Storytelling to enhance technology
The promise of technology is to make life easier and more agreeable for people. Saving time on chores would free up time for leisure and the finer things of life, so that we live fuller, richer lives.
Yet few people today feel as though they are enjoying the fruits of the promise. Technology often seems to make life more complicated, more hectic, more stressful, with time feeling every day more scarce, and one's nerves ever more jangled.
Is this inevitable? Will technology simply go on making things worse and worse?
"Not necessarily," says John Seely Brown, Chief Scientist of Xerox, and co author of The Social Life of Information. What we need, says John Seely Brown is
"ubiquitous, or calm, computing — computers with seamless interfaces. It's a completely different concept from what we have today, as we grapple with intrusive devices — pop-up E-mails, phones ringing — and too much information we don't need. We've increased our tunnel vision but decreased our ability to become attuned to things happening around us in a subconscious way. That's one reason everyone is so frazzled....
"As we move forward, what excites me is that technology is finally getting powerful enough to get out of the way....
"My mantra here is keeping things simple. I would like to bring a sense of tranquility back into the life of a knowledge worker. Everybody says they are being overwhelmed by confusion, change, information -- and nobody seems to have time to step back, get a perspective on things, get bearings, feeling like they are located. Almost everyone talks about being lost in a familiar place. Something is going wrong, and some of it is that the technology is driving us faster and faster and faster ...
Brown tells a miniature story to help communicate what a different future, with an intelligent use of computers, would be like:
"I could create an envisioning of the year 2020 ... that just felt like ... sitting on my porch at home, able to be on the borderline between public and private. Being able to see what's happening around me, being able to interact with my neighbors, with my community when I want. Being able to sit back and read quietly, sense the tranquillity yet connectedness, the ability to get perspective on big problems and yet be a part of the local scene...."
Interview with John Seely Brown reported in Star Tribune
Interview with John Seely Brown in ComputerWorld with senior editor Anne McCrory