• Whether it's pre-cut fruit or fonts deemed aesthetically offensive there is a human tendency to dismiss a thing as worthless, self-indulgent, or frivolous without really considering the range of needs across the spectrum of humanity. The latest example in this good-but-misunderstood category to come to our attention is that the oft-derided typeface Comic Sans is incredibly useful for people with dyslexia. Another interesting one came from playing around with Snap Spectacles out in the world over the past couple of months. One day we met a man with a traumatic brain injury that has left him with poor short term memory, and he particularly struggles with matching names to faces unless he has repeat exposure. He was interested in using Spectacles to record introductions to new people and replay them; making these moments into permanent memories. While we may have a particular notion in mind of who and how will use the things we design and engineer, humans are great at adapting tools to address their own needs and will continually surprise us. It's also a reminder to strive for the most open-ended version of something, to enable people to make the choice best for them rather than taking the "father knows best" attitude of limiting options and preserving some faulty concept of product purity. If Snap made you upload content from their camera glasses directly Snapchat and share socially, it couldn't function as memory assistive tech and if a blogging platform won't let you choose your own font, your writing could be difficult for readers with dyslexia to access. 


Making Technology Work for Us: 

  • Ian Bogost at the Atlantic has an excellent piece on how the use of sensors, automation and algorithms is upending previous configurations of how technology worked for people. There was once a pairing of functionality and affordance that would output some straightforward benefit. Now, toilets can flush themselves; saving labor but wasting water. Social platforms that thrive by selling ads develop for provocation first, pitting pockets of society against one another to boost engagement but reducing chances for cultural cohesion. Bogost argues that technology now has its own emergent, opaque agenda that is more likely to serve corporations and tech expansion than people. In the 21st century it's sometimes impossible to tell if we are using technology, getting used by it, or both. Looking at the past may help us design better for the future by working in a similar transparency of interaction and outcome (turn crank, paper is output at some easily understood ratio). 


Upgrading Ourselves: 


Up in the Air: 


Roadmapping the Future: 

  • Christian leaders and church organizations are unsure how to deal with their religion being sampled for a digital generation. Religious leaders quoted in the article speak of encountering new mutations of scripture reflective of a digitized and partially secularized congregation: millennials that are more likely to convert sacred texts into memes and share them on Facebook than attend morning mass. In some ways this mimics earlier anxieties regarding parishioners, where the possibility of reading texts for themselves rather than relying on interpretations from higher ups like priests and deacons was viewed as dangerous. Given the deep influence on public life and policy Christian churches enjoyed in the past, adjusting to a wold where mass culture and technology moves religious practice must feel even more unsettling. The long march of information towards total availability to all continues. Traditional arbiters of truth will have to find new ways of being useful and relevant, giving up gatekeeping in favor of curating, counseling or counteracting the whirlwinds of atomized data washing over laypeople.


More next week.