Calm technology

The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing (UC) era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology.

Designs that encalm and inform meet two human needs not usually met together. Information technology is more often the enemy of calm. Pagers, cellphones, news-services, the World Wide Web, email, TV, and radio bombard us frenetically. Can we really look to technology itself for a solution?

But some technology does lead to true calm and comfort. There is no less technology involved in a comfortable pair of shoes, in a fine writing pen, or in delivering the New York Times on a Sunday morning, than in a home PC. Why is one often enraging, the others frequently encalming? We believe the difference is in how they engage our attention. Calm technology engages both the center and the periphery of our attention, and in fact moves back and forth between the two.

~ Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown from, https://www.johnseelybrown.com/calmtech

Calm technology is designed to be unobtrusive and blend in with daily life. The opposite is technology that is distracting and disruptive, creating agitation and stress.

Calm technology

Never before have I seen, nor imagined, the adjective calm associated with technology. It never occurred to me to question where technology falls on a spectrum of calming to agitating. Mark my words: Calm technology is going to get mentioned by me going forward.

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The open internet lives on

But, there are always tradeoffs. Relying on someone else’s platform is often just much easier. It doesn’t involve having to maintain your own site, and it’s also often where the audience is. The issue with blogs is that you had to attract — and then keep — an audience. Tools like RSS acted as a method for keeping people coming back, but… then Google became the de facto provider of RSS reading tools, and then killed it. To this day, that move is still considered one of the defining moments in the shift from a more distributed, independent web to one that is controlled by a few large companies.

~ Mike Masnick from, https://www.techdirt.com/2022/06/03/the-internet-can-still-be-small-and-nice-but-its-on-all-of-us-to-make-that-work/

My pull quote is really just a small side trail in the article. But I’m quoting it because it reinforces my point (possibly on purpose by the author, possibly by coincidence). Even a maneuver by the giant Google hasn’t killed blogging. Blogging continues. (Hey thanks for reading my blog!) And the same is true for everything else.

Because it all runs on the internet. The walled gardens referred to as social media? …they actually run atop the internet. The current darling-child that is Mastodon? …it uses a protocol called ActivityPub which was invented to enable federated networking of social activity. And ActivityPub runs atop the good ‘ol web… which of course runs on the internet. The true gift is the open internet.

Also: I’m on Mastodon :) just look for @craig@constantine.name to follow this blog, or you can even look for @craig@moversmindset.com to follow the Movers Mindset project.

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Advice

If you stop to listen to a musician or street performer for more than a minute, you owe them a dollar.

There is no such thing as being “on time.” You are either late or you are early. Your choice.

~ Kevin Kelly from, https://kk.org/thetechnium/103-bits-of-advice-i-wish-i-had-known/

Alas, though I’ve provided you a link, it has already rotted. (I lamented this just a few weeks ago too.) You’re welcome to click through, but it leads now to a teaser version of the original piece… and links to the it’s-now-a-book on Amazon. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I’m all for people making money off their own work. It’s just weird to me, because it was only just 5 months ago that I marked that URL for later reading (my read–things–later tool saved me a copy of the page) and yet now it is no more.

Pro-tip: If you have the URL to something (as I’ve given you above) the Internet Archive probably saved you a copy. For example, here’s 103 Bits of Advice… from May, 2022.

As for the specific bits of advice, above I’ve chosen just two to quote. The bit about being late or early is my favorite; The world would be infinitely better off if everyone learned that bit. And the bit about owing money to street musicians is one I learned later in life, but to which I strictly abide; If I stop to listen, I will contribute.

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The sands slip through

“Charles blew a little smoke and said, ‘Build a thousand and if we can’t sell them, we will use them in the store for something,’” Mr. Roach recalled in remarks to the Fort Worth Executive Round Table last month. “We were finally able to ship some machines in September and shipped 5,000 that year, all we could assemble,” Mr. Roach said. “Our competitors shipped none.”

~ Sam Roberts from, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/23/technology/personaltech/john-roach-dead.html

I had no idea who this person was until I saw this. A TRS-80 (the portable model, called a “4P”, so my computer’s name became “Forpy”) was literally the first in our home. We unpacked it Christmas morning and my father had declined to buy any games (which cost extra) for it. I didn’t even notice—I programmed the crap out of that thing. First in ASCII graphics, then added a graphics card so it could—gasp—draw progressively changing, black-and-white ellipses that looked like othello pieces flipping. I even manually coded the optimal tic-tac-toe algorithm so it could actually play. So, just knowing that one of the people who made that possible, is now gone… well, that’s a little sad.

You should go find the TV series Halt and Catch Fire.

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*Throws down controller*

That’s the thing about aggregation: one can understand how it works, and yet be powerless to resist its incentives. It seems foolhardy to think that this might be true for economics and not true for ideas, even — especially! — if we are sure they are correct.

~ Ben Thompson from, https://stratechery.com/2022/the-current-thing/

Sometimes I read things on the Internet and I want to throw my keyboard (my title is a reference to 1980s console games where one might get furious, and rage-quit by throwing the game’s controller.) Partly, my urge to rage-quit is from exasperation that Thompson keeps cranking out these great articles (and his podcasts Dithering and Exponent and this other thing he did that is awesome but you wouldn’t understand because I can’t explain it well) while I’m over here plinking away writing snarky blog posts when I should be earning a living.

But also because of the point of the article which is found in my pull-quote of the entire final paragraph.

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This I hope for you

This simplicity was disorienting in a way. Many times a day I would finish whatever activity I was doing, and realize there was nothing to do but consciously choose another activity and then do that. This is how I made my first bombshell discovery: I take out my phone every time I finish doing basically anything, knowing there will be new emails or mentions or some other dopaminergic prize to collect. I have been inserting an open-ended period of pointless dithering after every intentional task.

~ David Cain from, https://www.raptitude.com/2022/02/what-i-learned-during-my-three-days-offline/

It is still uncommon for me to be without my phone. I have to admit that sometimes I carry it simply because I have a flat pince-nez stuck to the back of my phone. Recently it’s dawned on me that I have another, identical pair in a tiny flat case not stuck to my phone and I sometimes just carry those and not my phone. Regardless, you’ll never see me whip out my phone—unless we have a question, what’s the weather, where’s the nearest…, and so on. It’s a tool I sometimes use, like shoes.

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May break the Internet

If Earth were to shift to even longer days, we may need to incorporate a “negative leap second”—this would be unprecedented, and may break the internet.

~ Matt King and Christopher Watson from, https://phys.org/news/2022-08-length-earth-days-mysteriously-scientists.html

The use of the phrase “may break the internet” made me smile. It’s not irony, and it’s serious. I do not want to think about what would happen if they inserted a negative leap second; The forward sort are bad enough, and don’t get me started on Daylight Savings Time. I digress.

This is a refreshingly clear, popular-science level article that covers the myriad reasons there is such variability in the exact amount of time it takes our magic marble to whirl precisely once around its axis. The very first thing most people never think of is how do we even precisely decide what “one rotation” is. (Hint: Astronomy.)

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Together

It’s an endless list of little things that you think you’ve forgotten, but you haven’t. You are quite literally built to sense an infinite amount of subtle bits of signal from your fellow humans. We were not built to live alone in caves; we were built to live together in them.

~ “Rands” from, https://randsinrepose.com/archives/what-we-lost/

As the “online interaction” soared in recent years, I’ve gradually moved away from feeling grumpy about the quality of (for example), video calls online. Through that time I continued to enjoy in-person interaction as much as I ever did, and I had already spent years massively reducing the frequency of those. My feeling is that all the online interaction has expanded—not replaced, nor “attempted to replace” nor anything negative like that—my human interaction. I’ve had multiple conversations with people from other continents I’d never had been able to meet in person.

I’m not suggesting “Rands” has it wrong. No, he has it quite right. I’m simply pointing out that these sense-limited interactions can be an enormous positive addition when we don’t think of them as replacing normal human interactions.

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Pet peeve #7

Web pages which neglect to include two of the most important pieces of information: Who and When. Yes, all web pages. Thou shalt always list the author. (“Anonymous” is a legitimate answer to, “who?’) Thou shalt always list at least a general composition/publication date. Online, it is already difficult to place things into context. Having a Who and When gives that many more clues to place things into context.

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Three dots

Let me be clear that no part of me idealizes the bygone agony of waiting three weeks for a letter from your lover to cross the Atlantic—a letter that might never arrive from a lover who might be dead by the time it does arrive. But let me also be clear that, in another century or two, if humanity is wise enough to survive and reconsider its compulsions, posterity will look back on us gobsmacked that we put ourselves through the agony of the three pulsating dots.

~ Maria Popova

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