Device wormholes

Something important is missing!

We spend hours gripping and staring madly into our personal devices: our smartphones, tablets, ereaders.

But the difference between our collective devices – like a TV or radio – and our personal devices is that it can be impossible for people around us to know what the heck we are doing when we are on/in our personal devices.

This is the wormhole we appear to disappear down to those around us when we use these devices.

I could be ordering the shopping or looking at pRon, chatting with my brother or filing an urgent report to a client, reading a book or dicking around in a casual game.

The context that was native to single format devices like a newspaper is missing in this multipurpose world.

And from a relationships point of view, this really matters.

We sit in collective shared spaces physically, entirely disconnected and ignorant of where the others are, each in their own personal wormhole.

How does that influence our relationships? What is it like to be sat near someone and yet have no idea where they are and what is going on for them? Is that colleague in a meeting replying to something urgent or playing online Scrabble?!

Personally from experience I think this can be a source of friction, a flashpoint and a place where both/ all parties can feel aggrieved.

The context is missing.
These devices have faces but no facial expressions!

It got me wondering what simple design solutions could solve this problem.

Could my iPhone use coloured lights on its reverse cover to give a sense to others of whether I am working, playing, reading?

Could your tablet sing or ding to indicate aurally what kinda activity you were up to?

I wonder.

3 comments

  1. Victoria Richardson

    I think that designing the context back in is really interesting – but I’m not sure it would solve my particular heart -felt gripe with the wormhole.
    Maybe I am peculiarly selfish – but honestly I don’t want to know what people are doing on their phone/ipad/laptop unless I had an expectation that they were – or should be – doing something else, that involved me somehow. That holds true for domestic and professional life. Would I feel better if I knew unequivocally that my husband was playing a game on his phone instead of helping me get the children ready for bed? I actually think I’d feel worse about the wormhole. At least not knowing we can both pretend he’s working. Whereas if he grinned and said “I know this isn’t really fair but I’m about to get my highest score and I’ll cook dinner instead” the potential moment of friction would pass with a smile.
    Thinking about a domestic setting, if I was chatting to someone and they turned on the TV, or walked off and got out their lap top and started emailing, without winding up the conversation first, or explaining what they were going to do, I would find it pretty rude. I think most people would agree on that. We tell our children “please look at me when I am talking to you so I know you’re listening”. Somehow the sneaky smallness of the devices we use today has made it easier to do two or three things at the same time. Perhaps the first disruptive step was mobile phones. Fixed line phones have always been able to legitimately interrupt conversations (with the strictly enforced exception of meal times in the house I grew up in). The phone rings – it’s an audible signal to everyone – and someone answers. Then that process went mobile and carried the acceptance of interruption with it. And in many social situations now we don’t even say “I’m just going to take this call”. So if we can take a call without needing to say what we’re going to do (because actually it’s pretty clear as everyone has heard the signal) then when the functionality of that device explodes (SMS, email, soc nets, video etc) how do we signal that we’re diverting our attention to it. It’s hard because the function creep of phones came with audio signals too – which increasingly we are learning to mute eg: SMS email…
    I think we need some signals back. Maybe my children will be happy for the particular device they’re using to emit the signal but I need my signal to come from a human being, so I feel like there’s opportunity for negotiation and agreement rather than being presented with a fixed notice.

  2. Pingback: From ‘off’ to ‘silent’ to..? « Will McInnes
  3. iTibz

    I think this is very true, a spot-on post!

    These devices are making life easier generally, as they promise, but one thing that they don’t do is help us get closer to people around us that we don’t know. The drawback is the lack of real-life spontaneous social activity.

    To help fix this, I think people should come up with a way to either disconnect for 20mn everyday and go spontaneously towards others, or maybe create like conferences/events/social movements where people disconnect themselves entirely and spontaneously go towards one another and learn about them. Remember when you study things like drama and all and the first thing you’re asked to do is to go towards someone you don’t know and talk about yourselves? That’s the way forward !

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