Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2018

The Appendage Conundrum

As we pulled up to the mall, Steve felt there was something he’d show me. Little did he know, I was going to use this context to show him what he didn’t understand about mobile. We walked into the mall and proceeded to stores he was familiar with. There were a few companies to which he wanted to check out due to the project we were working on. His mindset was that the TV screens were the important interface for this effort.

I had other ideas. We left the stores and headed to the food court. I asked him to look around at the people around us. There were parents with children, groups of teens, seniors, and several others. Then I asked him to look at what they were doing. He said, “they aren’t even looking at each other. They are looking at those glowing rectangles. They can’t get away from their appendages!”

There’s something we can all acknowledge about mobile devices. They are more or less hard to pull away from their owners. They are an arm, eyes, and sometimes even legs — depending on the person and what they are doing at least. Somehow we’ve adapted so fast to these minaturaized calculation machines that they have become a part of whom we are. And par the course, previous generations have the perspective that this is unnatural. But, is it?

We are creatures who embed our world around us. Probably not too different from spiders, we seem to have a mind and actions which work outside of our physical bodies. More than just accounting for what is spiritual, we use our tools and the connections between them to embed ourselves into the world around us. There’s a different language between generations with this. Previous generations might build the blocks, but its successive generations which transform those blocks into streams of consciousness which (many times) were never imagined before.

Hence the challenge. We don’t always understand what it means to be fully embedded into this connected space. Language like “artificial intelligence,” “mixed reality,” and “online” are transitional terms. An acceptance of the appendage, but not quite the invisibility of using it. We design these processes, these tools, against what we can best understand — “talkies” was a similar term — until it becomes natural enough to no longer be considered foreign.

What is the reason for this session? To acknowledge that we don’t know all of the potential paths our imaginations and inventions will create. But, we are excited about them. They do something in us when we see someone using these tools outside of their mind, it looks like magic. It is magic. Because we are taking something outside of ourselves and using it in ways that fit another mind. Its not supposed to be comfortable. It does become natural.