Isolation is a leading symptom of depression. Our world is full of systems to keep us focused on different tasks and different times; we are becoming virtually isolated and hence more depressed.
This multi-system isolation is leading to a new form of loneliness and emerging forms of anxiety and extreme group think in our cultural narrative.
From the ice bucket challenge to the social justice campaigns of the past 36 months, we are slowly becoming temporally indifferent unless our feelings or values are “trending.”
Our culture is borrowing so much of it’s day to day values from real-time internet, that it has become increasingly difficult to operate with individuals in meatspace. Waiting in lines, avoiding eye contact at registers, glancing hopelessly at any moving screen we can find.
It’s time to talk about designing systems that allow us to be still, reflect and grant us perspective.
At the heart of this technological revolution, we have a brain firmly rooted in an evolutionary response that is still grappling with the shift from a hunter-gatherer society to one that is firmly in the middle of an agrarian society. We have yet to embrace the 200-year industrial mainstreaming we have awoken into.
The tools and systems prior to the industrial revolution evolved with us, in a slow, methodical pace, barely distinguishable from our own society. Plows adapted from human only propulsion to animal assisted. Hammers evolved from wooden tacks through to steel nails. Small town moved into larger villages, rivers into transportation systems. Our minds are accustomed to growing with tools, in a time sensitive reciprocal relationship.
Modernity though has no regard for time outside of nostalgia marketing. The 21st century times dictate to us our relationship with time through chronos, the Greek term for chronological time. Chronos is the ordered time we all experience. A minute follows another minute. A day after a day. Add enough days together in order and you arrive at one month. Math, it seems, has a polyamorous relationship with time and judgment.
The Greeks had another way of measuring time, kairos. Kairos is the opportune moment for things to happen. Biblically it is often referred to as a “season”. This larger version of time is kinder to our relationship with tools and knowledge, it creates space for a human temporal relationship we refer to as “wisdom”.
All sorts of temporal famalia spring from kairos. Serenity, Deja vu, even a deeper Jungian relationship to synchronicity. These perceived values of time and space are the result of hundreds of thousands of years of an ordered relationship with Chronos and each other.
The past thirty years have done more to eviscerate our relationship with this magical sense than any other time in history because of humankind’s relationship to digitization.
Precision and digitization, just as math and judgment skew our sense of time and our relationship to ourselves and others.
In a single moment you can be on a social network, occupy any age, gender and ideation and within nanoseconds, be cramming a podcast, a website and a conversation into your mind.
Digitization and the services, tools and processes that accompany a flat, timeless, effortless world create a draw on our evaporating attention to capture, catalog and manage every aspect of our life.
Today, people have never had more connections, yet feel so isolated. Families have never had more time to spend together but been so distant. Friends never knew more intimate conversations yet shared so little. We are in the age of the billboard relationships and the rise of the quantified self is forcing these relationships deep into the abyss of a new age, age of the dashboard relationship.
Dashboard relationships are about bringing attention to the result of an interaction, “Look at my run”, “Look at my sleep”, “Look at my calories”, “Look at my use of Uber”. We now have the ability to see clearly the relationships in our life at a microscopic level, but we are woefully unprepared for the additional burden and isolation that this new type of relationship will bring.
Quantification, is judgment, prepackaged for the distracted time crunched world.
If you can measure it, you can make a faster decision on it’s importance. Time itself is continuously on trial.
We need to have a dialog with designers, tool makers, developers and the world and talk about what is important to our time and more importantly to our minds.
Design for technology was created to exploit limited system resources, connectivity and access. Early in computing’s history, you needed to schedule time on a computer. Less than 10 years ago people would dial up to a random number and the internet was sold to us in “minutes”.
Technology is no longer consumed in minutes, it’s consumed in megabytes, gigabytes and terabytes. Our time has been replaced with volume.
If you think about design on a continuum of human needs, the arch would go from technology that made things convenient to technology that made things kind.
Designing for abundant resources such as perspective, kindness over constrained resources attention, battery start to reveal the drivers for those systems.
A guiding principle which drives the purpose of the design choices and a temporal identity are the critical two components of creating experiences that lead to an involvement in our own compassion.
Below we will look at five spectrums of design archetypes and their guiding principles, temporal identities and a few examples.
Five design principles archetypes:
- Disruptive Tech
- Calm Tech
- Value Tech
- Kind Tech
- Contemplative Tech
Disruptive tech was developed and continues to be pervasive in our society, yet it is no longer required. Notifications, reminders, emails, badges, vibrations, all pull at us constantly. Multiple tabs beckon to us to remind us of the many reasons we have not to stay on the article we are currently reading. Much of this disruptive present moment design came from hardware like the scroll mouse, that could quickly speed us through a webpage. Today designers brag about “infinite scroll”. Many people in mobile society live with their battery “percentages” on, their “today” menu full of items and their home screen full of icons, neatly nested in folders or by “type of action”. We are amused and distracted to death, even when bored and lonely.
Design Principles: Disruptive technology
Guiding Principle: Inform
Temporal Identity: Now
Analogy Example: Wrist Watch
Digital Example: Phone Clock
AppleWatch Face: Modular
Physical Sense: Sight
Calm tech is the first real effort to confront and minimize our relationship with information. Calm technology has it’s roots at PARC in the 1970’s. Amber Case, a cyborg anthropologist is nearing the completion of her latest book on the phenomenon of calm tech. As Amber states, “People aren’t bad at computers, computers are bad at people”. Calm technology takes this principle and sets forth guidelines to help people be back in control of their time. For instance, “Technology should require the smallest amount of our attention.”, use of the other senses, sound, light, smell can create a more equanimous relationship with technology.
Design Principles: Calm technology
Guiding Principle: Periphery
Temporal Identity: Deja Vu
Analogy Example: Sun dial
Digital Example: Phillips Hue build with geo sync
AppleWatch Face: Solar
Physical Sense: Sound
Value creates experiences that express our values through how we spend our time. Looking for answers on the internet could inform you of how much time is required to read an article. Or searching for an item to purchase online could inform you of the health benefits of the item. Tristan Harris at Google is really spearheading with his efforts around “Time well spent”. Designing for values is one of the strongest most sound arguments I have ran into since I started in my career as an Information systems professional.
Design Principles: Value technology
Guiding Principle: Choice
Temporal Identity: Coincidence
Analogy Example: Pocket watch
Digital Example: Flux App
AppleWatch Face: Astronomy – Earth
Physical Sense: Touch
Beyond our values
Beyond the uncanny valley of our values we see the first glimpses of design that strengthens humanity at its core.
Calm tech and value tech fundamentally shift the way we view information, our relationship to technology and start to put into place a world where human potential was amplified, over technological proclivity. Human potential functions in areas of the mind concerned with compassion and contemplation.
Kind technology is any system constructed to invoke a compassionate relationship with the user. Kind is a design that invokes two pieces of feedback from individuals. Kindness toward oneself and kindness toward others.
What if applications, tools, services and sensors already knew “how you were” and aided in keeping you mindful and present?
We have entered the age of “Shamification”
The intersection of the quantified self and the internet of things is littered with systems, applications, devices and services that tear at the human condition with soul crushing shame “You’re only 10% toward your step goal today” “Time to stand up” “In 30 days you’ll weight 300lbs” or even more dangerous convenience addition. “Let me turn the lights on for you”, “I noticed the house has been warm when you’re sleeping, I automatically cooled it for you”.
Design Principles: Kind technology
Guiding Principle: Perspective
Goal: Self compassion
Temporal Identity: Serendipity
Analogy Example: Grandfather clock
Digital Example: Biobeats
AppleWatch Face: Motion
Physical Sense: Taste
Our world is always in one of three states, suffering, struggling or thriving. Understanding and exposing the hope in situations through the information of them that connects you to other people and the planet.
Contemplative computing creates a relationship with each of us to ourselves, values and our world. Designing contemplative systems starts with understanding Mettā data, or a friendliness towards data. We start by avoiding shame tech, nagging and tracking our every move and then slowly re-introduce self compassion into our lives through the lens of greater perspective. Applications that give you a sense of purpose and perspective simultaneously. For instance, a meditation app that shares with you the location and number of people meditating with you now. A news service that shared the environmental conditions of a protest in juxtaposition to the noise from the scene.
Design Principles: Contemplative technology
Guiding Principle: Wisdom
Temporal Identity: Synchronicity
Analogy Example: Orary
Digital Example: Timehop App
AppleWatch Face: Astronomy – Solar System
Physical Sense: Smell
Our values have had centuries to develop, our compassion has had millennia, our ability to heal has no limit. Taking a longer view of time and humankind can dramatically shift the type of work we do and the people we do it for.
Chris Dancy is touted as “the Most Connected Man on Earth,” and the world is watching those connections carefully. For 25 years, Dancy has served in leadership within the technology and healthcare industries, specializing in the intersection of the two.