For example, a theme in interaction design

Light in the east means day is coming. Although a sunrise can mean much more, such as a fresh start, or hope, it always indicates a day, and it does so without intervention of language, symbolism, or code—no instructions are necessary.

At a crosswalk, a sound signal slowly ticks until the lights change and pedestrians may safely walk. Then it rapidly tocks. This audible code has been installed not just for the blind, but also for those whose attention is somewhere else, fixed on a friend or a phone perhaps. Any set of sounds might work for this purpose, but higher frequencies would carry into neighboring buildings, and lower frequencies would get masked by the rumble of trucks going by. A synthetic voice could command crossers to “Wait! . . . Wait!” but that would be unnecessarily disruptive.[1] A better design would provide a signal clearly audible to those waiting to cross but not audible to others who aren’t at the crosswalk, one that allowed waiting pedestrians to carry on with other activities, like conversation or texting. For even those who don’t push the crosswalk signal’s activation button are subjected to its effects and become involuntary “users” of the experience.

Five friends work their way across the metropolis on crowded transit lines. Along the way, they text one another to negotiate a destination. The outcome will depend on positions of other nearby friends sitting in cafés, where they have checked in using social navigation apps such as FourSquare. The five use the interplay of noise and information to drift gracefully from group to group.

One morning, as you arrive at work, you notice a brand-new sign declaring that parking is to the left. Was someone unable to see the cars parked over there? Perhaps there is someone so steeped in perpetual messages that nothing remains self-evident. Perhaps everything needs applied documentation, as when, to learn another language, you go around the house putting yellow stickies on everything, with strange new names for things you know well.

These examples illustrate a spectrum of mediation. Although each describes a situation that informs, they differ in the degree of instruction, from none for dawn, to adequate and impersonal at the crosswalk, to abundant and personal between texting friends, to superfluous and impersonal at the parking lot. They illustrate how just enough mediation can be helpful without intruding, how even ample mediation can be both helpful and pleasant, but how superfluous mediation reinforces being out of touch with the world.

As explained by philosopher Albert Borgman, some information is about reality; some is for reality, to create it, as plans do; and some gets taken as reality, that is, without referents in unmediated experience.[2]

These examples also illustrate augmentation. Richer, more enjoyable, more empowering, more ubiquitous media become much more difficult to separate from spatial experience. You perceive the world largely through what you can do with it. Today those possibilities have an ever broader spectrum and deeper volume of mediation. Latter-day milieus are mostly found in communications. Having noted the origins of the ambient in notions of cosmological embrace, you might now ask if today’s embrace is by information.

[1] Dan Saffer, Designing for Interaction: Creating Innovative Applications and Devices. (San Francisco: New Riders, 2006).
[2] Albert Borgman, Holding On to Reality: The Nature of Information at the Turn of the Millennium (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999) , 1.