Something essential

This morning I had a very difficult time dodging an oblivious commuter who was staring into a SmartPhone. This occurred on the steps of a subway platform, at the height of rush hour, with a crowd of people streaming past each other.

Objectively one would think that somebody wouldn’t attempt to text while walking up a flight of steps in such circumstances. But I realize that this person was really absent — somewhere else in all but the physical sense.

This problem, which most of us run into pretty much every day, is at least partially the result of a technology still in transition. As SmartPhones get better/faster/cooler, they can draw your attention ever further away from the actual world — the world that contains your body.

The technologist in me says “Hey, we can fix that!” If we can just invent a better technology, then everything will be ok.

But there’s another part of me that says “Hey, wait a minute — isn’t technology part of the problem?” Maybe the solution to every problem isn’t a continual advancement of technology. Maybe there are ways of thinking of this that actually have nothing to do with inventing something cool.

For all of our collective problem-solving inventiveness, maybe our view of how to “make things better” with technology is missing something essential.

5 Responses to “Something essential”

  1. J. Peterson says:

    In a way, you’re lucky it’s mere pedestrians who are lost in their screens. Out here they’re behind the wheel of a car. We’ve been hit twice by drivers looking at their screens. Fortunately both episodes were relatively minor, though one case would have been much worse if the “driver” hadn’t had an alert passenger who screamed at him to stop.

    [Replay SNL “Headz Up” App spoof]

  2. Sally says:

    Fischer and I call that the Geolocomotion!

    That observation is how I got started on PolySocial Reality (You’re Soaking in It!) and we address it in

    A Cultural Perspective on Mixed, Dual and Blended Reality, which I think I’ve recommended before:

    http://www.dfki.de/LAMDa/accepted/ACulturalPerspective.pdf

    We’ve moved beyond X = not X ….

  3. admin says:

    Of course I’ve read your research Sally. After all, you posted it to this very blog last January and also the April before that.

    I cite your work on this topic all the time. In fact, people see your lovely face on screen at some point during many talks that I give when I touch on this subject. Unless, of course, they are looking at their cell phones. :-)

    I was merely reiterating that (1) the person using that cell phone was not adopting well to Dual Reality, and that (2) if we consider this to be a problem, then the best solution, if there is one, may not be technological in nature.

  4. Sally says:

    I *think* sadly, the solution will have to be technological, unless we bring shame back into style.

    People aren’t going to easily give up the capabilities that they have gained from cell phones. Those very capabilities are so important to them that they are willing (at more times than we’d care to realize) to risk their lives.

    So what do we do? We have a technology that gives us capabilities that are perceived to be so valuable to people that many almost rarely put them down.

    The non-technical way to change behavior is through shaming. If there is enough social pressure/shame towards a particular behavior, it can be changed.

    Otherwise, we’ll just have to treat the phone as an augmentation and design adaptations to help us be more aware of our local locale. Some of these are starting like Google Glass and watches and some of the haptic feedback mapping/geo stuff.

    Thus, a techological solution

  5. Sally says:

    Sorry. Last line got cut…

    Thus, unfortunately, a technological solution, might be more successful at this point.

    (oh and thanks for putting our work in your talks!)

Leave a Reply