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Remaking the World

My friend J. Eric Townsend posted a truly thought-provoking essay on his design blog, All Art Burns. In "On the Path to a Spime-full Future," Eric talks from a designer's perspective on what it would take to transition to a world of everyware (or spimes, in Bruce Sterling's pithier but less euphonious phrasing). He focuses on the concept of "spime retrofit modules," a kind of proto-spime that would give everyware-like functionality to previously dumb objects.

The arbitrary line I draw between a proto-spime and a spime is that of design intent. A proto-spime was not intended to have spimelike behavior when it was initially conceived and designed; a real spime has intent in the initial conception and design. Compare this to early portable personal computers and modern laptops: Early portable computers were PC-ATs smushed into portable cases while modern laptops are not only designed and built on the plan of portability but often contain features unique to portable devices or lack those found in non-portable devices. [...]

Initially, SRM’s can be easily attached to or installed in existing items that their humans want to know more about (or will soon discover they want to know more about). Some of these items might not be worth redesigning as proper spimes while others might be more than useful with an embedded SRM.

Once we’ve learned a few lessons with proto-spimes we’ll be able to include the other side of spimes — data collection and management — in the iterative development process of spimes and SRMs.

Eric then goes on to discuss the kinds of users who would be most likely to adopt SRMs. This is an incredibly important question, but is one that can easily be swept aside in discussions of signalling protocols and hardware formats. Adam Greenfield gets at it too in Everyware, and the fact that this discussion of a distributed awareness scenario is focusing on user requirements and concerns is a strong indicator that we're on the right track with this.

Adam is currently winding down a conversation at the Well, over at the Inkwell free-to-the-public conference. I was enormously pleased to see that Adam responded in detail to my first iteration of the distributed awareness quadrants in the previous post; I will bow to his argument that "everyware" would encompass all four of the quadrants, although I do think the focus in the book is primarily on the extimate/watching us category.


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