Wanted: meaningful actors… humans need not apply.

Now about halfway through my borrowed copy of Adam Greenfield’s Everyware, I came upon an insightful observation. Mr. Greenfield’s proposes that there is at some level universal appeal for every ware/ubicomp. My instinctual reaction was one of disbelief. But as I read further I was intrigued.

He writes that humans across most cultures throughout history have instilled consciousness and sentience into the physical world and seemingly inanimate objects… “spirits” if you will. This anthropomorphism was pervasive and

“…indeed, most of the humans who ever walked the planet would have found it utter folly to conceive of the natural world as mainstream Western culture did until very recently: a passive, inert, purely material stage, on which the only meaningful actors are human ones.”

With our newfound advances in technology, we now seem to be on the cusp of giving a voice and a personality to anything that operates on electricity or batteries. The wise old oak tree used to speak to us; now its the vending machine next to the bus stop. As the ability to connect to these machines no longer relies on a keyboard, gestural or voice-recognition commands seem like the logical way to interact with another ‘living’ being.

Nowadays we pretty much expect our devices and interfaces to possess some sort of charisma—the works exhibited at MoMA’s Talk to Me exhibit are prime examples of this way of thinking. Computers, consumer electronics, phones are now quirky, funny, helpful, not-so-helpful but apologetic, courteous, kind… anything but the sterile command-line interface of yesteryear.

In the process, have people become duller, more robotic? People text one another far more than actually talking. The abbreviated acronyms-laden style of texting to me is reminiscent of Newspeak, the thought-reducing language of George Orwell’s 1984. Have we given so much of our personality and behavior to computers that we none left for ourselves?

Part of what I want to explore during thesis is how to retain our humanity, while still celebrating all of the wonderful things technology can provide us. To be continued…

  1. theorypluspractice posted this
A thesis exploration by
Christopher Cannon for the
School of Visual Art's MFA
program in Interaction Design

View my IxD work
Read my bio

View archive