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June 27, 2008

Friday Philosophy: Mostly a physical and digital melange, plus BONUS: ICANN haz my own name

ESPOO, Finland – I saved a few links for today since most had an aspect of the future of how the digital and physical collide. We seem to be so focused on devices still, much like, I presume, cavemen (cave people?) probably sat around the fire discussing round and round flint techniques and flint celebrities. But, I’m more of a scholar rather than a gadget maven and like to pull back and ask what it all means to our future as humans.

The links below point to trends in the background of the tech froth we usually read about. These trends that will significantly affect our future devices, our living patterns, and how we interact as a society.

Changes in interfaces

An article on the death of the mouse (the one connected to the computer) caught my eye, mostly because there are so many interface elements that are ingrained in the way we interact with the digital world, that I wonder if we will ever reassess their value. The mouse is one of those elements, invented back in the 60s, along with much of the visual interface we use today (here’s a cool video of an early demo). With the rise of ‘touch’ are we seeing the demise of the mouse?

The physically enhanced digital life

Speaking of established interfaces, the wizards at Schulze & Webb are always investigating new angles on how to fuse our digital and physical worlds. They are renown for their service designs and ideas. One project that I have been watching is their Olinda digital radio. It’s not any digital radio. It allows you to plug in modules to share what you are listening with friends. While the dynamic duo are attempting to ‘provoke discussion on the future and design of radios for the home’, I feel that it goes far beyond that. We spend a lot of time in a digital world full of physical metaphors. With Olinda (and other Schulze & Webb creations), the digital is made physical. As the metaphors travel in and out of the two worlds, will there be a time where one metaphor is easier than the other (ebooks in the physical world, come to mind)?

The digitally enhanced physical life

The pervasiveness of digital gadgets has changed the way we interact with the world, both locally and at a distance. Also, the easy access to communication and data networks make us more creative (and from anywhere). James Whatley, from SMS Text News, is at the Glastonbury Festival. Being a mobile-head, he couldn’t leave his gadgets behind and is all tricked out to make sure he’s still connected (and still has charged batteries). He’s set up a site so we can follow his adventure. I just hope he doesn’t get zapped when the usual torrential downpour comes. We also wrote about Love the Farm – Leave No Trace another cool mobile-savvy activity at the Festival (there’s a cool live activity map as well).

A material contextual girl

With this kind of fusion, mentioned above, mobile devices end up in a curious position of sitting right in the flow of things. For years now they have been watching us send and receive messages, take photos and videos, or call people named in our phonebook. These little devices have also been aware of our movements, our patterns of living, our warmth. But, they’ve done it silently, cogitating on the meaning of our life, based on these activites, without ever letting us make use of that info or telling anyone else. Basically, we have this talisman we use to keep us connected, but we do all the work.

No more. ‘Context’ is the new rally cry as the convergence of tech and sensors increase the awareness of mobile devices and, at the same time, connect the devices to the greater world. David Langendorf, from Read/Write Web, discusses what’s up in this area, with quotes and interviews from the players (including Nokia’s own Bob Iannucci).

How will adding context to our life help or hurt us? Where do you think this can go?

BONUS: New naming rules for URLs

This falls off the geek edge, I presume, but I think it’s very important. Up to now, the organization that determines web URL structures, ICANN, controlled the number of top-level-domains (TLD, specifically the last bit of the URL, such as .com or .fi). There were some pretty smart people calling for no restrictions in top-level-domains. Now it seems like ICANN has opened up the TLD naming scheme to other names (especially personal names) and to other character sets (like Cyrillic for Eastern Europe languages). This is great news. I think it’ll pave the way for every person in the planet having their own personal URL (hm, maybe given to them when born along with a social security number and phone number). That’ll open up a lot of new services, I would suppose.

What do you think of this ICANN decision? Do you care? Will it affect you?

Images from Bekathwia (modified image available for download)