Shibuya Girl,

Evolving Away
Boxes of Tricks (BoTs) and Screens

US citizens spent 270 hours/month on screens in 2014. I think this is important enough to reflect upon for four minutes. That’s over 11 days (a day more than in 2013). The rest of the developed world can’t be much different. Hence the league table of personal states of being in a typical month stands as follows:

#1 Awake watching a screen = 11 days (and increasing)
#2 Sleeping = 10 days (and decreasing)
#3 Awake without watching a screen = 9 days (and decreasing)

Overall this is:

a. Bad for our ability to empathise with one another
b. Bad for our ability to get restful sleep
c. Bad for our brains

Yet all we discuss are the opportunities.

It seems like the vast majority of working professionals feel they shouldn’t be heard debating these challenges in public. It’s supposedly uncool and/or unwise to criticise the source of so much economic opportunity in networks like LinkedIn. LinkedIn is indeed a social network for professionals. Its also a soapbox for unsophisticated marketeering, selling and corporate sycophanty. Its a network where people talk glowingly about everything. Good social network, but left unfiltered its quite nauseous too.

There’s no opportunity that outweighs ill effects upon our ability to empathise, sleep and think. Another larg part of the resistance to discussion is shoulder-shrugging apathy. Omnipresent screens are a new reality, but it’s our choice whether or not we wish to push them back down to third place.

I embrace the inevitable move from boxes of tricks to wearables and connected things. One should always embrace inevitable change because it’s unwise to take any other stance. My headset enables me to handle a lot of calls without looking at a screen. There’s now a great opportunity to spread our ‘connectedness’ a little more evenly across our senses.

I can’t prove it, but I firmly believe visual overload (in the form of screens) decreases our levels of happiness.

Right now there’s a lot of people staring at cars, fridges, boilers, shoes, human body parts (i.e. everything) and asking themselves “What great new viral app can I create that uses all these connectables in a useful, novel way that people will pay for”. Perhaps we should also look at it from a different angle and ask ourselves “What do I use my boxes of tricks for today?”. Mobiles, tablets, laptops, desktops are doing lots of things we don’t need them to do and drawing our eyes constantly to screens.

The mobile phone will go the way of the desktop i.e. the growth curve will slow and eventually descend. Along that road many great entrepreneurs will succeed by replacing small pieces of functionality currently delivered in these boxes of tricks. Of course many will succeed by doing new things that a box of tricks simply can’t deliver but that’s the place where everyone is thinking right now. Start with replacing the box of tricks (rather than inventing entirely new processes with the new connectables) and I bet you’re coming at it from an angle that few others are. Of course most things in the near future will be connections between boxes of tricks and connectables — often reducing the need to check a screen. A very good thing.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” Mark Weiser (1991)

One other little thing. The terminology in this space is becoming ridiculous. Ask yourself what people will laugh at in a decade or two. “The Internet of Things” or the “The internet of Everything”. Call me a geek but I think they are hilarious already. I use them because right now IoT and IoE are accepted terminology. Recently Estimote trademarked the word ‘Nearables’. Great technology Estimote, but it’s a stupid word to trademark. If anyone remembers it in a decade, they’ll be under the table laughing if it’s brought up in some geeky conversation.

Why can’t we keep it simple? Connectables. They are all ‘Connectables’. Within that ‘Wearables’ is a perfectly acceptable subset. And it’s a subset — it’s not separate. Within ‘Wearables’ the word ‘Hearables’ is a perfectly acceptable subset. Sensory categories make sense. Software companies tend not to understand much about human languages or semantics. Hence I suppose we’ll have to suffer for a time. I won’t do it in silence.

We will evolve to use connectables primarily to augment and enhance our daily activities. Let’s try and speed up the part where we reduce screens that eat our time unnecessarily. If you’re the parent of a toddler or young child right now, you will sympathise with that. And that says it all really.

“Time is the coin of your life. It is the only coin you have, and only you can determine how it will be spent. Be careful lest you let other people spend it for you.”
Carl Sandburg

We kneel at the alter of Boxes of Tricks every day because they do a lot of cool stuff. It would be very cool (and timely) if a few more people stood up and pointed out the other side of the coin. BoTs are also time eating, sleep disrupting, intellect consuming, empathy reducing machines.

Wikipedia currently says that ‘bots’ typically “perform tasks that are both simple and structurally repetitive, at a much higher rate than would be possible for a human alone”. BoTs (Boxes of Tricks) are slightly more invasive. For all the usefulness and fun that BoTs bring into our world, they are also designed to seduce humans into performing tasks that are usually simple and structurally repetitive — and to do them more regularly than is healthy.

And that’s when we’re not passively viewing screens.

Time to create a new ripple in the matrix.
Time to create a new rhythm in our lives.
Time to evolve a little faster.
Time to wake up and think about reclaiming Time itself.

Stephen Cummins,
CEO & Founder, AppSelekt


‘Shibuya Girl’ © Stephen Cummins Photography

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Photography+Text © Stephen Cummins