Look Up

How technology can shape our addicition to information

This is a written version of a PechaKucha style presentation I did at Bournemouth University.


This is our society now.

The world is for phones.

We’re constantly looking down at our phones. Whether we’re walking to the shop, on the bus, at traffic lights. It’s a culture that we’ve built ourselves.

So, who’s responsible?

I’d say it all started when the iPhone came out. Suddenly, we had a phone in our pocket that could do a whole lot more than any phone before it. Sure, we couldn’t change the background (can you imagine?) but it was amazing nonetheless. As the releases got better and better, we became more and more reliant.

It wasn’t really that which caused people to get so absorbed. It was apps. Millions of apps. In fact, 1.5 million apps on Android & 1.4 million apps on iOS — with billions of downloads. Apps for every person and every scenario. The app market was big then; now the market’s even bigger, better and varied.

Over time, we could contact our friends 24/7, find out where they were, see our whole lives documented in photos, check the weather in the morning, play games on our commute, get directions from A to B and send some nudes at the touch of a button. We really could do absolutely everything.

We are now constantly connected to the world, but by being so connected we have become completely disconnected

We sit at dinner with our friends and have a screen infront of us, people walk their baby in the park and look at a screen rather than their child, we go to a concert and watch it through the lens of our smart phone. We are becoming blind to the world around us.

Isn’t it strange that all of these “apps” and “social networks” are aiming to connect us closer with the people and places that matter to us the most, when they’re actually distancing us? The problem is, we’ve created this culture ourselves. We made technology so compelling that people couldn’t live without it.

There’s a change in the air. I believe we’re about to try and reverse the monster that we’ve created. If we look at the big players in the tech space, we can start to see a shift in focus — and that focus is all about looking up.

What does looking up even mean? To me, it simply means less screen time, being less connected with our main devices and relying on technology to deliver what we need when we need it. We currently check our devices so often because we’re seeking information — what if we didn’t need to? What if there were a technology or device that solved that problem?

Google Glass — was it the answer?

We’ve all seen one of these haven’t we? Google Glass. I tried to wear one for a day — I lasted all of an hour. It was super uncomfortable, the screen was hard to see, I wasn’t quite sure what I was using it for, and once I’d used a few of it’s gimmicks, it seemed useless. Sure, directions were pretty amazing (if they worked) but it just wasn’t enough. Conceptually, Google Glass seemed futuristic and a step in the right direction, but it fell short. It was massively intrusive to your life — anyone who saw you wearing it knew you could record them, it was awkward and ultimately wasn’t feasible.

Looking at Wrist Wear

Wearable watches are far more feasible. We’ve had the pebble, about 100 Samsung variatiants, the Moto 360 and most recently the Apple Watch. They’ve been slowly becoming more popular and the final push from Apple has really put them on the map. In fact, I’m wearing an Apple Watch right now. Is it amazing? No. It’s not amazing, but it has some really notable features. You can get directions without looking at your phone, you get notifications as and when you need them, it records your activity without you doing anything, it gives you opportunity to make small meaningful interactions. It’s personal.

There are really key factors in both of these products. Fundamentally, they are both trying to make you look up — to look at your phone less. They do this in two ways. One, they’re wearable: this allows you to have constant access to it, without having to dive into your pocket. Google Glass took it a bit far and it became a hassle, but watches feel like a natural place to put a display. After all, we are used to checking our wrists for information (the time). Secondly, they give contextual information.

Contextual information is pretty awesome. It’s information that’s given to you, when you need it, without you even asking for it. Typically, we have to go into our phones and find what we want. Not with contextual information. The Apple Watch is a great example of this — it has these things called “glances” that show you information that is relevant to you right now. For example, Dark Sky shows you if it’s going to rain in the next hour. Calendar, shows your next meeting. Music shows you what’s currently playing. It’s all about “now”. Problem: you still have to interact with your watch to see this.

Let’s look at Google Now, because that’s the nearest we have to real contextual information right now. It’s all based on cards that show exactly when you need them. If it knows you leave work at 5:30, it’ll show you the best way to go to avoid real time traffic. It’s a great, personalised way of making your life easier.

The problem with everything we’ve got at the moment, is that we’re still looking down — we’re still having to make an effort. Why should we need to tell the technology what we need?

Imagine a world where tech knew what you wanted, where it learned your routine — so when you were about to brush your teeth, a 2 minute timer started. When your heart rate and activity raised, it started logging your work out. How about when you were going into a meeting it gave you profiles on the people it was with? What if we truly eradicated the need to check your device? The possibilities to it are truly endless. If we could give users what they want when they need it, they wouldn’t feel compelled to constantly check for information.

I believe we need to start looking up more, and technology feels to truly be the answer to that. We aren’t going to change our social behaviour because it’s so deeply engrained in our society, we are so addicted to getting information. I believe that if we give people the information they need with no effort, then they will start to realise they never need to look down again — and they can start looking up.

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