March 9, 2014

The Tangible Web

I’ve found that almost everywhere I go in San Francisco smells like cooked meat, coffee, or if the wind catches it just right, a strong herbal bouquet. When it rains, those smells are replaced with a fresh misty fragrance like wet eucalyptus and saltwater from the ocean.

The sounds you hear when walking down the city streets at night are almost indescribable, and in my experience, unique to San Francisco. A cacophony of sounds; mixed conversations from passerby, bike bells, hysterical laughter, and the casual free-styling hip hop artists, all merge together to create what I like to call the rhythm of the street.

Despite the enchanting auditory and olfactory senses of the city, what makes the Bay area truly incredible is what it feels like. There is so much to experience, so much to touch. Hands closing around a warm cup, the tug of a soft scarf to shield cold cheeks against the chilly caress of fog, the push on an antiquated doorbell, or the soft tug on the handle of strong bicycle brakes.

But there is also a shift.

It happens when we stop spending time in San Francisco and start spending our time online. Heads down, faces illuminated with LED screens, senses dulled and minds spinning.

Before we’ve had a chance to develop a thirst for real life, we lie exhausted in bed, screens covered in fingerprints, the day outside forgotten, and fall into a restless sleep. Lonely and detached from the world, overwhelmed by a constant influx of information, and left uncertain about what to do next.

Technology is evolving, yes, but the problem lies in what it is replacing, and with who gets left behind. Those of us lucky enough to be born into the influence of digital technologies are far more fortunate than those whose every action is simply a desperate attempt to survive it.

My thoughts stem from basic observations. I’ve noticed people struggle with apps, scream at machines, drop expensive, unfeeling equipment and cry out in despair. It seems the frustrations lie within an inherent desire to touch and push and pull and control objects beyond plate glass, metal and plastic.

Why is the word “wearable” now equated with wrapping complex digital media around one’s body? What are these tiny screens, lights, and plastic bands intertwined with an onslaught of overly complex and bloated feature sets meant to accomplish beyond pure profit goals?

Inspired by Krishna’s movement for #noui, I propose a world where the interface is not invisible, but a world in which the interfaces are better disguised. Let’s move away from desks and screens and begin to adapt to the world existing around us, rather than forcing ourselves to adapt to something else.

Now, step away from this screen. Enjoy the outdoors for a moment. Find a new appreciation for the physical world, and open your mind to the beginning of something more familiar, both physical and tactile. It’s what I’m starting to refer to as a #TrulyTangibleWeb.


Sketching while thinking about touching vs pushing...contemplating the differences in satisfaction