Thesis 06

Thesis 06

There are many rationales for the move away from the PC, any one of which would have been sufficient on its own.

At this point, you may well be wondering about the "why" of all this. Why embed computing in everyday objects? Why reinvent thoroughly assimilated habits and behaviors around digital mediation? Above all, why give up the settled and familiar context of the PC for a wild and unruly user environment, rivaling in complexity the knottiest and most difficult problems human beings have ever set up for themselves?

As you might suspect, there's no one answer. Part of the reason that the emergence of everyware seems so inevitable to me is that there are a great many technical, social, and economic forces driving it, any one of which would probably have been sufficient on its own.

Certainly, Mark Weiser's contingent at PARC wanted to push computation into the environment because they hoped that doing so judiciously might ameliorate some less pleasant aspects of a user experience that constantly threatened to spin out of control. As Weiser and co-author John Seely Brown laid out in a seminal paper, "The Coming Age of Calm Technology," they wanted to design tools to "encalm as well as inform." Similar lines of argument can be adduced in the work of human-centered design proponents from Don Norman onward.

Much of the Japanese work along ubiquitous lines, and in parallel endeavors such as robotics, is driven by the recognition that an aging population will require not merely less complicated interfaces, but outboard memory augmentationand Japan is far from the only place with graying demographics. Gregory Abowd's Aware Home initiative at Georgia Tech is probably the best-known effort to imagine a ubicomp that lets the elderly safely and comfortably "age in place."

Ranjit Makkuni might argue that well-crafted tangible interfaces are not merely less intimidating to the non-technically inclined but are, in fact, essential if we want to provide for the needs of the world's billion or more non-literate citizens.

The prospect of so many new (and new kinds of) sensors cannot help but beguile those groups and individuals, ever with us, whose notions of safetyor business modelshinge on near-universal surveillance. Law-enforcement and public-safety organizations planetwide can be numbered among them, as well as the ecosystem of vendors, consultants, and other private concerns that depend on them for survival.

Beyond these, it would already be hard to number the businesses fairly salivating over all of the niches, opportunities, and potential revenue streams opened up by everyware.

Finally, looming behind all of these points of view is an evolution in the material and economic facts of computing. When computational resources become so cheap that there's no longer any need to be parsimonious with them, people feel freer to experiment with them. They'll be more likely to indulge "what if" scenarios: what if we network this room? this parka? this surfboard? (and inevitably: this dildo?)

With so many pressures operating in everyware's favor, it shouldn't surprise us if some kind of everyware appeared in our lives at the very first moment in which the necessary technical wherewithal existed. And that is exactly what is now happening all around us, if we only have the eyes to see it.

Whether you see this as a paradigm shift in the history of information technology, as I do, or as something more gently evolutionary, there can be little doubt that something worthy of note is happening.