Posts tagged “the omni project”

the Omni project welcomes Kristine Ng

We’re stoked to announce that Kristine Ng, a 2nd year masters student at UC Berkeley’s School of Information, has been assimilated into the hive mind will be helping out with the Omni project.

Kristine’s studies are concentrating on user experience and HCI, and she hopes to work as an Interaction Designer after graduating next May. Prior to that she worked as a Graphic Designer after achieving her BFA in Design and Visual Communications at Washington University in St. Louis.

She is fascinated by gaining a better understanding of humans and their behavior, in order to better design user experiences. She thrives on tackling challenging problems and is excited to put her thinking cap on to further investigate the many ways that technology impacts our lives.

Find her at @kristineng

And then there were themes: Secondary research results

We read quite a bit on a daily basis here. Once we embarked on the Omni project, everything crossing our screens seemed to relate to the topic at hand. We created a secondary research database to document and collect various articles, blogs, video, blurbs and stories about the role of technology in our lives. We commented on them. We tagged them with keywords. We talked about them. We thought about what we’ve learned from years of doing fieldwork and being curious, and attending conferences and meetings. As they will, patterns and themes began to emerge, which are helping us to ground and organize our thinking as we move forward into our first phase of primary fieldwork.

We’re excited to share some of what’s occupying our thoughts based on that work. Disclaimers and caveats: we are deliberately not including links to all the articles that informed us, to avoid being overwhelming. We’ll post that detailed bibliography next week. We have, however, added a link or two here and there to give you a glimpse into from whence our ideas came.

We noticed a powerful, overarching effect: the discourse about how technology is experienced has been characterized by a remarkably strong polarity. We are either becoming dumber or smarter. Being threatened or enabled to greatness. Dehumanized or globalized. Diseased or cured. If we were to think of this as a personal relationship, we’re at a crossroads. What is gained and lost by this alliance? We are making a list of pros and cons as a culture. Some entries in this ledger are tangible and physical, others are emotional and spiritual. We project our fears and our dreams onto our technology-based interactions and experiences. We are inspired and terrified. Some of us want to break up with technology, others are ready to commit.

Example: Bill Davidow in the Atlantic: Life in the Age of Extremes

We hear a lot of chatter, and have a lot of questions about…

…the notion of our own personal exposure. We put our identity (or identities) out there, and our behavior gathers around it in a massive snowball effect, which defines us in this context. So, that’s done then, to a greater or lesser extent. How do we protect ourselves? From who/what? Is it possible to be safe, or have we ceded control of our personal choices and activities in return for participation? The consequences of participation are unclear. We no longer have a clear mental model about the trajectory of our roles. It’s difficult to preview the positive or consider an exit strategy. The fate of our digital lives after our physical death is an example of this uncertainty. How will more exposure resulting from more access, inter-connectivity and integration of our technologies add to the hullabaloo?

See: CNN Money/Fortune’s Review of Jeff Jarvis’ Book Public Parts Internet Privacy: Is it Overrated?

…the broader relational aspects of our technology-enabled interactions. One:one, one:many, one:technology, tech:tech. The oft-pondered question: are we now closer or more isolated from other people for all this? Are we more or less human as a result of these interactions? Who is serving who, or what? The data we generate can be seen as more interesting than the content (even to our own “friends”). We are forced to analyze and qualify relationships in new ways. How many friends do you have? As magical as the tools and tech we interact with are, our relationships with each other even is more complex than it can support. We don’t have the inner social tools to deal with technologically fueled communication. New tech-driven awkward situations arise, or olde-tyme situations, such as break-ups, take on another layer to navigate. What are strategies help deal with all our connections and interconnections, both with human and non-human actors? When do they fail?

Check out: Jonnie Hughes on Salon The Tribesman who Facebook Friended Me

…the constant state of transformation we’re in, fueled by the rapid and endless development cycle for both experiences and hardware solutions that utilize new tech. We have to first unlearn, then learn and relearn ways to do both common and exceptional tasks on a daily basis. The way I note something on my calendar, for instance, has become orders of magnitude more complex than it used to be. Reinforced behaviors and habits are in a constant state of flux, and complicated by the fact that we are interconnected and affected by what we are doing, relationally, with other people and objects. People, of course, have different levels of comfort and patience with these transformations, thus early adopters vs. laggards. Behavioral change is a notoriously difficult charge for innovators, so how do we address the fact that we are thrusting people into such challenging zones on a regular basis?

For instance: Cathy Davidson in the Chronicle of Higher Education Collaborative Learning for the Digital Age

…the physical effects and experiences with technology. Sure, it’s virtual, but it’s also tangible, and is becoming biological. Consumer technologies that intersect with our bodies and minds are increasingly available, allowing us to quantify ourselves. Different poses and postures are being impacted and invented through devices and interactions. Handwriting is on the decline, finger-typing is passé, thumb-typing is prime, gesture and NUI are on the rise. What are the implications as we think increasingly of technology as part of our brains, biology and environment? How are our bodies and environments evolving to keep up?

As in: Pagan Kennedy in the New York Times Magazine The Cyborg in All of Us

…the onslaught of information/data/content/feeds/streams/news/media which we are thinking of as a wonderland, in the manner of Alice’s rabbit-hole. The Faustian bargain is on – do we revel in the delight of access or cringe under the burden of the onslaught? Apps (Siri, Evernote) and strategies (in-box zero, digital holidays, gamification) abound to manage.

No link here… you’re soaking in it!

Adrian Hon: Illustrate a better future

This interview has been edited, condensed, etc.

Adrian Hon is co-founder and CEO at Six to Start, specializing in game-like stories and story-like games. Clients have included Disney Imagineering, the BBC, Channel 4, and Penguin, and Six to Start has won multiple awards including Best of Show at SXSW.

He also writes about technology for The Telegraph, is writing a Kickstarter-funded book A History of the Future in 100 Objects, and is the co-founder of Transmedia London. Adrian studied neuroscience at Cambridge, Oxford, and UCSD, and has spoken at TED in California about Mars exploration.

the Omni project: What was the impetus for A History of the Future in 100 Objects?

Adrian Hon: The direct impetus was the British Museum and Radio 4’s brilliant series, A History of the World in 100 Objects. While listening to the series, I almost immediately started thinking that this could be a great way to think about the future in a way that would more concrete and accessible to the public.

However, my broader drive is to illustrate a better future for humanity. Not a dystopia or an unthinking utopia, but a world in which we slowly, gradually become happier, healthier, and more kind to each other – and of course technology has a role in that, as it has over the past millennia, but so do changing social norms and greater tolerance.

You only need to open a (western) newspaper to see both the right wing and left wing talking about the imminent collapse of society, financial ruin, global ruin, the notion that our children will have a worse life than us, to see that a very strong and current vision of the future is very negative. Ditto for popular culture. Those are absolutely things we should think about, but it’s not all going to be bad.

tOp: What’s the connection between exploring the future, especially the future of technology, and storytelling?

AH: I am especially interested in the impact that technology has on people and their experiences and relationships. Stories are one of the best ways of imagining different viewpoints, whether that’s putting yourself in the shoes of someone with a very different upbringing, or someone in a different time. They have their limitations, to be sure – they can offer a seductively simplistic picture and they often imply that life has beginnings, middles, and ends – but they are far more effective than simply rattling off a list of how fast planes will be able to travel in the future.

That’s why Apple has been so successful, because both its products and its marketing have focused on what you can do with new technology, rather than the specifications of the technology itself.

From an engineering standpoint it is certainly interesting to know that a phone might have a dual core processor and 1GB of RAM or whatever, but this isn’t what really matters. It could have a quantum computer inside and if it couldn’t check mail quickly, most people couldn’t care less.

It’s harder to extrapolate those experiences. You can’t take Moore’s Law and say that in 18 months, people will start falling in love with the Siri ‘personal assistant’ on the iPhone 4S, and than 18 months after that, the number of people will double. People use technology in unusual ways.

I saw a guy at TEDxSheffield say that we should make humanities degrees cost ¬£90k and engineering degrees cost nothing. What a ridiculous thing to say! Technology without a purpose is just an expensive box. That’s not to say that engineers don’t have ideas, but rather to say that the humanities help us understand what we want to do and why.

tOp: Does your work influence product developers and technologists in making real technology?

AH: We’ll have to see – the book isn’t out yet! I hope it does, and I know that I’ve been greatly influenced by authors such as Vernor Vinge and Neal Stephenson when it comes to designing games and technology. Ideas don’t just appear out of thin air, they’re formed out of what we read and see and interact with, and stories help give ideas a more substantial form.

tOp: Conversely, does the work of real technologists impact the way you conceive of technology in order to tell stories?

AH: To an extent, yes. I want my book to be grounded in real science rather than some of the completely ridiculous “design fiction” out there (Electrolux is particularly bad at getting designers to make concepts that are totally impractical, not to mention often physically impossible). So I do have to keep current with what real technologists and scientists are doing. But it’s possible to be too current and I have to stop myself from just jumping onto whatever the big idea of the day is.

tOp: Ridiculous “design fiction?”

AH: I don’t think they’re trying to make impractical and impossible concepts on purpose. I think they’re just doing it by accident because they don’t care either way. You could say that that’s an admirable thing, an unfettering of the imagination, and in other circumstances I would agree. The issue is that their concepts (like a fridge made of cold green plastic ‘nano goo’ that you can just squish apples into and other food into) regularly get plastered on newspapers as some plausible vision of the future, on par with driverless cars, when in fact they are actually far more difficult to make. That’s marketing, I guess.

tOp: How do you think technology is changing the everyday lives of mainstream consumers?

AH: It’s changing people’s lives dramatically. A lot of people seem to think that a) We’ve always had mobile phones and b) They’re not that big a deal. The truth is that most people only got mobile phones 20 years ago, the internet 15 years ago, the iPod 10 years ago, and smartphones 5 years ago. I use the word “only” because if you went back to the year 1000 and looked for the technological changes from 980, I suspect you wouldn’t find a huge number. Yet the difference between 2011 and 1991 is, I think, pretty enormous. I can now talk to a billion people around the world for almost nothing.

I suppose you could say that none of these things really matters compared to stuff like the car and the washing machine, particularly if you look at economic impact, but that would frankly be bullshit. You only need to walk into a university or a school and take away everyone’s phones and laptops to realise how important these things are.

And I honestly think it’s only just starting. As we see more and more jobs require fewer and fewer humans – from call centres to cars to supermarkets – we’ll see massive strides forward in the standard of living accompanied by massive and sustained unemployment. That’s a big change.

tOp: When you look at your personal life, what kind of impact is technology having?

AH: I find that I’m able to do much more than I could before. Like everyone else, I roll my eyes when I hear the words “social media” but I’m able to make a blog post or a tweet that can go around the world in seconds; and I can now publish a printed newspaper, write a book, or even design a game (with a team!) that can go in front of millions, without being held up by gatekeepers. That’s doesn’t make it easy, but it makes it easier than before. You still need to write a good book.

The other big change is that I am starting to own less stuff. Perhaps this is because:

a) I have had to move three times in the last three years
b) I don’t have any kids

but I find myself very taken with the idea of owning just a few, very high quality, physical possessions. It used to be a real sacrifice to do that but now I can get all of my entertainment and reading digitally, I don’t feel like I’m giving up much in exchange for the ability to move quickly and worry less about getting stuff stolen. I wouldn’t go so far as to extrapolate my experiences to anyone else, but I definitely feel like I’m at Peak Stuff. From here on out, I only own less.

Nicolas Nova: Scanning for signals

We’ll be interviewing experts and thought-leaders to uncover a range of perspectives on technology and its impact on society. If you or someone you know would be a good interview, let us know!

This interview has been edited, condensed, etc.

Nicolas Nova is a consultant and researcher who undertakes field studies to inform and evaluate the creation of innovative products and services. His work is about exploring and understanding people’s needs, motivations and contexts to map new design opportunities and help designers and engineers. In addition to design ethnography, he is interested in foresight about scanning/analysis of signals about the future of various technologies. He applies his methodologies in the domains of urban informatics, mobile and location-based media as well as video games and networked objects/robots.

He also teaches interaction design and ethnography in design schools (HEAD-Geneva, ENSCI Les Ateliers in Paris) and is curator at the Lift conferences.

the Omni project: How do you define “technology?”

Nicolas Nova: It seems that technology nowadays refers to the design and usage of specific devices (tool, instrument, machine, etc.) to perform a specific function. Given my interest in a people-centered perspective, I use this definition. I don’t make any specific distinction between the digital and the non-digital. I see a vacuum cleaner or a dishwasher as a piece of technology. Perhaps this is because I work in fields related to ubiquitous computing, in which any artifact can be augmented by information and communication technology..

Finally, a technology is not inert like a stone or a meteorite falling from the sky. As Howard Becker stated “It makes more sense to see those artifacts as the frozen remains of collective action, brought to life whenever someone uses them.” This is important as it means that a technology has been designed and made by people, and thus embeds certain preconceptions that have implications when “users” employ those technologies.

tOp: Thinking about the many things I’ve seen you curate/aggregate/ observe such as technology failures embodied as dreams (jet packs, smart fridges, smart kitchens, discarded PCs, video phones), what do these stories (and they way they are told) reflect about our culture and our relationship with technology? Are there positives or negatives? Anxieties? Hopes or expectations? Is there humor?

NN: This is related to the Becker quote. As any piece of technology is the result of a process carried out by humans, some cultural traits are embedded into it, such as: preconceptions about how the technology should be used, the context in which the technology can be deployed, etc. The example of the smart fridge is pretty interesting if you think about all the assumptions designers and engineers made about people’s relationship to food, such as the idea that we don’t want to go shopping and that consumption is just a matter of ordering stuff automatically.

So, if you take any piece of technology, you can uncover (decipher!?) these sorts of assumptions. They generally reveal the kinds of cultural inclination the people in charge of innovation bring to the table: values about what is important and what is not, hopes about a potential future, the need to go faster, the illusion of being more efficient, etc. It’s hard to say if they are “positive” or “negative” because these are very relative. Even if I dislike the very notion of a smart fridge, I can certainly understand that a bunch of guys with lab coats in an aseptic R&D center really though that their project would be super positive and would change the world. What I mean here is simply that technologies embed some values and that these values are shaped by society at a given point in time and by the companies. It’s clear that the Zeitgeist influences the design of products and services. If you consider that the 50-60s were all about the space race, speed and nuclear stuff or that the early 90s were all about cyber-whatever then you can see that this is necessarily reflected in the way technologies are created.

The technological failures that I am especially interested in are the one that are repeated over time such as the videophone or the smart fridge. They clearly reflect this recurring tension between technological possibilities (e.g. automation) and a flawed vision of human aspirations.

It’s interesting you mention the notion of humor, as generally all these projects definitely suffer from a clear lack of this dimension!

tOp: Are dreams of possible technologies ever realized?

NN: Yes, but they are never really used as we expected. Something is realized and over time the ideas find their way by being hybridized with others because of contextual or behavioral adjustments by users.

There’s a perpetual gap between the intents of designers/engineers/marketers and the real use of the product. This is the beauty of human life: we always repurpose artifacts into something different. Fortunately, this is what I am passionate about! Understanding how products are repurposed is a good way to find more user-centered avenues and iterate to create new versions.

I am really curious to see what the smart fridge will become and how upcoming versions will necessarily include other notion of “smartness” based on more human needs and aspirations. Sadly, I don’t think many companies in this business understood they should adopt this humble stance.

tOp: When you think about mainstream consumers, how do you think digital technology is changing their everyday lives?

NN: The biggest change is possibly the use a digital media for a growing set of activities: listening to music, communicating, controlling the heating system of your house, etc. This does not simply mean that any artifact at home gets digital capabilities, but that everything becomes mediated through different channels (generally your computer and your cell phone).

What technology also does is reveal things that are implicit or invisible. It makes things apparent because there are digital traces: SMS stored in your phone, an email message in your email program, your presence on Facebook, etc. And more and more people are being held accountable for this content.

Among all the changes brought by technologies, the most conspicuous is what I call the decision trade-off. Technologies are supposed to help people, or at least to be convenient, and possibly prevent you from doing things you did not want to do any more. Interestingly, most of the time, technologies lead to new decisions that we never really had to take. For instance, choosing a TV channel among 350 possibilities is generally painful and somewhat new (it’s curious to think that other industries found solutions for this, e.g. shuffle mode on MP3 players). More and more micro-decisions like this have to be made everyday, and it can be tiresome.

When you look at your personal life, what kind of impact is technology having? What specific changes are you experiencing?

I don’t have a car (I rent one when I need one), I have no dishwasher, I use a collective laundry (in Switzerland we have one in each building) and I don’t subscribe to any network TV system (mostly because I find them useless and overlapping with what I find on the Interwebs). I have to admit I am very cautious in the way I use digital technologies. That said, I use digital technologies a lot and it forces me to be extra careful about:

  • Work/life balance: I try to shy away from the computer/smartphone in the evening, during weekends and vacations. It doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t use one of these at those times, but I try to avoid spending a long time browsing the web/reading email/documents, etc. and prefer going for a walk, reading a book, hiking or visiting friends. The more I use digital technologies, the more I need to find moments during which I escape from them.
  • Attention: more and more multitasking, which is bad (for me and the task at hand).
  • Privacy: as I mentioned, digital technologies reveal things that used to be implicit or invisible. This means that I sometimes need to be careful about the traces I leave.

With the changes that technology brings, what do you believe society is gaining, or losing?

NN:The population is not equal. People who grew up with these technologies will be less stressed out by the vague micro-decisions we have to consider, simply because they have lived with this new norm. This is a big difference compared to our grandparents, for instance. Also see Steven Johnson’s book Everything Bad is Good for You. Overall, I see a set of tradeoffs:

  • A huge and diverse quantity of material that can be useful or interesting for anyone curious. I grew up in the countryside and it was a pain in the ass to get access to “long-tail” music/books/fanzines/etc. The web is a formidable source of difference for people intrigued by others’ cultures and who want to learn.
  • However, this huge quantity of material makes us run like headless chickens, taking a quick bite from lots of sources of information but we may lose our ability to sit still and think deeply about a certain topic.
  • At the psychological level, the capacity to cope with large amount of information, integrate multiple factors and make decisions. Yet we also suffer from decision fatigue (e.g., bombarded by requests, information and data).
  • Privacy is shifting and we are more and more obliged to share personal information with others.
  • An urge to be reachable (and aware of current trends) 24/7 which is tiresome too.

tOp: Anything else to share with us?

NN: “One of the diseases of this age is the multiplicity of books; they doth so overcharge the world that it is not able to digest the abundance of idle matter that is every day hatched and brought forth into the world.” Barnaby Rich (1580-1617) wrote that in 1613. This quote inspires me to ask questions about the situation back then and now: if our ancestors felt this overload, how did they cope with it? What happened then? Did this feeling vanish? Was it a continuous feeling or recurring? What about now? Can we draw some inspiration from what happen in the past? Or should we find new ways to move forward?

Tech relationship similes

Over the past week or so, I’ve noticed some of the ways folks in the media frame and express our relationship to entities we interact with on the web. There’s something odd about the murkiness of roles and power dynamics. One thing is for sure – it’s gone far beyond the consumer-producer relationship.

To Daniel Soar of the London Review of Books, with Google, users are like teachers. By interacting with Google we are unwittingly instructing the machine, giving it lessons on human behavior. I like to think Google, the distributed Google-monster, finds us fascinating, an enormous virtual Andy Warhol.

We teach [Google] while we think it’s teaching us. Levy tells the story of a new recruit with a long managerial background who asked Google’s senior vice-president of engineering, Alan Eustace, what systems Google had in place to improve its products. ‘He expected to hear about quality assurance teams and focus groups’ – the sort of set-up he was used to. ‘Instead Eustace explained that Google’s brain was like a baby’s, an omnivorous sponge that was always getting smarter from the information it soaked up.’ Like a baby, Google uses what it hears to learn about the workings of human language. The large number of people who search for ‘pictures of dogs’ and also ‘pictures of puppies’ tells Google that ‘puppy’ and ‘dog’ mean similar things, yet it also knows that people searching for ‘hot dogs’ get cross if they’re given instructions for ‘boiling puppies.’

To Matthew Creamer of Ad Age, with Facebook, we are like disgruntled, unpaid employees. A more pointless, powerless role may not exist!

Some things are lost with each one of these Facebook changes, but they are not only matters of usability, navigation, privacy and other factors in our part-time but ever-more-involving jobs working as ad impressions for a rich company in Palo Alto, Calif. The stuff that inconveniences you in the short-term may make you rage with a hotness that, if spotted by an alien scout, would either send the visitor whimpering back to Zebulon or alarm him onto war footing, but it’s only so important. You will adapt. Or you will leave.

So, have they got it right? Are we teachers? Employees? Something else? Have you noticed other examples? How would you describe your relationship to Google or Facebook?

See Steve’s recent related post on Facebook changes, in which the above Matthew Creamer quote is cited as a comment.

How did we do X before Y?

As I posted previously, we’re looking for examples of how technology has changed an ordinary task so fundamentally that you can’t believe you once did it differently. As I wrote “Even though I was there and did it, it is beyond my power to comprehend now.” Thanks to everyone who contributed:

Laura Borns: How did I ever figure out how to get places with a folded paper map rather than GPS?

Cyd Harrell: How did I ever maintain relationships without voicemail and text? Remember when you actually had to get somebody on the phone?

Chris Gielow: How did I ever get things done (like the bank and the office) when I had to physically go places to do them?

Grady Karp: How did I ever pick people up at the airport before cell phones?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we meet someone for lunch at a specific time and place? (cellphones have taken care of a lot of last-minute details of “I’m running late” or “I’m on my way” or “I’m on the other side of the street”)?

Lora Oehlberg: How did we find out about music we’d like before friends sending YouTube links, or Pandora (I suppose at a music store, at the radio, or mix tapes)?

Lora Oehlberg (who rocks, if you can’t tell): How did we figure out who was talking to us on the phone before Caller ID? I remember there used to be a polite way of inquiring who was talking, or informing the person on the other end who you were (I’ve forgotten how this exchange goes now). Now we either a) avoid unknown numbers or b) listen to a semi-familiar voice immediately start talking, assuming that we’ll eventually figure out who it is based on what they’re talking about.

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a flyer or newsletter without word processing or presentation software; when all we had was scissors?

Peter Stahl: How did we ever create a photograph or movie without a phone (like I would have believed “phone” 15 years ago!); we had to use film: purchase, load, expose, unload, take to developers, wait, pick up from developers, pay!

Peter Stahl (who also joins the club of rock stars): How did we make copies before personal printers and scanners? We had to use carbon paper!

@Kimwolf notes that she never has to wait to get home to check her calendar, because it’s always in her pocket.

The smartphone makes a prominent appearance here, of course, but really it’s a nice list from information-related tasks, to social norms, to interacting and collaborating with others, to pure production. This is helpful to put together with our other work streams trying to get at the different thematic areas to explore.

We’ll be running our next crowdsourcing request soon. Meanwhile, feel free to add to this list wherever you are seeing it!

Cat Macaulay: How did we distract ourselves from important tasks before social media? Guess that what was the executive toys were for, do they still exist or has the pendulum thingie been replaced by Twitter and Facebook?

Lora again: How did we get into buildings? Or control access to physical spaces over time? I’m at a university where RFIDs in cardkeys are THE way to let people in/out of rooms. Just set students’ cardkey access to the computer lab expire at the end of the semester, no problem.

Jeff McKown: How did they ever change the channel before the remote control? (Wait, I remember now…my dad would make me get up and do it.)

Nicolas Nova: How did I locate text in a document before Apple/Ctrl-F?

Scott Thorpe: I can’t even remember how I sent text-based messages before email. Did I print it out and mail it? Did I fax it? Did I just spend a long time on the phone waving my hands in the air explaining complex ideas?

Linda: How did we plan vacations without the internet? We relied on travel agents? And how did they know what places were worth visiting and what hotels were attractive and convenient?

Ryan DeGorter: How did I ever check the time while mobile? I no longer need to have an annoyance on my wrist 16 hours of the day.

Give us your examples: How did we do X before Y?

As we begin trying to define the focus and scope of our exploration, we’re in our own lives with our eyes and ears open, immersing ourselves in the space. We’re capturing sources for secondary research, speaking to each other about what we’re reading, and as we always do in in a project, bringing mindfulness and reflection to the topic as we experience it ourselves.

Last week we found ourselves reminiscing with wonder about our work environments from the 90s, where we were expected to perform as we do now, but without (among many tools) a way to schedule meetings with each other. If I recall, I never had a calendar (before a shared calendar across an office network appeared) of any kind. Other than an informal “Hey, let’s meet tomorrow at 10 about this…” we just didn’t formalize our schedules with the granularity that is common now. “How did we collaborate without a calendar program?” was my head-scratching takeway. Even though I was there and did it, it is beyond my power to comprehend now.

A few hours later (hooray for serial noticing) I see this post on Alissa Walker‘s Facebook page:

Aha. This is a thing. How did we do X before Y?

So what’s yours? (Yes, we’re crowdsourcing!) For you, what’s the thing you marvel at, where you savor the value of Y to help you do X and can’t imagine (even if you’ve experienced it) how it was possible?

Note that we’re looking for real examples from your own life. We’ll collect ’em and put together another post with the results.

If you’re seeing this post on our you can comment here. If you’re seeing it on Facebook, you can comment there as well. Or tweet it, using hashtag #XbeforeY. Or drop us an email with your thoughts!

Announcing the Omni project!

Look out honey, cuz I’m using technology!*

Today I’m thrilled to announce that Portigal Consulting is embarking on a self-funded study about the impact that digital technology is having on our lives. That’s certainly ambitious, when put that way, and of course we will be refining our direction, our research question, our business question, etc. in the initial steps (and beyond). We know what we think we want to understand, and we know that it’s going to change.

The impetus for this project is that we constantly hear from research subjects (almost across any project category) that they are challenged by technology, that they are “addicted” to their smartphone, Facebook, their Netflix queue, and beyond, and they struggle to balance the benefits with the more subtle impacts that they don’t understand. Erica (a participant in our previous self-funded study, Reading Ahead), says it well

For instance, my oldest and dearest friend was in Oregon. And sure, I had to pick up the phone and call her, and interact with her, and listen to her voice and talk to her, and a have a conversation. And I would do that. And gosh, like lately, it’s just horrible because, you know, “Oh, we should call. We should talk.” And then I see her Facebook statuses all the time, so in a weird way I feel like I’m completely caught up with her in ways that I would never have been before, which is great. On the other hand, it makes me very lazy. It’s just like I just don’t want to have a real connection in real life. It’s all just so trying and tired, like, “Oh, I don’t want to have the very like long call where I have to catch her up on all these things that involve lots of stuff.” I never used to be like that, so I’m worried that all of these devices that are supposed to make our lives easier and connect us more are, you know, in a sort of sci-fi-y way, making us a little bit zombied out…

At the same time, we are experiencing a torrent (if you will) of cultural stories about the positive impacts of technology (especially economically) and the big and small losses (e.g., Bill Keller on The Twitter Trap; Dalton Conley on college students seeking like-minded roommates).

As I challenged designers, marketers, innovators and product peeps in my interactions column The Hard Work Lies Ahead (If You Want It), these issues exist in much of the work that we are all doing, but they are also being ignored.

We hope to shed some light and provide some grip points (insights, frameworks, opportunities) that teams can use to deal with this complex situation.

An Open-Ended Approach

Unlike many of our engagements, where a specific scope is agreed upon, detailing methodology, timeline, etc. we are going to be a lot more free in our approach to the Omni project. Our priority will always be our client work, so as workflow and capacity shifts around, we’ll be fitting this in as we can. We also are excited about starting with less of a specific objective than in a consulting gig, and figuring it out as we go. We have a lot of ideas about methods already (from inventories of pop culture, to a bibliography and secondary research effort, to in-context interviews purely to try and formulate the problem) and know that those will continue to evolve, as we pick the next step that makes sense from that particular vantage point.

the Omni project?

We wondered who our client could be for this project and thought of Omni Consumer Products, the “fictional megacorporation” from Robocop (and not the real-yet-homagey company – see more on this from Rob Walker, if your bag is meta).

Omni Consumer Products, bringing every sort of technology to the masses, whether they want it or not

We also thought about OMNI magazine which, during my formative high-school years offered a science fiction/science fact vision of the future, the future we are living in now.

OMNI magazine – gaze upon just about every sciencelicious cover here

Of course, “omni” also evokes key attributes to how we’re experiencing technology right now, such omnipotent, omnipresence, and omniscient.

We’ll be continuously blogging about what we’re doing, what we’re thinking, what we’re learning. Stay tuned!


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