Amber Case – Calm Technology


alright good morning how are you? Are you awake? Do you have enough coffee? hi my name’s amber case i am now a fellow at the Harvard Berkman client Klein center of Internet and Society because it’s academia the names get really long and i’m also doing some research over at MIT Media Lab Civic Media Group which I just get to research now which is fantastic so i’m going to talk to you today about Calm Technology especially this quote that I don’t know how many of you have heard of 50 billion devices will be online by 2020 how many of you have heard this quote for a couple of years there were conferences where every single person would talk with this exact same quote and it was always about this future in 2020 in which we will have solved all of these problems because we’ll have more technology and we’ll have more devices and at that point we’ll have this utopia but we’ve said this for the last hundred years and hundred years before that one day we will have things that will be really great because will solve all these problems and really every time I see one of these quotes i say does this actually sound good let’s look at where it could go wrong because we’re already living in an environment that technology we know hasn’t solved everything so consider the different things like when you get the smartwatch and it has the exact same alerts on your SmartWatch as you did on your phone you have to manually disconnect all of them and now you get two amounts of beeps because you haven’t entirely disconnected all of them or when you try to turn your phone to do not disturb you still get lots of updates from all the different applications when in reality you should turn your phone into airplane mode but then you can’t get any notifications or the smart fridge that UGH there are so many companies that they’re like okay we’re going to make this smart fridge like what why do I need a smart fridge like and what does it do it will lock you out if you’ve eaten too many calories all right well maybe I ate too many calories because i had a bunch of friends over because it was Thanksgiving like we’re supposed to eat more calories on that or the idea that you would have a fingerprint that would like have you opened the fridge the issue is when you’re cooking in your hands are completely messy you can’t open the fridge anymore or or the idea that you have to have a payment plan and somebody has to come by your house and and set it up for you manually or the idea that recently happened where a bunch of hackers took over a bunch of smart fridges made a botnet and made the bot-net DDOS some government websites which I ❤️ that idea also people who keep their default pass codes on everything so I’m part of a hackerspace and one of the things we do on like a thursday night is let’s see what’s insecure out there so we’ll find webcams oh the passcodes 1234 okay one two three four hey look a webcam it’s a cat this is great sometimes we see more disturbing things i won’t go into that what happens when you put all this together you have the smart fridge that’s written in one programming language by a different team you have a SmartWatch what’s written in its own programming language which has its own beeping alert cycle and its own battery that you have to charge you get what i call the dystopian kitchen of the future everything says something to you everything has a different update cycle everything has a security patch that you need to download and already you have a pretty poor connection to Wi-Fi and now all this stuff is taking up bandwidth there’s a reason why people by mid-century modern fridges and kitchens because it’s designed as physical buttons you can press them you can figure out where they go and it just requires one plug you know how don’t have to connect it to the network or connect it to your phone over bluetooth so that your oven can speak to you and tell you how to cook something absolutely pointless so we live in this era of interruptive technology how many of you deal with a phantom ringtone in your pocket and freak out if their phones not there or get interrupted and alerted and get completely distracted or sit there on your phone for half an hour and then don’t know what you really did on your phone for a half an hour but know that you wasted a bit of time there and then have shoulder problems so we have a server interruptive technology we need the opposite what’s the opposite well the opposite I call a calm technology that makes you calm and human now this is not my phrase and actually I found it from these two guys at xerox parc and if you don’t know what Xerox PARC is it’s this division of a printer company called xerox that gave us modern user interfaces it gave us it gave us weird sounds it gave us ethernet it gave us all these different pieces of technology that we use today and I was wondering while I was writing my thesis on mobile phones in college hmm there’s going to be more stuff out there and I found these research papers made by these guys and one of them was called the coming age of calm technology and they said at some point in the past we had many people to one giant computer and then we had a few people to a computer and then we started to have a computer person and now we have many devices to one person how is that going to change our attention span how is that going to change how we design technology in reality we’re designing things for desktop and a desktop environment you pay all of your attention to the screen you have peripheral things that can go on but they’re not going to distract you with a mobile technology you are trying to focus on it as if it’s a desktop computer while you’re driving in your primary focus on driving is paying attention to the road and so it causes these accidents we’re designing these technologies as if we were sitting in front of them giving them all of our attention in reality they make horrible horrible use of our attention and that that makes us annoyed that makes us stressed out that makes us forget to sleep at night that makes us stay up really late that inhibits melatonin production in the brain so we actually have what the Singaporeans called junk sleep when you’re operating system that and shut down properly before you go to sleep and you wake up and you’re groggy and feel horrible so one of the quotes that I like from marc weiszer is a good tools invisible it’s invisible by invisible it’s not it doesn’t exist it just means that it doesn’t intrude on your cautiousness you focus on the task not the tool for instance a hammer or a book a book is the best first vr because you sit there and when the interface is good enough you dissolve into it and you hallucinate all of these things it makes the best use of our brain’s capacity to think and it also makes the best use of a person’s capacity to kind of take themselves out and then distribute themselves over a bunch of generations because you can kind of put yourself into a book it’s a very stable archive it can last for hundreds of or even thousands of years and you can spill coffee on it still works you don’t have to plug it in and you don’t have to worry about up updating the operating system i really liked books as a piece of technology because of this and text the pretty good interfaces as long as you have a good writer so let’s talk about designing Calm Technology so one of the things that wiser said wiser and John Seely Brown were working in the eighties and nineties at xerox part and wiser said that we’re going to have a world full of pads tabs and boards this is a board and the pads and the tablets other things in your pockets basically at this point so they were really pressing about this but then they realized the more devices they had the less attention they had and that the scarce resource in the 21st century wasn’t going to be our devices it was going to be our attention how could we make technology that that conserve our attention and made sure it was ok so a few points about this um technology shouldn’t require all of our attention just some of it and only when necessary and in the coming age of Calm Technology the example that was given for this is atl so a teakettle you said it you forget it it calls to you when it’s done you can go into another room you can come back and it tells right this is a pretty simple piece of technology we use it all the time we don’t even notice it we click it on in the morning in you don’t get to your technology to empower the periphery so we have really high resolution attention here and then we have lower resolution attention lower-resolution attention and we have the sense of touch we have the sense of hearing where we can here behind us technically we can see behind us with our ears we can taste things we have all these different senses yet a lot of our technology works by using that by basically just using our visual sense we don’t need all that we can have ambient lights we can have buzzers we can have sounds we can have all these different things we have much more of an alphabet of senses that we can make use of and yet we only use a little bit of it and a lot of these technologies that try to tell us information and take us out of our everyday environment take us out of being human forces to look at this screen they don’t really need to do that they can just give us an alert in a different way so this is this is this this is still example but this is the LUMO back smart posture sensor so it’s something you wear around your back your back and will notice when you slouch and it will buzz you and then you like stand up straight again so a lot of people use this who habitually slouch in front of computer and they feel a lot better but this is uses the sense of touch so I had an employee once that got an insulin pump installed and he was really excited he said I’m a cyborg now! I have an insulin pump and when we were doing a meeting i heard a beep and I said oh my gosh your insulin pump is beeping and he said this is incredibly embarrassing i can’t turn off the beep it’s beeping in funerals it’s beeping weddings it’s beeping and feeders it’s it’s really bad you know and and I said why does not allow you to turn it off it should bus a buzz is a really good thing for a personal alert that nobody else needs it here a lot of people leave their Microsoft Outlook sounds on it’s like them do you can hear when they get email you shouldn’t be hearing when other people get email you shouldn’t even be hearing when you get an email maybe you can feel a buzz or something like that but that’s awful so I walk into these offices and instead of like the scene people drinking smoking cigarettes it’s just all these outlook notifications popping up all the time no one knows how to turn it off and this is this is really it’s really a big issue because those are supposed to be personal sounds and so the insulin pump could have made it better if they allows you to change the sound if you’re a caretaker you need to hear the person you’re taking care of sound so the insulin pump should have a sound but if you’re of the person or an insulin pump and you don’t want everybody to know that you have diabetes or that you need insulin you should be able to make it a buzz or some different kind of alert so that you don’t get embarrassed and as we get more and more of our technology into medical systems and every single part of our life how are we supposed to deal with it if we can’t change the sound another example is as houses in the states have you know these giant houses and then then that you have these basements with these giant washing and drying machines right and they’re sitting down there and when they go off they are really loud these buzzers are incredibly noisy so that somebody can hear it in a 3,000 square-foot house and the issue about that is when you move into a smaller apartment you want something that’s incredibly quiet the quietness of appliance becomes really important how many of you have gone into a bathroom and had those stupid air dryers that are incredibly loud and they just hurt your ears there’s a better way to do that plus that was all the germs around it’s awful but that aside that the the quietness becomes really important as we live in smaller smaller spaces and as we have more and more of this technology together there are nurses and doctors that have alert fatigue now because they’re getting so many beeps and alerts all of them blend together it’s like the devices crying wolf all the time we don’t even believe that they’re important anymore it’s like looking at advertising on a screen and you just ignore all the time so technology should be able to inform you while keeping you call here’s an example of my old kitchen has a hue Phillips Hue lightbulb in it that’s connected to a weather api and the weather api changes the color of the bulb based on what the weather is going to be so I wake up in the morning walk into my kitchen and I can feel by the light color what the weather is going to be if it’s going to be really rainy it’s dark blue if it’s going to be light rainy it will be light blue if it’s overcast will be white if it’s sunny it will be yellow if it’s really really hot and sunny it will be deep red and then if I want to I can go to the ipad on the wall and actually see the information but this is a contrast to a lot of videos that you might see from big companies that say you know there’s this there’s this perfect person who lives in san francisco in a condo and he lives alone and speaks with the perfect San Francisco accents of course every single piece of technology understands him on the first try when he speaks to it but then he wakes up in the morning and then that the computer voice says hello Dave good morning you have these three appointments today can I also get you a coffee and he’s like yes and then that deploys the delivery person who we don’t really care about because there are different class status right and they’re going to give you the coffee we have an automated that part yet and then they give you the coffee and he’s great and he spends his entire day alone but then he goes on a date and presumably the date goes well and what they never show you is the next day I was the next day the person sleeps over and they get welcome up by his system that says hello Dave you have a you have a tonsillitis appointments and you also haven’t this this other issue with a toe fungus you know you got it you have to deal with this and in the person that he brought home like interesting I ok this is a there’s this issue where it works if you’re in this enclosed space in films where you have 40 takes for a shot but it doesn’t work in real life because why would you need that information when you wake up who wants to blasted with a computer voice that’s why we have voice-activated applications like Alexa in the kitchen so that we can walk into the kitchen after we’re awake after we’ve said in bed for three hours reading the news on our phone and then we can go in and then we can decide what we want to do or add something to a list technology should amplify the best of technology the best of humanity the biggest thing that annoys me is when people say technology can do all the job of a human i love an example of the San Francisco entrepreneur I’m being really mean to san francisco i have a lot of friends in San Francisco it’s okay but there’s this this entrepreneur and he’s never taken a public transit system before and he tells this person on the radio says hey I want to automate everything so you should be able to go into the train station and have your digital pass on your phone would be fantastic and then you can just go through and then you don’t need any of the information booth attendance and in the interviewer said okay do you want to go downstairs and tell the person that’s information booth that you want to automate her job and he says yes runs downstairs walks up to the woman and says hi I want to automate your job you should be a computer you should be able to do whatever you want and she says I love my job i get to do what i want and and he says but you’re not necessary and and right on cue a couple from another country comes up and they don’t speak the language their phones don’t work on the service because phones access doesn’t work all of the world it’s out of batteries they don’t have the right currency and the vending machine for the tickets is broken and she just you know kind of takes their hands and says it’s gonna be okay I’m going to help you how we’re going to figure out the station together and so hands-on a station map which loads instantly because it’s written on paper and helps them around the station and right then that the guy kind of eats his foot and says oops I kind of understand now not everybody is going to have a fully working battery not everybody’s going to have the same operating system if we do make a system it might work for a little while and then we’re going to have to change it and so they’re always need to be backups we might have credit cards now but we still have cash and we still have checks just because we have a new technology doesn’t mean we have abandoned all the old ones now we just have more choices it’s good engineering to have a redundant backup system so that when something fails it gracefully decays to the next thing so technology that tries to do the job of humans often fails turning humans into computers speaking into the phone tree hello hello hello and trying to have the the computer understand your voice instead of just pressing a button or getting a live person on the phone as we automate more things customer service will become more and more important and user experience will become more and more important but if you have a website that’s so complicated no one knows how to use it you owe it to your users and customers to have somebody there to help them get to the resource they want not help them to use the website help them to get to that resource that they want and then tell your user experience team so you can just put that resource on the front page if you keep getting that question again and again Google is a good example of this because it takes all of the the machine-readable information all these BOTS go around and gather things and then when you search in google it doesn’t tell you the one thing you want it gives you a choice of many things and you as a human do the curation so it’s automating a lot but you at the end are doing that the ten or twenty percent that you as a human or good at which is the context which is whether something is relevant to you based on those votes so search results you know kind of are always in flux and then that makes everything more relevant this is a really nice thing in fact it’s so simple that when people first try to use google they tried to scroll down the page there like there’s nothing on this page what do i do because they were used to these crazy looking indexes that didn’t make any sense this is a good example of taking something that’s invisible making it visible this is the sleep cycle alarm clock you put your phone in airplane mode put it under your pillow that uses the accelerometer to figure out what cycle you are in sleep and then it wakes you up right before your alarm in the proper cycle so that you don’t feel really groggy this is an example of like ninety-eight percent sleep that I got one night I think it was after I was jet-lagged can actually see like the deep sleep and then I i could have naturally woken up at six but then I went back to sleep and then I woke me up and another like light sleep cycle and so I didn’t feel as bad in the morning because oftentimes you just wake up at eight and then you feel horrible but you don’t know why finally technology should communicate but it doesn’t need to speak if you have a robot voice you have to translate that into all the different languages in order to globalize it if you just have a light in the beep you don’t have to translate into any language it’s universal this is why I like one of these projects is called livewire it’s Xerox PARC Natalie JeremlJenko was this artist you said let’s take the network traffic and let’s make this plastic wire noodley thing hanging from the ceiling and have it whir about anytime something interesting is happening and so people would hear this in in the in the background they so what’s going on and they all show up and kind of figure out who’s working on things and they had these active badges that would track where you were in the building and they’d be like Oh Dave’s doing something cool that run down the hall and they all see what he’s working on which was really neat you know it’s kind of ambien attention thing i know some people who do this for their servers that have like red green and blue blinky lights and that kind of just are always turned on to show the status of the server so that everybody can tell just like in Star Trek whether something is okay or not because there’s a red alert and it flashes red if things are bad some of the most successful server administrators and and software teams that I’ve seen have used the system because everybody can see all at once not all getting an alert separately on their phone their ambiently experiencing it the Roomba is really nice because it is happy when it’s done instead of a washer/dryer that goes and it goes that love when it’s done it’s like I’m happy robot that goes da da daaaaa and then when it gets stuck it goes dun dunnnnn it’s so cute you know you can just pick it up and move around be like all silly Roomba and then you know your cat rides around on it and you become a YouTube star because you film it but it’s against a cute object and you don’t have to translate into these different languages because you inherently know what’s going on with the Machine and this thing doesn’t clean floors very well but people like it a lot it’s a circle it doesn’t clean the corners if you have one of these get out vacuum for the corners this is silly so technology should consider social norms when we had the smartphone camera come out remember when you had a flip phone and then suddenly a camera appeared and everyone panicked about privacy it’s the end of privacy now there’s phones on all the camera or there’s cameras on all the phones but now all of you probably have a camera phone in your pocket we’re not freaking out you bring it into the bathroom all the time to play like candy crush not to take photos of people in the stalls but that was what people were afraid of and after a few years we became used to it we said oh it’s totally okay to have a smartphone camera that’s fine but that took a long time first we had the well first we had like the landline phone then we had the cordless phone then we had the cell phone then we had the cellphone with a camera so we’d already had this it was just a slight evolution over time with many years it’s not that humans it’s not the technology is not ready for us it’s the technology is that humans are not usually ready for technology when elevators first came out we had to artificially slow them down because people’s eardrums really hurt and we were not used to the pressure change so it takes awhile for technology to metabolize into human system and when you design your products and you release all of the things at once every single feature you get google glass everyone focuses on the most horrible feature they can think of they’re terrified and the thing just completely destroys itself plus you don’t have your assembly line setup so it’s cheap enough to produce these because you have too many features you can’t stuff all of them in i think they said that with the iphone if you would have tried to do that 20 years ago it would have cost like a trillion dollars to fit all that stuff in and you would have been able to make one but because it too a long time we have little feature by feature at scale we can have this really superhuman device and everybody could have one so the iphone launched from the iphone launched there was this other thing that happened where people encourage people to play and this one app came out that i think is one of the most important apps in history and it was the fart app you would press it and it would make a fart sounds and the reason why this is really important is because it showed you how to use the push feature on the touch display the like UI button and the UI touch library and then the audio library all you had to do as a fourteen-year-old program is a programmer not program was dragged all these objects into Xcode hit compile make a fart noise you’re done and so all these 14 year olds were going on YouTube saying here’s how to make an app it was fantastic vs google glass didn’t really have any of these really amazing exciting apps because it was terrifying you have to pay 1600 dollars to actually get use of this device so by the time the iphone came out with all these apps people built silly stuff and the stories were told through the silliness not through the seriousness the right amount of tech is the amount to solve the problem keep taking take away until there’s nothing left to take away in other words streetlights are great because they’re just these small ambient lights you don’t even notice them you can kind of drive on automatic and then automatically punctuate your drive based on whether it’s a red light or a green light the toilet occupied sign in the bathroom on the plane you can be red green colorblind it’s a pictogram it lights up you can always tell even without your glasses because its large whether the bathroom is occupied or not really really simple stuff hard to design because it’s boring mundane and then it gets used for forty fifty a hundred years and no one notices any more calm technology is boring it’s just like the electricity in your house it’s there when you need it and if it goes away you really notice and the uptime really matters technology should make use of the near and far we had technology on the server side that was really far away from us because we had to go to to these mainframes and like rent time on them and then we’ve got desktops that we’re close to us and everybody had one and then we started to get the web and things were far away from us and now we have mobile where most stuff is away from us yet we’re putting all of our personal data in the cloud we need to have that with us first and then have it shared to other systems for a temporary period of time and tell those systems can give us that data back and let us let us use it again so it should be ours first basically and there’s a lot of issues with this that are too long for this talk but if you process as much as possible in the device itself you don’t hurt the network and when the network goes down and you’re stuck then you still have your your data or if you’re in a self-driving car you can actually get to where you need to go because the data stored locally on how to get to a place so a good design allows people to accomplish their goals in the least amount of steps then called technology allows you to do the same thing but with the least amount of mental cost which is the biggest scarce resource right now persons primary task shouldn’t be computing that should be being human everybody wants to automate everything but you don’t want automatic spending time with your family you don’t want to automate birthday parties you don’t want to automate taking selfies with friends you don’t want to automate a dinner you want to automate eating I mean you do with solent but why if you can eat something really delicious so again that quote the scarce resources 21st century is going to be our attention that technology i wrote this book is on amazon all of the versions of amazon and also Riley will be signing it outside and this is also a website called clamtech.com those principles on it there’s some papers to work in progress as a companion to this so what I’m just trying to do is resurrect these people’s work marc weiszer isn’t with us anymore and when I saw his work i thought it was incredibly important to bring it into the era he was talking about thank you so much

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