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Friday, December 17, 2004Red Herring writes about The future of sociability.
Efficiency and sociability aren't polar opposites. Efficiency can be enable sociability, by making a device easier to use or an interface simpler. We've all had the experience of having technologies sometimes get in the way of communication-- think of bad phone connections, or devices that distract you from the person you're talking to. But in these cases, efficiency is a means to a new end, not an end in itself. This pattern of more efficient designs helping trigger a technology's move from efficiency to sociability is something we've seen repeatedly in the last twenty years. It happened with the cell phone, which shifted from an emblem of high-powered businessmen, to a pocket-sized accessory for teenagers. The personal computer's primary raison d'etre used to be its utility for managing household finances or writing papers; it hasn't shed those functions, but for many users, e-mail and instant messaging are the first uses of computers that come to find.
Are there technologies currently used in efficiency contexts that are likely to be reinvented as sociability tools in the future? Definitely. MEMS sensors, which currently are used mainly in high-stress applications like airbag accelerometers, are starting to be used to enable tangible interfaces, in which users gesture or move to control a device or initiate an action. RFID, which thanks to Wal-Mart and the Department of Defense is today's Hot Disruptive Technology, is already starting to appear in toys and games. One thing that's new about these and other cases, though, is that they really enable two kinds of sociability: sociability between people (which is what the telephone and writing were about); and sociability between devices. Books don't talk to each other, except metaphorically; but devices with embedded intelligence and sensory capability can, and will. |
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