Can a clock make the world calmer?

Commencing the pursuit of an impractical idea

On February 2nd, I left my job as CMO at FocusVision, the company that in 2014 acquired Revelation, the market research software startup I founded in 2007. As anyone who has been through it can attest, the startup path is intense and draining, as is working in senior management for a high growth private equity-backed company. For a number of reasons, this was the right time for me to walk away.

Revelation and FocusVision were part of a fantastic, if often times challenging, journey as my first-time entrepreneur path took me from idea, through funding to growth to exit. I have nothing but warm feelings for everyone who was part of that journey.

So on February 3rd, I woke up on the first day of a creative sabbatical where I can pursue things that interest me. There is one idea in particular that has attached itself to me and has refused to let go.

The thing about this idea is that it’s not a particularly practical one. It doesn’t solve a huge pain for people. It’s not going to save the world (though it may make it a better place). It’s a little hard to explain. It’s a hardware project, so it will be harder and more expensive to pull off and harder to sustain than a software project. It won’t likely be to everyone’s taste. And it isn’t likely to be of any interest from high or even medium powered VC’s or Angel investors. There’s a ton of practical reasons not to throw myself into it.

And yet, the thing that most excites me about my sabbatical is the opportunity to work on this idea.

For whatever reason, now feels very much like the right time to immerse myself in pulling off an impractical idea.

This is apparently an itch I have to scratch.

The idea grew out of something that’s been bothering me for some time. We have this wonderful technology that performs miracles for us every day. But yet we too often find ourselves feeling interrupted, distracted and stressed out.

What if instead of creating distraction and stress, our technology made us feel calmer while while still connecting us to the world?

A host of creative coding experiments led me to create my own device, which I call Cine (working name for now). It’s a very visual product so let’s just cut to the chase. Here’s a rough video I made of a current prototype:

Cine prototype with 3D printed bamboo case

Ok, so a clock. Yes, on one level Cine is a decorative clock that will tell you the time and weather. But on another level it’s a cinematic piece of calm technology that creates a peaceful presence in any room.

There’s actually quite a bit lurking within this idea. The idea of calm technology dates back to the 1996 in a paper entitled, “The Coming Age of Calm Technology by Mark Wiser and John Seely Brown, two Xerox PARC researchers who foresaw with remarkable accuracy the emergence of ubiquitous computing and the need for calm technology (https://www.calmtech.com/papers/coming-age-calm-technology.html). From the paper,

Designs that encalm and inform meet two human needs not usually met together. Information technology is more often the enemy of calm. Pagers, cellphones, news-services, the World-Wide-Web, email, TV, and radio bombard us frenetically. Can we really look to technology itself for a solution?

But some technology does lead to true calm and comfort. There is no less technology involved in a comfortable pair of shoes, in a fine writing pen, or in delivering the New York Times on a Sunday morning, than in a home PC.

Note: Thanks to Amber Case @caseorganic for creating a resource (www.calmtech.com) and a book on Calm tech.

The era of ubiquitous computing is well upon us, and the success of the Amazon echo shows the next phase of computing will be about it becoming ambient — part of our environments in a non-intrusive way. The Cine project is in fact an exploration of accessible calm technology. It’s an exercise in in creating technology that can inform and connect us without stressing us out or overwhelming us.

I tend to keep my ideas to myself until I feel they are truly ready for release, but in Cine’s case, I am opening up as I go through the journey of bringing it to market. I’ve created a company called Poinyent to bring Cine to life.

There’s still quite a bit to figure out. It will need people who are interested and supportive of the idea.

So if you’d like to support an impractical idea, and follow along the journey, please sign up for email updates at www.poinyent.com.

And we’ll find out if a clock can in fact make the world a calmer place.

Like what you read? Give Steve August a round of applause.

From a quick cheer to a standing ovation, clap to show how much you enjoyed this story.