Luke Robert Mason: You’re listening to the Futures Podcast with me, Luke Robert Mason.
On this episode, I speak to cyborg anthropologist, Amber Case.
Calm technology is the idea that the scarce resource in the 21st century is not technology, it’s our attention. And how technology takes advantage—or not—of our attention, is something that we can change.
Amber Case, excerpt from interview
Amber shared her thoughts on new forms of interaction between humans and computers, how we can design with sound, and the emerging field of Calm Technology.
This episode was recorded on location in London, England, where Amber was due to give a keynote presentation.
Luke Robert Mason: So Amber, I know you as the Cyborg Anthropologist. What is Cyborg Anthropology?
Amber Case: Cyborg Anthropology is a subsection of the anthropology of science. The idea behind it is to study how technology affects culture and how humans co-create each other with our external objects.
Mason: And what work were you doing in that space? I remember you gave the very well known talk ‘We’re All Cyborgs Now’. Do you still believe that we’re all ‘Cyborgs Now’, or do you think there’s something more nuanced going on?
Case: Of course we’re all ‘Cyborgs Now’. We don’t have to be Terminator or RoboCop. These ideas that we have in our head, aesthetically, of these military machines come from film—because originally we had humans versus nature, and it was a pretty easy narrative to show in a play. You could have a tornado; you could have a rainstorm; you could have ambient sounds—but once we had the industrial revolution it was man versus machine. How do you show that on stage? How do you show that in film? Well, you need to make a robot in the shape of a human, and have them fight on the screen. And that’s where we got the idea of robots—Rossum’s Universal Robots. And we had early on in The Wizard of Oz, we had all these machine men. The Wizard of Oz is kind of the science-fiction idea of the industrial man—the Tin Woodman. Does he have a heart? Does the Scarecrow have a brain? He’s the farmer in America at that time, and this was written in 1901, so it’s a kind of science-fiction idea of the transition from agriculture to the industrial revolution. What does that mean? How are things shaped over time? Where are we, and what’s the future for us?
Mason: So you were saying back when you gave this presentation that the mere relationship between us and our mobile devices makes us Cyborgs.
Case: Yeah, that we’ve been Cyborgs since we started externalising our evolution outside of ourselves. So for instance, a hammer is an extension of our fist; a knife an extension of our teeth; and then cave paintings, an extension of our brain. We had these kind of stable extensions of our physical selves. A hammer hasn’t really changed size, or shape, or function over the last few million years—and yet writing has certainly changed shape. It’s changed size; it’s changed carrier; it’s changed from the printing press over to sending something over the airwaves, sending something over computers. And so this externalisation has increased in acceleration, and often what we think is the norm—everybody having a cell-phone in their pocket for instance—that was not the norm 15 years ago. And even if it was, it was for business people, or it didn’t have a camera in it—it wasn’t this multi-sensory device that we now have, these multi-external sensors.
And the word Cyborg actually comes from a 1960 paper on space travel, in which we attach exogenous components to ourselves for the purpose of adapting to new ambient spaces. Basically, somebody in a spacesuit is the ultimate Cyborg. Humans are not supposed to be in space, but when they are in space, they’re able to survive because of these feedback mechanisms. A lot of this information came from the Macy Meetings in the 40s. In the 1940s, these anthropologists and technologists got together and said, “At some point, technology will get smaller and smaller and be part of our everyday lives. What’s going to happen at that point in time? We’ve lost some concepts, like in cybernetics, of the feedback loop, yet those are the most successful automated systems that we have today”—they’re not, “Hey, we’re our own eco-system outside of ourselves; we’re humans and not nature”. It’s the idea of a human and a computer working alongside each other in a feedback loop, improving the results, improving the complexity of the system. That feedback loop, that gets better over time, is much more of a natural system than saying, “Oh we have the solution, here is a black box of AI—just throw it at your company and everything will be fine.”
We’re looking at Facebook and Gmail auto-reply. There’s these Gmail suggestions now, where you have three items, where it says, “Oh, you know should I say ‘yes, thank you very much’, or ‘sounds good’ ”, that you can just use to start your email. It’s not trying to respond entirely for you, and it’s giving you choices, because the moment a machine gives you choice and you pick a specific choice, it’s improving that mechanism over time. That feedback is incredibly important, and that’s some of the things that we’ve lost when we say, “Robots will take over the world and they’ll make all of our decisions for us”—unless we’re going back to that poem where it says, “And the future will be a cybernetic dreamland all watched over by machines of love and grace”. Where we had from the 60s in San Francisco these ideas of the augmentation of self, we don’t really have that as much anymore. We have, “Weren’t we promised a future in which we reached technological complexity, that was so good that we wouldn’t have to work anymore? That we’d have more free time?”. Yet our devices are more media consumption devices now, and it kind of expands like a gas to fill all of the available social space that we have.
We were promised some excess of time; more reflection; amplifying what machines do best so that we could have our own version of art—yet people want to automate everything. Do you want to automate hanging out with your kids? Do you want to automate a sunset? Do you want to automate enjoying somebody’s wedding? No—absolutely not. Yet, with this automation culture, people are fearful of it taking over absolutely everything.
Mason: So where do you think we lost some of that agency over the sort of future that we want to live in? It seems—at least to me—that we’re given these very defined, very limited options of how we can be. How do we demand more options, rather than demand less and be given less, only because that makes us more easy to understand as robotic entities rather than human entities?
Case: I do feel like a lot of us are on pause and just turned into data, basically, for the purposes of, “Oh, you’re this kind of data shape. This article on Facebook will make you angry. And when you’re angry, you will click more on this site, stay longer, and we’ll get our advertising revenue.” We can trace this all back to publicly trading companies that are required to grow over time, 3–5% or even more. They have to keep saturating and making sure there’s new markets. Why else would Facebook want to go into Africa and give people WiFi, unless there was some economic incentive for them?
Once you reach market saturation you have to keep going. How do you keep going? Well with Google, if you do a self-driving car, you might get 30 percent more time on Google when somebody is in a car because they don’t have to drive, right. It’s opening up time. But the idea of a publicly traded company working as an entity with its own rules outside of humans? That is an algorithm. That’s a programme. That’s AI. And what people don’t understand right now, is I think we’re already in a world of AI. We already have plenty of search engine robots that give us suggestions of results that we choose from, but we as individuals are governed by these systems that are no longer just governments—they’re actual multinational corporations, and if you don’t do well in those corporations, someone else will take your place, because people are now in situations where living is so expensive, that they have to work, and there’s really not a lot of other options.
If you go independent, then you end up getting sponsored by these large companies. If we look at Generation—there is no longer the idea of selling out. Selling out used to be horrible—now you want corporate sponsorship. “Oh, I became a Tommy Hilfiger model. This is amazing.” Right? And all of your friends are, “Oh, I’m so supportive of you, that’s fantastic.” You don’t have the punks being like, “Well he sold out, man, what the hell. That’s so dumb”.
Mason: The goal of a YouTube star or an Instagram star is to get that brand sponsorship. They’re almost courting the original systems of control.
Case: Absolutely, I mean they’re shaping themselves to look like the advertisements that have been given to them, so that they can work in that industry. The issue is: how long does that last? How long do you get as a YouTube celebrity? How long are you able to buy the newest aesthetic? Are you buying pre-worn items so that there’s a sense of authenticity, or are you actually building these items yourself? A lot of these subcultures now are just purchasing the aesthetics to get into them, and forgetting the ideas behind it, and the philosophies behind it that led those aesthetics to show up in the first place.
Mason: So do you think, to a degree, our drive to optimise the interface has left something behind in terms of aesthetics? It feels like those systems are designed to have a certain sort of user experience and the only aesthetic cues inside of those systems are there to help us click more, or engage more, or stop, and pause, and consume more.
Case: I would say that Facebook is definitely an industrial spreadsheet game. We’re all just database animals looking at row one, column three, and plus one like, plus one comment. “Ah this is great, I have the equivalent of social grooming, you know, externally, that’s attached to feedback loops in my brain that give me dopamine. Even though no-one’s actually touching my hair, I feel as if I am close to somebody and my value is intertwined temporarily with this”. And that becomes weird because it means we’re in this very…the timeslice of our culture, is these tiny, tiny pieces of time, instead of this longer term time. We don’t have the idea of working on something for 10 years and having that grow over time, because if you do, you end up seeing the output, or placing the output on somewhere like Reddit, and then people are consuming it, and within seconds it can be exciting or go away, and you have to capture that value immediately and hold onto it for as long as you can. But if you go back to Doug Rushkoff’s original Merchants of Cool—the idea of this oroborus, this feedback loop. The snake eating its tail is that the minute larger society and these larger companies find out what’s cool and sell it back to people, then it becomes uncool.
Oddly enough I think we’re seeing something a little bit new, where the companies are figuring what’s cool and they’re selling it back to them, and they’re also producing what’s cool—but the coolness is staying firmly rooted in the company, and the consumers are actually participating in that feedback culture a little bit more, instead of it being, “Oh, it’s horrible now that it’s been co-opted by a company”, it’s, “Oh, now it’s a celebration of that company, and now I appreciate that company more”. I think there’s a little bit of a brand special thing where you want to be part of these brands and come home to them, and they’re providing you more meaning in your life than maybe your family or your friends, or you’re making friends though these feedback loops and you’re getting sold this thing back to you—but, it’s OK now.
Mason: To a degree we want to go back to something that’s comfortable or calm, and that’s something in our childhood. It feels like there’s no responsibility anymore, or millennials have no responsibility for their own actions—therefore they rely on brands to tell them what to do, and that feedback loop self-reinforces the fact that they’re doing the right thing.
Case: I’ve been thinking about this a lot because, well, I played Pokemon early on, and I traded Pokemon cards. And I was a little bit older than the demographic, because i got introduced to it really early though a Japanese friend, and I played it in Japanese on a Gameboy—and then I got to play the English version. So I was a little bit older, because I was the target demographic just a few years before it came to the States, and then I would go to Toys R Us, and do the Pokemon trading card game and all those things.
It was really fun, but I think there’s something going on, where, for the most part—living is very expensive, people have to hold two jobs now, there’s massive student debt because we’ve all been told that we need to go to college. Thankfully, I knew early on that I’d have massive student debt so I tried to get as many scholarships as I could. I graduated in 2008 in the States, which is just career suicide—how you’re supposed to build something. So I had to build something from scratch, and it was a lot of, just, survival for 10 years. I didn’t get to have a silly time in college. I didn’t get to have a silly time in my 20s. It was all work. Because I found if I didn’t do that, I had nothing else, and I wouldn’t survive, and I just couldn’t be settled with all this debt because my parents—you know—were in debt too, and so I didn’t want to live like that again. I was so upset about that.
But you have a group of people—and you can see this in Japan, where, what’s the option? Either you work, you can never afford a house, and it’s really difficult to afford a family, and you have no support, and then you’re not even going to have retirement—why even do anything? So if you go back to a period of time in which you didn’t have those worries and things were more stable, Pokemon is fantastic. Suddenly, it reintroduces you to your neighbourhood and you have a reason to go outside—in a culture in which you live in a condo and you don’t know anybody in your neighbourhood, because there’s no reason to do so. How many people have stayed in a place for long enough to know their neighbours and are within walking distance of everything? And if you are, you’re playing so much for your condo, or flat, or apartment, that you don’t have any time to be there. So suddenly you can go outside and everybody is connected to each other.
And of course, the game is still doing quite well. It’s just the platform it was built on, Ingress, has a number of issues. First, if you’re in the middle of nowhere you can’t get to all the Pokestops, because they stopped developing more Pokestops, and there were a lot of issues with nearby Pokemon things like that. So we had this amazing summer where everybody was on the same page. You could talk to anybody in the city, because everyone was playing Pokemon. And it was really cool—but you kind of see this nostalgia for something where things were a little bit simpler. People have these memories, it was a stable period of time. Or there was this special culture that you had that you can go back to.
But I was also thinking what happened to music? Where are all the new musical movements? Where are we experiencing change? You know, there’s experimental music and things like that. But where are we really pushing the boundaries? Because a lot of the people who would have maybe made garage bands, gone over to band practice at 16 or 15 or whatever—the minute you get a learner’s permit, you’re driving to somebody’s house or they’re in your neighbourhood and you’re bringing your equipment over and doing band practice. All of those people are preparing for school, for college. They’re in tonnes of extracurricular activities. Or, they’re in a city where there’s not enough room to have a two car garage to do something like that. Or they’re not getting their learner’s permit or their driving permit until later, because everything has been geographically distributed and all of their friends don’t live close enough—and so it’s easier to just connect to them through mobile devices.
So there’s a lot of different things going on right now. I think that just the aesthetics of the 90s is like, “Oh this is great. Well, I can buy these clothes, and I can be in this State and have a fun time, because what else am I going to do? What does an adult look like today? How can you be one? What does it even mean? How can you live in your own house?”.
Mason: The researcher Simon Reynolds calls that—especially with music—calls that ‘retromania’, and I just wonder if we’re caught in a feedback loop that is inescapable. There is no ‘new’ anymore. We realise that yes, technology might work by more is law, but culture doesn’t. Culture stays very much the same. Culture doesn’t have that same exponential change built into it, because culture is reliant on us humans.
Case: Although we did see culture change a lot, for instance Queen Elizabeth’s outfits in the 1600s and the advent of sumptuary law. If you look at that period of time, you had Merchant Class becoming more successful than The Crown and having more money, more disposable income. So Queen Elizabeth implemented sumptuary law, which was the idea of, “You can’t wear a skirt this long. You can’t have that many ruffles. You can’t wear this colour”, as a way of taxing the up and coming Merchant Class, and a way of distinguishing The Crown from these new merchants, and so there was this massive growth in all of these different textiles and items to wear, and if you look at the clothing back then, it was absolutely ridiculous.
We kind of see that now with a kind of fractal aesthetic. We have these interfaces and these changes that are just aesthetic, and they are happening at this kind of fractal level where it’s a thing, within a thing, within a thing, within a thing is changing, and all of it doesn’t mean anything at all. But it means so much because it’s within this subculture that I’m following on Instagram, and it’s within that and within that, within that and it’s like…You even see it with jackets. You ever go, “Oh, here’s a jean jacket, but then there’s these patches, and then within those patches there’s this thing, and then within that…”—you know. Or there’s jeans. Now, it’s not just blue jeans—it’s many different kinds of jeans, and so you have to have all of them, you know. It’s this funny thing that’s happening, where the surfaces are getting complex and then emptying out again. I don’t know entirely what to make of it.
It’s just that we have lots and lots of options and we’re all expected to be very good at these options, but when I walk down the street anymore I don’t see people making wild fashion decisions anymore. I see a very conservative, very global aesthetic and sumptive pattern that is consistent almost everywhere I go. Where you just have this kind of normalisation of culture, and whoever pushes that aesthetic really hard in terms of ‘norm-core’—it’s these giant Instagram accounts—but it’s not them saying, “Ah look at this weird thing I made.” You know, you don’t have these punk bands who have just made these incredible risks, and they’re super weird. Where are the weirdo’s? Where is the 90s and 2000s aesthetic of your cyberpunk, where the stuff happened from scratch and we were making new weird sounds. Where are the sounds? Where’s David Bowie showing up saying, “Oh, there’s this new synthesiser thing that Brian Eno is trying out”, or, “Oh wow, there’s all these people in Brooklyn that are making this insane sound with their voices”? I want to get in on that. Where’s that happening?
I mean you look at Tune-Yards, and you have Grimes that’s doing super weird stuff, you know. But it’s so digital. You know, it’s somebody sampling something or recording something in a closet in a hotel room, and sending it to somebody else. You know, they’re not even—you just see this French artist who is taking all of these analogue instruments and jamming out and you get these things but again they’re not new sounding, really—at all.
Mason: Could that be, just going back to Cyborgs, could that be a limit of the human senses? So the Cyborg artist Neil Harbisson—he’s a colorblind artist who has an antenna that allows him to hear colour. It vibrates his skull, and through bone conduction he has this new sense—that’s not quite hearing, but it’s a new sense, and he’s able to convert pre-existing songs into these sound-scapes. Now, as an individual who might not be wearing, or have an antenna embedded into their skull, we may only be able to experience that musical art piece visually. We may only be able to see the colours, and I wonder whether we’ve reached a plateau with the human senses and now to tip over to the next ‘new’, we’re gonna have to start manipulating our own bodies for the ability to hear ultrasound—and that might be a new aesthetic experience. I wonder what your thoughts are on that? On that extreme Cyborg who remoulds their senses for a new aesthetic experience.
Case: I’m a real big fan of Neil Harbisson—and also Moon Ribas, because they’re using the concept of synaesthesia. They’re saying, “Well, if I can’t experience this one sound or this one colour, I’ll transform it into a different sense—and then my brain will re-map, and I’ll be able to feel that in a new way”. Moon Ribas has the earthquake sensor, so whenever earthquakes are happening, she can feel them. I love that, you know.
So there’s this idea that you can just add another sense onto you, and perhaps that’s a way to go. I mean, the difference is that when you’re producing music…Like a lot of the popular music today is a lot of electronic music—because you can’t hear the full range when it’s compressed down over streaming on Spotify; through your earbuds when you’re on public transportation or a plane, and in a 95 decibel environment. When you hear? You hear some of the drums, and some of the really sharp synths. So, to make music that sounds good with all that background noise when people aren’t using noise cancelling headphones or sitting in a really nice living room or dining room showing people music, or sitting on some shag carpet that’s absorbing all the reverb? Well, it’s a completely different experience.
You’re not taking time to listen to a song and putting a memory with it. You’re just consuming information, which is why podcasts are becoming really great and ambient music is becoming a really big deal, because now people are in these non-places a lot of the time. A non-place which Marc Augé described as, “Something where you’re a human on pause. You have no relation to anybody else, no identity, and no history”. Like an airport; a shopping mall; a dentist’s office; a commute. That’s these places where we need to feel like there’s some humans around—and so even when we’re in those non-places we put on some ambient music or a podcast to make us feel like there’s something there; to give us some relation to something else; to give us some history. And so this becomes these things where we’re just trying to have something with us so we’re not so…I mean, these spaces were given to us from industrial time, right? We got really stretched out, and geography didn’t matter as much, but we as humans got put on pause a lot. So I feel like there’s a whole new genre that might have been considered—like nerd music before ambient spaces—or you know like more or harsh experimental stuff, that’s kind of pushing the boundaries. There’s more than just instruments in it, but lots of sounds sampled from the environment.
I like to wonder a lot about when we go to Mars, because we’re gonna have to…We’re gonna have to go to another planet, and it’s sad that people laugh about saying, “We’re going to space”. That was not a joke in the 60s, that was a big deal. Even though it was for military purposes. It’s a really important thing to do, but I’m wondering when you’re…you know—when you’re going up and it takes 30 days to get to Mars or whatever, and you’re gonna have to do something to keep yourself company. People will probably make a bunch of music, and it’s gonna be sampling the weirdest space noises. Like, how long will these songs be? What will they feel like? Will they give people? Right now the songs are like, “OK, this is giving you some joy”, or it’s giving you some sadness, or it’s about heartbreak. But what about the music that gives you a sense of emptiness, or a sense of discomfort? Like what about all the different senses?
You know, there’s just a lot to explore, and I think there’s a kind of idea of safety. “We’re just gonna make a pop hit, then we’re gonna make a pop hit with some 90s stuff in it. Then we’re gonna use a synthesiser pattern from the specific synthesiser that everybody loves”. But I would encourage people to look at, just go on Spotify and look at ‘Body Shame’. It’s just like pushing these boundaries, and when you watch it live, it’s everybody standing in front of an amp putting earplugs in, and feeling the sound. It’s like a sonic massage but you can feel all over your body. And weirdly enough, it’s not the kind of music where it’s like, “I’m gonna think over this music”. It wipes out all of your mental processes, and you just go into a state of flow. It’s like “Bam”. You know, there’s that, there’s bi-neural audio.
There’s all sorts of different things you can do, and the book that I’m working on right now with my co-author Erin Day—some of that’s about what happens in the environment. If you take a decibel meter and you find out how noisy everything is, and how that builds up on you over time: You go to your favourite coffee shop and say, “It’s really hard for me to work in here”. I like the energy of the people, but the background noise is really loud. Because this kind of romantic industrial movement where we have these very concrete spaces and there’s no soft stuff makes the sound reverberate all around the room, and that actually wears on you over time—and you can get super overwhelmed by these noisy environments. Whereas some of these cosier spaces, you know, you go to your Grandma’s house—“It’s really cosy”. You know, it’s all this soft, plush carpet. It doesn’t look as great, but it feels really nice.
You know, so, we forget that…we process our spaces so visually that we forget that sound is part of how something feels, and we can improve these spaces over time. And there’s so many different opportunities that we’re missing, because we’re so focused on the visual channel, and just trying to block stuff out—versus, you know. Everybody should have noise cancelling headphones—especially for plane trips. The amount of exhaustion that I experience after eight hours on a plane with noise cancelling headphones and without—I didn’t realise. I thought it was me just sitting there that was annoying, but it was actually my brain processing all the background sound the whole time. My ears aren’t shutting off. And that just wears me down over time. It’s just excess energy that I don’t need to spend.
Mason: Do you think there’s a fear of silence? The only time that we can have silence—we need to be guided through that silence. In other words, it’s meditation. So we need a meditative app, or we need a meditation guru, or a yoga guru to kinda help us through silence. And then when we have extreme examples of silence, people can’t spend more than, I think it’s 15 to 20 minutes in there without going absolutely insane.
Case: I would encourage everyone to read essays and look at John Cage’s work on Silence, because it’s fun, first off. You look at the kind of friends he had around that time, and what they were talking about, and how they were experimenting, and how they were visualising these different environments and their experimental work. That’s really exciting. And what is silence? There is no real thing as silence unless you go out to space, and then you just have no molecular movement. I’ve been in these anechoic chambers, at Bell Labs, at SONOS—all these different companies. And yeah, you go into them and you can hear the blood pumping in your ears, and I like them, you know. They’re great. But again, your brain is used to processing input, and if there’s nothing there, it’s weird. And as you get back into the world after 20 minutes in that, everything feels really loud and choppy. Imagine right before you’re going to sleep, before your ears kind of turn off, everything gets kinda weird, and loud, and distant. Or if you’re really, really tired, everything sounds really sharp and jarring. That’s what it’s like to go out of one of those chambers, after you’ve had no input for a while.
There’s those little baths, where it’s sensory deprivation tanks. So that your brain is used to creating or processing something. So you end up hallucinating in these things and going internal. And it’s interesting that we have to go through this guided stuff in order to be silent, versus, you know, you could just wake up at dawn, or stay up until dawn, and watch the sunrise. There’s silence for you. It’s not real silence, it’s not John Cage silence, you know, but you do get the sense of slowness, and the sense of reflective time.
I think there’s a good point to bring up the idea of the Greek concept of ‘kairos’ and ‘chronos’ time. ‘Chronos’ time being a more industrial time. The scheduled time of 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and, “It must be this time”, and, “I have to do this thing right now”, and, “My taxes are due on this date.” And then there’s kairos time which is, “Oh my gosh, after three years I realised that my Mom had this ring, and it was given to me by this person” and, “Oh, wow. This is a special moment.” Or like, “These are the last days I have with my Dad”, you know. These like super—you can’t programme those. You can’t expect those. You can’t automate those.
And I think often at times we have these simultaneous time zones on our phone, where we get interrupted by all the different people from living their own different times, sending us messages—not knowing whether we’re available for that or not. I put my phone on airplane mode to prevent this, by the way, so I can choose my time. But when you have all that going on, when do you have time for reflection?
If I’m writing, I don’t need to write in a publicly available journal—I can write in my notebook. Where’s the diaries? It’s not a diary generation. The minute we went onto LiveJournal it’s like, “Oh, I’m publishing these thoughts for people to see. Oh I’m feeling bad, I’ll post on Instagram and get some likes”. No, no, no, no, no. What about the feedback loop with yourself to further strengthen who you are and understand something over time, and build up those thoughts. People need more of that. We also need things where, people are like, “We need work-life balance”. Well sometimes, when you’re really passionate about something you put all your effort into it and that should be fine, you know. But you should be able to be in more flow states without interruption.
Mason: I think this is some of the misunderstanding around virtual reality at the moment. The last four or five discussions that I have had about VR have all been about, “How does VR make us more empathetic with each other?” but in actual fact I think the real power is to make us more empathetic with ourselves. See, the crazy thing about the Facebook feed is that you see everyone else’s life, but you never really consume your own.
Case: That’s correct. That’s why I’ve installed a bunch of Chrome filters. I have Gmail Inbox When Ready. It shows me nothing until I click ‘show inbox’. So the minute I log into my Gmail, it’s just a search feature. I can search for the message, so I’m not interrupting my time. You know, you can look at Tristan Harris’ ‘Time Well Spent’ movement for more plug-ins—it’s really useful. But one of them is for Facebook. It just doesn’t show me a news feed, and I actually can’t post on the news feed. It’s great. So if I really want to, I can do it. I can click some buttons—it shows me a motivational quote instead. Or something that I can reflect on. But it’s fun, because you can actually kind of change your experience of these things by adding plug-ins and really understand your relation to things. It’s not that—I don’t want to see a generation of people like, “Oh, I need some reflective time, see ya”. Like, don’t do stuff like that. “Oh I’m sorry, I need more reflective.” No, OK yes. You can process and you can do all these things. I don’t want it to turn into some sort of like ‘super-me’ movement.
It would just be nice to have some time where you don’t have to be producing your identity external to your self for the consumption of robots, and other humans, and likes. And some “Oh I don’t feel really great today and that’s fine.” You don’t need to tell everybody about it. You know, you don’t need to make it a big deal. Like, it’s just “OK some days are good and some days are bad”. I’m human. I don’t need to be on a billion anti-depressants to be ok with it. Some people do.There are chemical imbalances based on industrial society that are difficult to avoid, but also giving ourselves a little bit of a break and being nicer to ourselves and saying “Oh, it’s ok. I overreacted to that thing because of this thing. Hm. I know myself a little bit more to do that”. Or, “I’m feeling bad so instead of taking it out on somebody else I’ll draw a cartoon about it.” I mean, there are these kind of old methods, or, “I just need some time to stare into nothingness”. Right—you don’t need to have a meditative movement of a $75 a month yoga subscription to do that you can just take that time.
I can just zonk right out on a plane. I can be in the most stressful crowded situation and just turn inward and go into a state of flow, and just be super cosy. Which is why I like New York. New York is full of those spaces, “I’m just super chilled out, I don’t care what’s going on”.
But it’s taken a long time to get there. It’s like turning airplane mode on in your own brain. And so, it’s like when you used to be on a plane and there wasn’t WiFi, and you were like “Oh my god I have nothing to do. I’m going to rearrange all of the desktop icons and clean up my files” We need a lot more of that.
I think there was this Rick and Morty episode that a lot of people loved about Pickle Rick. This Grandpa doesn’t want to hang out with his family and go to their stupid therapy appointment ’cause he’s way to smart for that. He’s this genius scientist, so he turns himself literally into a pickle and gets himself into an actual pickle of a situation, and then finally shows up on the therapist couch and was like “Fuck you, I hate therapy”, and “Therapy is the worst”. And the woman’s like “Yeah of course therapy is way beneath you. You don’t need any of this stuff.” But there’s this thing in life called maintenance, and it’s not this great adventure, it’s not packaged and sold back to you. It’s not shiny and it doesn’t have all these likes on Facebook. It’s the idea of putting your bed back together, and maintaining family relationships—it’s that boring stuff.
And the problem with the constant production of identity, and value, and culture is that we miss all of those things when we hyper-produce ourselves. And we forget that half of it’s that maintenance. And it’s not sexy. It’s going to the freakin’ dentist. It’s hugging someone and telling them that you appreciate them. It’s hanging out with somebody when they’re feeling bad, or being in moments in which people are boring. Fine—you know.
And those things don’t work well on Instagram. They don’t work well on Facebook, unless it’s a supermodel that says “Look, I’m without makeup and I’m really tired!”—OK great, but you already had 14 million followers. And there’s been some people who have done this. “Actually, behind the scenes my life looks horrible, it’s full of non-places, and I hate it—but I’m always producing these things for you, and you’re getting the misconstrued notion of my actual life”. So I think we just need to be like, OK, we’re human. We need a break just like our phone needs to recharge, we need to recharge as well.
And if we’re doing things that don’t mean anything over time, it’s usually because we’re consuming more than we create. And that’s really hard to change, because on the early web you didn’t have to have one stable full name identity. You could be fluid in your identity and just be a person made of text on a forum, and be super clever—or not—based on what you were doing, and you know, have some time to research. And then you could change that around or run your own website. But it was much more about creating more than consuming, and you’re participating instead of just buying or just absorbing. And you just had these really special spaces where you could be really good friends with somebody you’d never met before. It didn’t matter whether they were a male or female, or trans, or embodied, or not—or a dog. It didn’t matter, because it was about their brain. You were meeting their brain before you ever met their body. And that was the really cool thing about it. Now we’ve become not embodied, but a two dimensional, flattened template self of ourselves online.
Mason: I wonder to a degree how we help the next generation navigate that. They have that question: “Am I normal?” and the way in which they’re trying to find the answer to that question is by looking at the individuals who they believe have a degree of normality in their life. But the reason that normality exists is it removes all the stuff that’s fuzzy. It homogenises a form of identity that’s good for consumption, but not good for collaboration or conversation.
Case: Yeah, if you think of normal. A brand is normal because it’s very well defined. All of the joy comes from the fuzziness. If you look at the early movements of companies, or art movements, it’s just super fuzzy, and people are playing around with ideas, and what a thing ‘is’ and what it ‘isn’t’. It doesn’t matter if you’re right or wrong—but it’s playful. And that’s what I like about VR.
I like to take people into the simulation where you can be an office cubicle, and you can be a food prep person, or you can be in a convenience store, because the first thing a lot of people do is that they throw everything. Because you can’t do that anymore after a certain age, that’s considered violent, you know. But as a kid, you can throw everything ’cause it doesn’t matter, and so you get this child-like behaviour again of, “Hey, look. You can change your reality”. We can’t change our reality on the web anymore, because it’s about templated self—and even getting into building a website is really gargantuan effort.
Now there’s a new thing called Neo-Cities which is a new version of Geo-Cities, where you can just make HTML/CSS website really fast. But a lot of it’s like, “Oh, you need a group of 20 people to run a server-side application and then everybody is gonna use it and then you’ll have to scale it up”. Like, what about running something on your own server? Like, I ran a really bad phpBB forum, and if someone was being a jerk on it—I could ban them. But it was a small enough community that if someone was being obnoxious, I had control over it. And now, the communities have scaled so much that reporting somebody or getting somebody banned is no longer within the user control. And so we have these interfaces made for us by other people, that we subscribe to, and they’re free, and they’re ad sponsored, and the control keeps going further and further away from us as individuals.
Versus: I thought we were going to go into a world where anyone could be a web developer with a one-click install of some PHP mechanism. Make your own forum, and choose whatever way you want to participate in the web. And now we have five ways to participate in the web. Either you binge on Netflix—which is very unhealthy, or you go on Reddit, or Hacker News, or Twitter, or Facebook, and you make yourself 5÷12÷5÷5÷12 pixel with your interests and your real name, and then, that’s it.
Mason: To a degree, you’re looking to solve some of the issues that we’ve been talking about, through this thing called ‘Calm Tech’. What is ‘Calm Tech’?
Case: So Calm Technology is the idea that the scarce resource in the 21st century is not technology: it’s our attention. And how technology takes advantage—or not—of our attention, is something that we can change. So, there’s two sides. One: companies that make devices or products that are like what we’d use in the world of the desktop, that take all of our attention, are really obnoxious. And also, the way that we use our own attention. Like, we should be allowed to just have these things in our lives that aren’t taking over all of our time.
So, the idea Calm Technology came from Mark Wiser and John Seely Brown, who were researchers at Xerox Park in the 90s. And they created a future in which everything was connected. They had a whole Internet of Things. Future—Mark Weiser coined the term ‘ubiquitous computing’, and they realised that, “Oh my gosh”—everything was just beeping at them—“How do we make these things work in an environment, in a nice way, seamlessly, with us? How do we have technology take the least amount of our attention, and only when necessary? How do we make visible what was formerly invisible, so that we have ambient awareness of things in our environment and we can act on things without having them take all of our attention? How can we compress information from our primary high resolution focus into secondary and tertiary focus, which is like haptics or sense of touch—you know—using the principle of synesthesia. I really like the Roomba robotic vacuum cleaner because you know, when it’s done cleaning it does “dun-duh-duh-duh!” And when it’s stuck it goes “dun-dun”—but you can tell what that means because it’s just a tone. It doesn’t have to be this disembodied human voice telling you what’s going on. There’s this light faucet that has LEDs in it, that actually shows you the temperature of the water through colour. My co-founder and I made an ambient lightbulb that was connected to a weather report that would show the colour of the weather that it was going to be for the day. So, if it was sunny it was yellow; if it was rainy, it was blue. And you didn’t have to have this weird computerised voice tell you “Hello Dave, here’s the weather report!”
Mason: Is Calm Tech really a way of technology talking back to us that isn’t vocal; is more a visual form of communication? A relationship with your faucet that doesn’t feel forced?
Case: Sometimes, the visual channel is useful. Sometimes, the auditory channel is useful. It really depends what it is. Like, the ‘record’ light on the video camera—that tells both you and the person you’re recording that it’s recording. It’s a really Calm Tech. Streetlights are a really Calm Tech. Imagine building streetlights today. Wouldn’t you have to connect your car to them by Bluetooth or something? And they’d have this really inelegant display and they give you a counter for how long it would take for—it’d be awful. You just feel what the light is, and you go through. You can use your secondary attention. You can use your peripheral attention to understand when you need to go or not, and pay attention to the road. The whole point of a car is to keep your primary focus on the road, and use your secondary and tertiary senses to control it. The lever on the floor; the pedal. It’s your tertiary sense—it’s just the sense of touch.
Doug Engelbart, when he created the mouse, actually had a thing under the table where you could click with your foot. You would use more of yourself. And so, a lot of these weird, different ways of interacting—they just went by the wayside and we have this persistent technology of “here’s the mouse”, and “here’s what this looks like”, and “here’s what -”, and you know, people forget that we’re just in a generation of the web where things are really corporate, and very templated, and things can change, you know. But we just need to be ok with making weirder stuff and using alternative methods, and my number one thing is: Go back in time, find out what people did in the past, because it’s really cyclical and people make exactly the same mistakes. But, 10, 20, 30, 40 years ago—there were all these amazing movements about how technology could augment our capabilities. And look at things like hypercar. Somebody really needs to remake hypercar. There’s all these cool things that can be remade, that offers a more augmented perspective on the world with our technology, and empowers us and makes us superhuman—instead of takes up all of our time and makes us feel depressed because we’re endlessly clicking, and our brain is bent over and we really need to take a nap for 20 minutes.
Mason: Is Calm Tech as a field a way to make sure IoT doesn’t become as noisy and as complicated and as unsatisfying as interfacing with the web through a screen, through a shiny glowing rectangle?
Case: Yeah that’s right, and I would suggest going to calmtech.com to read some of the papers by Mark Weiser. One of the papers is called “The World Is Not A Desktop”. Why do we keep designing for the world as if we had unlimited attention and bandwidth and battery life? Because we don’t. So why don’t we make technology work well when it fails. If an escalator turns into stairs when it’s broken, why can’t we have things have ‘Offline First’ support. You know, how many things actually work on your phone when you turn it to Airplane Mode? Do we need all of these things? No! Do they really enhance our life? Some of them—but we need to take a hard look at it and say, if we’re going to entrust ourselves to an algorithm written by an arbitrary group of people that haven’t really tested it out into the real world and that algorithm puts our life in that algorithm’s hands and we can’t even see inside that black box, where are we as a culture? Are we going to be back in the dark ages where we don’t know how to measure something because we’ve lost the mathematics? Where we look at the source code as wizardry and very few people understand how to change it, because there’s like one COBOL developer left and we study the code as ancient history and there are so many dependencies that we can’t actually fix any of the stuff, and so we have entire parts of the grid that don’t work any more because we’ve said, “Well, it has to be proprietary and we can’t hide anymore because we can’t document it because the person who wrote it in the newest programme language left before they documented everything and now we have no believers in this magical programming language that was only around for two months because it was the hippest thing to do”.
Yeah, oh god. I hope we don’t get a dystopian kitchen of the future because everything is dependent on everything else. It all sucks all of the Bluetooth. You can’t connect to more than one thing at a time. You have a fingerprint sensor on your fridge that you can’t use because your fingers are dirty because you’ve been making something, and it locks you out of eating any of the sweets, but your friend is diabetic and you need to get into the fridge, but you need to file a support ticket to get into the fridge to add an extra user.
Consumer protection aside, you should try to not purchase things that when they fail, you’re stuck. A lot of products are developed for the optimal use-case. They’re developed in San Francisco where there’s plenty of bandwidth, and where your phone is always charged, apparently. And of course, there’s one story—I think it was on NPR—where this guy said “Oh, I want to automate the ticket system in the Bart Station, in the San Francisco transit system”. And the podcast host said “Can you tell that to the person downstairs, at the information booth at the station?” and the guy was like, “Sure”. So they walk downstairs and said “Hi, I want to automate you”, and the woman looks at him and just laughs and says, “Are you serious? You really think you can automate me?” He says “yes, everything should be on your phone, and you can just tap your phone and go through”. And she says, “That’s great”. And she says, “Excuse me, I need to help this couple”. The couple comes up, and they barely speak any English, and she’s helping them out with a physical subway map. And then another person comes up “Oh my gosh, I had a ticket but my phone ran out of batteries and I need to get out of the gate”, or, “My credit card doesn’t work in the machine, can I pay with cash?” you know—all these edge cases.
Because maybe the world on the computer is perfect, and maybe when you go onto websites you can get all these clicks, and everything works—but the real world has sub-optimal situations and I think a Calm Technology assumes that everything is suboptimal to begin with. A tree in the real world doesn’t grow particularly straight. If it does, it’s scary looking. You don’t want a perfect fractal, a rhizomatic fractal grow out of the ground, it’s terrifying—you know. You want the knarly, knotted stuff—that’s what creates beauty. So if we say things are going to fail, how do we going to make something work all the time? Well, a paper ticket’s pretty useful.
Mason: What are some of the best examples you’ve seen of Calm Tech? Where are we getting it right? You’ve described some wonderful examples of where we’re getting it desperately wrong—but where are we getting it right?
Case: Examples of Calm Technology. On my house, I have a Schlage Lock. It’s really nice because it just has a PIN code, and then I have different PIN codes for different friends and and things like that. I can just type in the PIN code—I don’t need to have a phone—and I can press a button and it lights up the PIN code and then I can press the keys, and the battery lasts. It’s just a physical battery—it lasts for two years, and it’ll tell you when the battery is going to go dead, but you still get 50 keypad presses before you actually have to change the battery. It’s amazing. That thing is so cool, because I don’t have to carry my key with me. I don’t have to worry about being locked out. So I can just get home late, I don’t have a key, and my phone is out of battery. I punch the code—I’m done. That’s so nice. And then if I need to have someone come over to my house and water my plants? Here’s your key code. And then I can change the key code after they’re gone, and it’s really good. So I like that sort of technology. It’s really straightforward.
I do like South-Korean washers and dryers. They have a lot of complicated features, but when they’re done they sing. It’s like “duh-duh-duh-duh!” It’s like a happy appliance. I like the Zojirushi rice cooker. That has a little tune. Kids love that thing because, like, the thing is done. I grew up with these singing rice cookers, you know. My parent’s friends were from Japan, so of course they’d bring us rice cookers and like, that thing was done. I’d be like “Mom, the thing’s done! This is cool!”
Mason: Is there a difference between how this stuff is designed say in the West, and designed in the East?
Case: Well, in South Korea, I think there’s a lot of celebration of technology. The idea that two generations removed from energrating society and like you know, you want to show off your appliances. It’s the crowning achievement of the culture, it’s like “Wow, we’re high tech, this is great.” In Japan, there’s a lot of automation happening because employees are expensive, and so you have these little vending machines on the street corners because you can’t afford to have the square feet and the people to host a little bodega. So you’ve got you know, little robots and you have ticket machines for ramen instead of having a waiter, you just press the button of what you want, slide the ticket under the counter and get your ramen from a cook. So there’s a lot of automation in that sense just because of the expense.
The PARO Robotic Seal—I love. It’s for dementia patients. It’s just in the shape of a seal, so you don’t have the uncanny valley of a dog or cat, which is just going to seem really weird—or a human. A seal? Not that many people hang out with seals in real life, and so you don’t have as much uncanny valley when it just looks like a cute stuffed animal that doesn’t have to walk. It just has, like, some flippers and a tail. So it takes the dementia patient’s minds off of what they’re going through, and they can pet it, and you don’t have to worry about feeding or watering it, and it just lasts for a really long time. So there’s some cute things that are showing up.
Mason: I think that’s a great example. Because everyone goes “Oh, that PARO Robot, it’s artificial intelligence”.
Mason: In actual fact it’s artifcial life. It has just very few cues that make you feel like it is artificially alive, in so far as it breathes; it has a degree of warmth; it’s furry; it blinks; it does these very small things that are just enough to trick the brain into believing -
Case: That’s the ultimate cue for this stuff. It’s reactive technology—not proactive. The minimum amount of these little symbols, and the brain does the rest. We already live in a virtual reality, since we had the imagination of people—that was virtual reality. Religion is a virtual reality. Education is a virtual reality. Language is a virtual reality. Everything is a virtual reality. Facebook is a two dimensional virtual reality that we believe in, and we use—and it’s flat and a lot of the idea is we think when we’re on it. We imagine all of these different futures and scenarios, and that’s the thing. We don’t need that much. The two dimensional interface of a book and those words are so powerful, that we imagine a virtual reality in our heads, and can like someone in a book and even know them more than we know our next door neighbour. It affords this like inner thing. And the complexity of a book is amazing, because you close it, and all of the complexity is encased within that interface, and it’s just a little spine.
Mason: There used to be, at Lucas Arts—a researcher…I think it was a researcher, a senior manager at Lucas Arts, who used to go around and give this presentation about this terrible thing that was happening across America, where young children are going up to their rooms and they’re spending hours in front of these things called ‘books’, and they’re creating these virtual reality environments between their ears, and we’re not seeing them for days as they turn these things called ‘pages’. And he was equating that the fear we have of kids spending this time in computer game environments to spending time in books.
Case: Yeah, I mean, a newspaper is a virtual reality, and if you read that on the train and then you talk to somebody about it, then you’re just discussing the virtual reality game that you were just a part of. I think the key to this is remembering that sometimes, when you make something as a joke, or art there are all of these companies who are like “We’re going to hire developers to test out our software”, it’s like “No. You should get artists in here”.
Mason: Or kids. I used to say to AR developers, “You need to have a child in residence”. I think technically illegal—but you would have this child in residence, they would run through, test all your demos, and go, you know what—if it doesn’t work in the first five seconds: Broken; broken; move onto the next thing; throw it away; broken. And I think there’s something in that ability to have an intuitive response with a piece of technology.
Case: Absolutely. And there’s the attention span. So I like putting kids in VR—good VR demos—because they know exactly what to do. Because they’re used to reality as not entirely defined yet. And I think we need to have these zones of play. So you know, the story of Eliza Chatbot, right, in the 60s? Joseph Weizenbaum was saying, “Artificial intelligence? Ha-ha-ha. I’m going to show you how shitty this system is. I’m going to make a chatbot, and I’m just going to put all the stereotypes in of what psychologists say, and I’ll make Eliza the psychology chatbot”. And then his secretary was sitting on it and she was like “This is great. It doesn’t judge me. It allows me to get in a feedback loop with myself, and understand more what I’m experiencing”. Because it wasn’t trying to be perfect. There’s no such thing as perfect technology; that’s assuming there’s perfect humans. “At some point, technology will be able to understand us completely”—yeah right. We don’t even understand each other completely, not to mention all the different languages that we speak. Who’s going to understand that? That doesn’t matter.
What matters is saying, “This stuff sucks, just like humans do, at understanding everything—so let’s just work with that and make it silly, and have artists tearing apart our tech demos, and kids tearing apart our tech demos, instead of people who are going to reinforce the blandness of the thing that we just built, and make it so serious”. You know it’s like the Microsofting of everything. It’s like, do you know where Microsoft came from? Bill Gates was drunk and hanging out in New Mexico and like breaking into weird equipment at night and driving it around. If you have a new thing—like VR—there should be far more arts fellowships and sponsorships to just do whatever you want with it, and break it, because if they’re going to find a glitch they’ll find a way to aestheticise that and make fun of it and write an essay about it. When I was in the geo-tech world I was reading Mary Flanagan’s book Critical Play, which was all about these geo-locative movements and moments, and I saw Dennis Crowley and all these different people’s game on Pac-Manhatten, and I was inspired to rebuild these things. It was this exciting thing of, “That’s that cultural stuff, that a lot of the tech is missing”. And when we just say “Oh, only tech people can build this, and let’s slap some user experience on”, and then it’s just to serve ad-revenue, you miss out on all of the amazing opportunities that you can do to get people to do, to work together and be together, and you lose the opportunity of helping to empower people. And it’s sad that the idea of personal empowerment is now a soft term. Well that’s not efficient. Well ‘duh-duh-duh’—well when eventually when the snake eats its tail, and everything’s so efficient, then what do we do? What happens when someone sells their company for 20 or 30 or 40 million dollars? Usually what I see is they buy a bunch of synthesisers or they go on a one year road trip and they’re like ‘oh my gosh I’m on level 99, oh my gosh what have I done?” and they try to get themselves back into a real movement, or people burn out in tech and they go out into a pasture—like they literally go to a farm and they say ‘oh I’m going to work with the code from the earth, you know. Animals and vegetables and minerals, and I’m going to build stuff, and be re-associated with like the sunrise and the sunset, you know”. Because it’s only so long we can do this before we say “What is the meaning of life?” And what are we doing in this environment in which we say, like, “We’re separate from nature”. No, we are nature, and that’s fine. Eventually we need to remember that all this stuff comes out of the ground that we have to eat, and there’s stuff in the environment we that like, we experience, and people get older, and if the world is only going to be great for people who are 15—20 years old, like get me off this planet. Because there’s a lot more. Like getting old, and raising kids, and hanging out with friends.
All this kairos time that people are like “OK, I’m in my condo in San Francisco, and I’m clicking the buttons to get everything delivered so that I don’t know anybody, and my neighbour down the street even though I live two blocks from The Mission and there are awesome burritos, and then I’m going to go and pay $3k to go down to South America for an Iowaska ritual to try and get some meaning back in my life, because I have taken that meaning and externalised it and put it somewhere else,” you know. It’s not the, like, Silicon Valley of the crazy dot com boom, where everybody was into techno music, and had fun, and partied. It’s like, these people in these tiny containment pods just reminds me of worker bees.
Mason: So how do we get to the point where suddenly, technologists felt that the human condition was a problem that needed to be solved?
Case: This is a good point. Yeah, it’s like, humans need to be solved, death needs to be solved, all of these things. And on the one hand it’s like, heck yeah—I want some of my Professors and teachers to live forever because they’re awesome, you know.
Mason: Some of those Professors would not want to live forever.
Case: No, no, no!
Mason: Some of them are like, just get me off this planet.
Case: There’s this kind of meaning to life when you know that there’s not enough of it, and you panic and you say, “Oh my gosh I haven’t done enough yet and I haven’t experienced enough yet”, you know, and it’s not just going to another country and consuming the culture which looks the same as everywhere now—because everybody buys the same stuff, but it’s about these nuanced moments that are incalculable. It’s about trying to master things that are unmastered. Things like—how long can you push ceramics? Well, that’s not masterable. Can anyone really master the piano and all of the permutations of those keys? What about the violin? What about painting? What about singing? What about dance? There’s all these soft architectures, so to speak, that can’t be fully consumed, or automated, or programmed.
And when you see shows like Star Trek you have, on the earth, everything is kind of maintained, you know. You have vineyards, you know, with John Luc Picard’s family still doing vineyards, you know, and you have all the tech up in space but there’s this preservation of these cultures. These unique items that—you know, culture comes from geography, and mostly geographically based. Now we can have strawberries any time of year in the supermarket, there’s no reason to celebrate strawberry season any more. So part of it’s going to need to go back to local environments and celebrating the geographical distance and what that means, and the uniqueness of where people are from. And another part is just saying, like, “We need support for people who are above 35 and who are no longer able to be employed in tech, and we need to have meaning for people that are older, and we need to go back to a balance where you can participate at lots of different levels and there’s purpose and meaning in all these different levels, and people can have a long, fulfilling life if they want to, and feel like they did something. That the things that are valued aren’t just glorified plumbing, like programming, where you’re just dealing with somebody else’s mess that’s poorly documented, and that’s in a rush because some corporate executive is breathing down your neck and you have tonnes of code debt and you don’t even know the language that you’re in because you have to learn the new language. I would really like to see the ability to make, like, structures last for more than a couple of years. I don’t want to have to upgrade my phone all the time. I want the next version of the operating system I download to be smaller than the last one. I don’t want everything to be connected like Pet-Net style, where it’s like this automated pet feeder that was server based and the servers went down and all the pets got stranded.
I want there to be just a little more thought put into the products around me, and I find it funny that when people get enough money, they buy mid-century modern teak furniture from Denmark, because they want the handmade; they want the long lasting; and they want real objects made of real stuff. So no matter how much we get automated, there’s more and more of this need to have nature and reality come back into our lives, and the more saturated people get in tech, the less they want their kids to use tech, and the more they want to just go and live on a farm, you know. So I think at some point, we’ll…something will happen. There’s only so long that wealth can be ridiculously consolidated, and only so much meaning we can extract before people say “Oh man, I’m really sick of this. I want to go and make music, and I want to go and be bad at what I do, and I want to be an amateur, and I want to explore, and it’s OK not to be perfect, and I’m going to go and share it with these weird groups of people, and I don’t care what they look like, and their skin is tanned, and if they’re wearing the right clothes, because they like me unconditionally and that’s fine, and we can all be awkward together”. You know, that’s where the great stuff comes from. It’s just hard to find those groups any more because everybody’s like “Oh, it needs to be perfect”, you know.
Mason: Thank you to Amber for sharing her thoughts on how we might design technology that respects our attention. You can find out more by purchasing Amber’s new book, Calm Technology: Principles and Patterns for Non-Intrusive Design, available now.
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