The Arrival of Calm Technology

The Arrival of Calm Technology

A lot has changed in the past twenty years. It wasn’t that long ago that the most intrusive technologies in our lives consisted of the home telephone and direct marketing. These invasions of our privacy were easily curbed by even simpler tech solutions: the answering machine and a “no junk mail” sticker for our post box. Mobile phones were becoming physically smaller and would soon be affordable for the rest of us.

The emergence of the Internet led us to believe that electronic Personal Assistants would be at our beck and call in the next few years and that technology would liberate us from the stress and complication in our personal and professional lives.

Instead, we have become enslaved by the gadgets and technology that was meant to save us, constantly pestered by our phones and computers to answer this, forward that, share, like, read, monitor and react to every push, prompt, notification and message that comes our way.

As a society we are now more productive and communicative than we have ever been. The side effect is that we also have more things to distract us (like Candy Crush & Facebook), an onslaught of messaging apps, work emails that reach us after hours and more media than we can ever consume in Netflix and Amazon. The result is that our society is experiencing higher levels of anxiety than we have ever seen before.

We are also now far less in control of our privacy than ever. Where once a piece of junk mail in our mailbox caused us outrage (when we clearly had a sticker on our mailbox!) we now freely distribute our personal data and private information in return for free services and the illusion of convenience.

Somewhere on the march to a digital utopia, we gave up the right to our privacy.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

I believe we are at the dawn of a new age, a third age, where Calm technology defines the way we engage with each other, our business relationships and our interaction with the Internet of Things. An age where technology does the heavy lifting and the heavy thinking, and where we reap the benefit of being a more informed while retaining the right to our individuality.

Over the next five years I predict that we will see a major shift where consumers, business and governments will collaborate on will demand greater privacy consumers and businesses when it comes to data privacy.


Keep calm and carry on

This vision for the future was first proposed by The Director of Xerox PARC Centre, John Seely Brown, back in 1996. His recently reprised paper The Coming Age of Calm Technology is as pertinent today as it was considered futuristic in its time. Over the coming years we will see a resurgence of Calm technology in the devices we use everyday.

“Calm technology describes a state of technological maturity where a user’s primary task is not computing, but being human. The idea behind Calm Technology is to have smarter people, not things.

Calm technology augments and brings relevant information to a person without the person needing to constantly monitor or watch it. Rather than focusing on computing and data, calm computing places emphasis on people and tasks.”

Going back even further to 1970, Alvin Toffler worried about a world of ‘too much change in too little time’ (future shock). We are starting to realise that our hyper connectivity is affecting our relationships, our worklife, our family life and our wellbeing. Indeed many of us are beginning to realise the significance of our personal data in the digital economy – even when we cannot fully articulate the problem.


The case for a new model

On one hand, we see some backlash against the dominant business model of the Web (advertising) and as a result, new businesses models are starting to emerge. Recently a new web transparency tool was announced to help web users to make sense of the creepy ads that stalk us online.

“As most people know by now, your personal data is the price you pay for “free” services such as Facebook and Google. When it comes to targeted ads, Google bots scan Gmail accounts looking for keywords to then serve up tailored marketing. Facebook does the same thing with “likes,” status updates and other info.”Xray article:

And on the other hand, the bar for protecting our identity is being lowered to include children. Harvesting and manipulating the potential of the next generation is as scary as it is likely by the likes of Google and Facebook as they strive for greater growth in a saturating market.

Children under the age of 13 are a massive and relatively untapped market for internet companies due to federal privacy laws, but now Google is ready to risk those treacherous legal waters in order to sign them up.Gigaom article:

So, my question is:

  • Do we need calming technologies for privacy?
  • What will these technologies look like?
  • And how will we retain the right to own and distribute our personal data?
  • Are we entering a new era of Calming technologies?

It is in this context that we have to ask ourselves the question: Are we really entering a new era of Calming technologies which empower the user?

I believe so.

The Internet of Things will dominate the next five years. Privacy concerns will soon equal convenience as the most important considerations for how these devices will be incorporated into our lives.

Already, we see concern with people having access to too much personal information in the rumoured Apple HealthKit and the dangers that will increasingly become prescient in the devices that help control our life, such as Google’s Nest and even the potential that your cars brakes could be hacked.

Apart from IoT (where users will want to retain control over their own data), there are many other scenarios where users will value their data and want to participate in the ‘MeEconomy’. With increased options and awareness, there could be a shift from the current apathy towards data privacy.

Parents will want to retain control of their children’s personal data lest they be penalised by future algorithms and services.

Progressive businesses are already considering VRM (vendor relationship management) as an alternative method to engage with their customers with greater transparency.

Services like Meeco could become a transitional experience that provides customers with insight and analytics into their day-to-day activities.

So keep calm and carry on, the calming technology envisaged in 1996 could final be coming our way sooner than you think.

I hope to continue this conversation here in subsequent posts. Comments welcome.

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