within an activity theory framework to examine twenty-seven people’s uses of digital and physical objects over time. The two broad questions that this research addresses are: 1) In what contexts and for what activities are paper books preferable to e-books (and vice versa), and why? 2) How are the affordances and limitations of each kind of artifact related to the activities that they can (or cannot) support for users? The diary study method addresses these questions by gathering longitudinal data about decisions participants make in acquiring and reading books. I then interview participants in their homes, supplementing the diary data with a discussion of participants’ digital and physical libraries and collection-building practices over longer periods of time. This research not only expands current knowledge about how people use paper and e-books but addresses broader issues as well, using an investigation of books as a lens to understand questions of how the affordances of digital and physical objects influence the possibilities for uses of those objects.

Microsoft Research Internship

In the summer of 2015, I had the pleasure of interning in the Human Experience and Design (HXD) group at Microsoft Research Cambridge with Siân Lindley. We designed and carried out a study to investigate how people share digital and physical objects at home, and found that while sharing physical objects can play an important part in the establishment and maintenance of personal relationships, sharing practices that exist for physical objects are not fully supported for digital objects. Our paper on this study was published in the Proceedings of CHI '16.