Mobile Devices Should Be About
Neither Mobility Nor Devices. Discuss.
In the beginning every human-to-human connection
was unmediated and local. We lived each day
in communities where contact and conversation
helped us to share goals and coordinate actions.
With today’s complexities, it ain’t that simple.
Today technology mediates, enables, and spreads
our conversations across divergences of time,
space, and experience. Despite touch-based UX
and because of cloud-based connectivity, human
networks have intricate fractal structures, making
our interactions fragmented and flawed. The
complexities of distributed communication mean that
we’re as confused as we are elated when we add
tweets to SMS or GPS to GSM.
Is there any way ahead here?
I’ve found that by returning to universals it is
possible to see beyond the latest add-on app and to
situate collections of features in the unifying context
of human need. This is what Youngho Rhee and
Juyoun Lee have done by using “sharing, contacting,
and collaborating” as the basis for designing
wireframes and developing UI features. The result
is a clear hypothesis of benefits, and a clear
relationship between intent and design. Which raises
the question, how far can we go with universals? For
example, can universals say more about mobility and
community? I believe so.
One universal we may forget is that our bodies are
naturally untethered—that is, wireless is our natural
state. Being tied to a desktop computer and then
to a wired connection was a temporary, historical
anomaly. Having our devices always with us—as if
part of our bodies—and seamlessly connected to
the human network is much more “biological.” Put
another way, to be mobile is to be human. Let’s get
beyond the thrill of mobility; we’re only getting closer
to what it should have been all along. So I suggest
we say, “Noted. Thank you. Can we move on?”
Here’s another universal: Human beings live in a
social world, which they co-create in conversation.
Enriching our conversations with shared experiences
brings us closer together. We naturally want to
share our photos and videos and ideas and to meet
together. It is in our nature. And when we share
experiences, we increase trust, which lowers anxiety
and frees up mental and emotional bandwidth to live
freer and potentially better lives.
So just as “mobility” is a natural state and hence
a distinction we can lose, “social networking” is a
natural state, to which 50 years of computing is just
now catching up. Since all media is social media, I
hope we can move beyond the vague and redundant
“social” tag and focus on better ways of living
together, through shared experience, through better
conversations—even those mediated by technology.
For example, how can we make these fabulous
digital channels carry more than 140 characters of
“great burger at shake shack just now”? How do
tweets fit with everything else we have? And what’s
missing? In the universals, answers may be found.
Mobile devices, check. Social media, check. Next
up, shall we have a go at expanding the number
of cool apps, or perhaps design for being human?
Think about this and then ask what it would mean to
carry a thousand friends in your pocket?
— Paul Pangaro
CyberneticLifestyles.com / firstname.lastname@example.org
November + December 2009
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Paul Pangaro is the CTO at CyberneticLifestyles.com in New York City, where he consults at the intersection of product strategy, marketing, and organizational dynamics. He is recognized as an authority on search and related conversational impedances in human-machine interaction, and on entailment meshes, a highly rigorous
framework for representing knowledge. He was CTO of several
startups, including Idealab’s Snap.com, and was senior director
and distinguished market strategist at Sun Microsystems. Pangaro
has taught at Stanford University.
© 2009 ACM 1072-5220/09/1100 $10.00