Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

May 2023

Leaving Screens, Not Canvases

One of the things which most bugs about some of the way computing is looked at is the focus on there needing to be some “work” or “productivity” involved. There’s got to be a keyboard, there’s got to be someone making money on one or all ends of whatever is happening - even if all that is happening is someone looking at their own notes and scribbles. Part of the narrative am wondering about shifting is how non-screen computing might reshape such perceptions and expectations, leaving those who wish to be seen “computing” as something of a analog reality to the (invisible, connected) reality of not needing a screen.

The Disappearing Computer: An Exclusive Preview of Humane’s Screenless Tech by Imran Chaudhri, TED 2023

This is what makes devices like Humane’s upcoming so intriguing. It isn’t so much the taking away of the screen, but the shift in what it means to have computing (transformation and calculation) and be connected (communicative). And while the demo shows a novelty of the world thru the lens of those who can travel, who are learned in other languages, and might be (at their base) very curious, it doesn’t show the shape of computing many attribute to the now - taking, remixing, consuming, and responding. A very interesting question for Humane (and even the more familiar Apple and Google Wear watches, Sentien Audio and other connected headsets, and maybe even the VR/AR hardware space) is “what canvas do they enable even if they leave the screen?”

Personally, am a big proponent of only traveling with a connected watch and tablet. There’s only a need for a screen when there’s something about the canvas worth exploring - for example, the drafting of this piece. And while voice/speech technologies can broach some of this, it’s the canvas, the palette, and even the brush which we aren’t really as comfortable as leaving screens for. Can that change?

A piece of the imagination of AR glasses/headsets is not leaving the palette and brush behind when the screens are removed. This keeps the definition of “computer” intact. One can be productive, and such productivity can be measured and compensated, However, such a burden feels like work - sounds like work - because adding weight to one’s experience is work. No one wants to add work, until that work shows definitive value beyond what someone might lose in time, agency, compensation, or connection. I don’t think AR glasses/headsets are the right exchange of value, no matter how well designed they are. Glasses, while a fashion accessory, are still an accessory. Accessories which don’t add to one’s reputation and agency (prescription and sunglasses address a literal handicap), are work most don’t want.

Should there be other shapes to the accessories then which are around us? Sure. I’d love to think that Humane’s push here makes it possible thinner portable screens which can take ambient radio signals, and authenticate with that connected device into screens and canvases. I can see styli/pens which don’t just write, but also can take in audio - storing or transferring to a core device for a personal notebook/reminder space. Can even see new shapes of connections - bands given at an event which connect to one another, but only after they get permission from the Humane/Pebble Core/etc like device to do so (instant sharing of tickets, images, and maybe even cross -licensed with the performer).

There is something more which can be done with canvases, and it would be worth it to rediscover that shape. We can leave the screens behind in some cases to find this. But, it would also mean suspending the reality that compute always means some kind of work. Perhaps, the spiritual dimension to invisible computing comes into play here - asking us to be less like the manager of creation, and more like it’s co-creator? And then… wonder what the picture could do?