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January 2, 2008

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Here Comes the Stuff

Five things:

  1. I got a Chumby. I was vaguely embarrassed about this for a while, but wow, my family and I had a lot of fun with it over the holidays. Well, to be specific: We didn’t actually do anything with it. The Chumby kinda just sat around. But it kept cycling through Flickr photos, through weather reports from San Francisco (a riot in Michigan, let me tell you) — just this little pulsing presence in the bookcase.

  2. I read a Neil Gaiman short story on the plane home about a gargoyle. I love the idea of the gargoyle: small, ugly, but a potent protector.

  3. I know this is old news, but how great is it that long-lived background processes on UNIX servers are called daemons?

  4. There was a lot of whimsy and wizardry floating around in the early days of computing.

  5. Which brings us to this: Mike Kuniavsky’s speech about ubiquitous, embedded computing, and the notion that maybe a good metaphor for our interactions with this stuff will be… magic. (You can get the gist just by flipping through the PDF if you don’t have time for the MP3.) I like it.
Posted January 2, 2008 at 9:46 | Comments (2) | Permasnark
File under: Briefly Noted


I've been thinking something along the same lines as Kuniavsky on the tech-as-magic tip, but I have a slightly less outlandish metaphor: toys. Toys, like enchanted objects, can take on a certain sentience, but the feeling is less one of power over the external world than an imaginative delight in it.

The recentering of the personal computer around digital media (and away from productivity applications as such) have helped make computing infinitely more enjoyable in this decade. If ubiquitous computing can do one thing to change our daily interactions with objects, it should not make them more efficient or more powerful but more fun.

I have thought about the magic/toys thing for a while too. Right now we live in a society (or I live in a rarefied sub-society) where kids who are introduced to complex technology are usually being raised by adults who prize understanding and figuring it out. That seems to be shifting though---I have plenty of students who don't give a damn about hacking their iPhones or understanding anything about its advances, but are simply pleased with the pocketful of magic their parents have bought them. A truly effective user interface revolution would destroy any necessity of understanding of technology. It will simply be there, and simply work, most of the time. When it doesn't work, shamans will be called, and they will fix it. And since brain interfaces will eventually make the ability to control this technology a direct function of will, in some sense it will be very much like the magic of classic fantasy stories. Carefully build a charm and then cultivate the will and skill to use it.

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