Librarians and archivists have embraced innovative technologies in providing users a way to engage with collections. This engagement is increased through various forms of social media “sharing,” which broadens cultural institutions' visibility to new or remote users. While we make strides in designing new ways to access digital collections, the question remains: what are users losing in sensory (sight, touch, sound, smell) and emotional experience at the digital level? A phenomenological approach consisting of observation and semi-structured interviews was used to investigate user experience with physical objects and their digital surrogates. Students, faculty, and staff from a large academic institution were grouped into two sets—ages eighteen to twenty-nine representing digital natives and ages thirty to sixty representing digital immigrants. The analysis was based on twenty interviews and forty video recordings, and observation notes. Using attributes associated with sensual, emotional, spatio-temporal, and numinous qualities, findings suggest users experienced little difference between the two and simple three-dimensional physical objects and their digital surrogates. However, certain physical elements from the highly complex three-dimensional object did not translate well in the digital environment. Depth, size, texture, and interactive complexities of this physical object was perceived differently in its physical form than in its digital—intrinsic information that could provide additional knowledge about the creator's meaning and intent or purpose of construction. Users overall spent more time with the textual context of digital objects than the physical objects. However, users experienced a high level of engagement with the complex physical objects based on their interest level or emotional attachment and less on supporting documents. Lastly, numinous qualities were experienced only at the physical level.
Varnalis-Weigle, Anastasia S.
"A Comparative Study of User Experience between Physical Objects and Their Digital Surrogates,"
Journal of Contemporary Archival Studies: Vol. 3, Article 3.
Available at: https://elischolar.library.yale.edu/jcas/vol3/iss1/3