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Amber Case on Modern UIs and the Importance of Calm Technology

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This is the Engineering Culture Podcast, from the people behind InfoQ.com and the QCon conferences.

In this podcast recorded at QCon San Francisco 2016, Shane Hastie, InfoQ Lead Editor for Culture & Methods, spoke to Amber Case, Cyborg Anthropologist.

Case explains why VR is an important step along the way to Augmented Reality, how technology needs to fit in with social norms, and why calm technology is so important.

Key Takeaways

  • We are all cyborgs now
  • There is a clear sequence for a technology to be accepted in society, and trying to leapfrog the steps results in failure
  • The value of calm technology to overcome the shock of so many devices competing for our attention in different ways
  • The importance of security and safety in the always connected technology world
  • The risks, downfalls and benefits of technology in human lives

Show Notes

0m:35s - A quick history and look at the future of virtual reality and augmented reality

0m:45s - The value of playing with VR/AR systems

0m:55s - The importance of taking a different approach to building applications for VR/AR compared to laptops/mobile devices

1m:05s - The reasons why we don’t yet have widely available augmented reality systems

1m:40s - Starting with VR to create new experiences and use them to learn about the potential of the new technologies

2m:00s - The importance of starting with a technology that fits in with the current social norms and expand slowly into new frontiers

2m:10s - The hype and excitement around AR made us forget the normal order – get VR working well first then move on to AR

2m:55s - The value of games as a way to socialise the new technologies

3m:10s - Amber’s background

3m:20s - TED talk – We Are All Cyborgs Now

3m:35s - Tools were physical extensions of ourselves – now they are extensions of our mental selves

3m:55s - How do we handle our attention when there are so many devices which demand it?

4m:00s - The amplification effects of technology

4m:25s - Identifying new ways to build websites and fun ways to code again

4m:40s - Young people not learning to program and have fun; they are learning to use social media which gives you a “templated self”

5m:00s - Amber’s book on Calm Technology

5m:20s - Smart phones are “weird devices” which need constant attention, soothing and responding to

5m:40s - Inspired by work by Mark Wiser, Rich Gould & John Sealy-Brown at Xerox Parc

6m:25s - Mark Wieserm: the scarcest technology in the 21st century will be our attention

6m:30s - Creating devices to give information without taking people out of the task at hand

6m:35s - Creating devices to let people be human, rather than being constantly interrupted, will make or break our use of technology in the coming era

6m:50s - Paper – the coming age of calm technology

7m:00s - Paper – the world is not a desktop

7m:25s - We can’t use a phone while driving because it takes our attention away from the primary activity

7m:40s - Bandwidth concerns – connectivity is not ubiquitous

8m:27s - Internet of Things connected devices are quite insecure

9m:12s - Anything with a connection can be hacked

9m:22s - When something is hacked or fails, does it revert to a safe, reasonable state or is it in a potentially dangerous condition?

9m:30s - Example of the Pet Net automated pet feeder

10m:15s - The fantasy that “at some point in the future” all the problems will be sorted out

10m:30s - Things we do and don’t want to automate

10m:40s - The risk with automation of getting stuck in the system and having a bad experience

10m:50s - The more automation a service/product has, the more important customer service becomes- example of Bank Simple

11m:30s - The idea behind calm technology is not about smarter technology, it is about using the technology to make smarter humans

11m:45s - Examples of calm technology in action – tea kettle that lets us know the water has boiled by whistling, a light which changes colour based on the weather condition, the Roomba which uses tones to indicate status

12m:10s - Influenced by design – take things away until there is nothing left to remove

12m:20 s - Respect social norms; the reason Google Glass failed

12m:40s - Some principles to help make sure you don’t create a product which doesn’t annoy everybody

13m:00s - The cultural impact of these types of changes

13m:30s - Contrasting the design and use of the landline phone with the mobile phone

14m:40s - The implications of handheld devices that are in your hands and on your person all the time

15m:10s - Relationships getting mediated by the phone

15m:25s - The addiction to the content, not the device. The content makes money by advertising

15m:50s - Technology also brings people together who would otherwise not be able to connect, and being part of different communities

16m:12s - The coming social class divide between good interfaces which will be reserved for people who can pay for them, and the bad ones will be what you get if you can’t pay a lot

16m:40s - The need to replace devices constantly because they can’t run the latest app is a failure of our whole industry

17m:10s - The value of space and bandwidth limits and constraints which drove innovation in interfaces

17m:55s - Technology is a wreck; complexity piled on complexity and served through the cloud will result in lots of pain

18m:15s - Ways to prevent the wreck – use the least amount of code, avoid complexity, keep things simple and be lean. Referencing Steve Wozniak

18m:55s - Bring people from diverse industries and backgrounds to work on the technology together

19m:05s - If we don’t have enough weirdness, we’re going to get in trouble

19m:12s - Respond to security warnings in your product – appreciate the security experts’ views

19m:30s - The most likely situation will be Titanic effects – a disaster will happen and the industry will be forced to respond and change the way things are done

20m:25s - Example of Advil which got poisoned and that resulted in tamper-proof caps [Edit – the product was actually Tylenol]

20m:40s - The tempo of emergencies forces people to address standards and protections

20m:55s - It will probably take a catastrophe to cause society to insist that security, safety and protections get built into our technology

22m:00s - We don’t need every device to be connected. We can see for ourselves when the bananas in the fridge are going bad, we don’t need the fridge to do so for us

22m:25s - The pointlessness of (for example) smart crock-pots

22m:33s - You shouldn’t have to be a system administrator to live in your own home

22m:45 - Example of useful connected devicem: Schlage Bluetooth enabled lock that lets you change the entry code remotely

23m:10s - Examples of why using your phone to open the door is not a sensible use case

23m:40s - Recounting a discussion with Don Norman which exposed many of the shortcomings

24m:35s - The number of devices which are no longer accessible because the manufacturer has gone out of business

25m:05s - If you’re going to have tech which works with your life it should have a yearlong battery life, the simplest display and actually get something done that’s useful to you; otherwise it’s just a toy

25m:26s - Defining cyborg anthropology, and where the field came from

27m:10s - Definition of a cyborg – attaching external components to a human to adapt to new spaces. Our phones are components which are almost constantly attached to us today

27m:35s - Cyborg anthropology examines how people are changing because of the use of the technologies they attach to themselves

28m:13s - Referencing Present Shock by Douglas Rushkoff

29m:10s - The difference between how society used to make our own stuff and entertainment, and today we rent or consume it

29m:40s - Self-driving cars will be great – for advertising revenue

29m:55s - The switch from creating to consuming ends up making a lot of people depressed

30m:25s - The difference between your low moments and the high moments when experiences are posted on social media (Facebook especially)

31m:10s - The impact of blue light causing poor sleep quality and preventing “mental defragmentation”

32m:20s - Step away from the computer, and have a very specific goal when using it

32m:45s - Contact information @caseorganic case@caseorganic.com caseorganic.com

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