Good overview of “absent presence” and other afflictions of modern technology, found via LMG:
For years, researchers have discussed how cell phones have trampled over the once communal public space of sidewalks and restaurants. The idea is that we may be physically on a street corner, but our distracted minds are not. We do little bits of everything and none well.
A convergence of technologies is making the distractions still worse. A new kind of personal computer called the Media Center allows users to easily watch TV on the same screen where they swap instant messages and burn music DVDs. And Asian cell-phone companies have begun building television tuners into their most advanced models.
How we manage these relationships between technology and people is a growing source of anxiety. It’s depressing, but somehow fitting, that convergence now allows us to be distracted from our distractions.
The article goes onto cover methods of rationing information, such as “email-free days” in organisations. In fact most of the suggestions mentioned for managing the relationships between technology and people are seen as ‘on or off’ decisions… or at their most sophisticated: ‘throttling’ the amount.
There’s no mention of changing the information into meaning through good design (see the Bruce Sterling quote I posted earlier about “what to pay attention to”) – information can be made sense of, and the burden on our attention made less by great information design, information architecture, interaction design, user-interface design.
I think it’s fantastic that journalists, bloggers, technologists and hackers are starting to pay more attention to sociologists, ethnographers and other theorists on the human condition and technology’s effects. However, research and analysis takes you only so far – synthesis means design. It would be a shame if designers couldn’t benefit from this recent, reinvigorated dialogue, as I think the other parties would definitely benefit by including them.
Great design internalises the observed human needs, and instinctively creates useful, beautiful things.
Great design creates meaning from information.
I guess however Foucault’s Pendulum demonstrates we could always end up with “meaning overload”…