Tired of twitching? The technology of our times demands our attention. Texts, emails, tweets, social networks, etc. need to be checked. And like Pavlov, we respond to every ringtone, beep and chirp.
With ubiquitous connectivity and access to devices, the only escape is the off switch. The losses – in concentrated thinking, privacy and peace are so big we often miss them. Our real lives become background.
With this in mind, I started to think about ambient technology, and the possibility that we might have technology that doesn’t throw tantrums if we don’t pay attention to it. I actually googled the phrase, which started an interesting journey though globes that glow to show us, almost subliminally, whether we really need to check our stocks or if they are doing just fine without us. And an umbrella that, like Tolkien’s elvish swords that glow when orcs are near, turns on a blue light to warn us precipitation is expected and, maybe, an umbrella would be useful.
My journey took me to Weiser and Brown’s “The Coming Age of Calm Technology,” a brilliant article that in 1996, foresaw our world of ubiquitous computing and stated, “If computers are everywhere, they better stay out of our way.” Unfortunately, they don’t. If your nervous system behaved like your computing environment, you’d go mad. Our minds only attend to a fraction of sensory input, while remaining on guard for hints in our in environment that we need to focus on. Like predators.
Texts, emails, tweets, social networks, etc. do not equal predators. Somebody needs to let our PC, laptops, smartphones, iWhatevers and the other tools we carry around know this. Calm computing. I like it. This takes ease-of-use (a highly neglected practice) to the next level. If we can create a new nervous system for our information environment, we can make our times less anxious and, perhaps, hear ourselves think.
Communications would seem to be a good place to start, but the model is challenging. Money, especially advertising, pushes things in the other direction, with more shouting, distraction and enticement working its way into our communications every day. I think there may be a payoff in the area of health, and I’ll discuss that in part 2.