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18 JUNE 2014

Calm Technology: designs which require only peripheral attention

"The most potentially interesting, challenging, and profound change implied by the ubiquitous computing era is a focus on calm. If computers are everywhere they better stay out of the way, and that means designing them so that the people being shared by the computers remain serene and in control. Calmness is a new challenge that UC brings to computing. When computers are used behind closed doors by experts, calmness is relevant to only a few. Computers for personal use have focused on the excitement of interaction. But when computers are all around, so that we want to compute while doing something else and have more time to be more fully human, we must radically rethink the goals, context and technology of the computer and all the other technology crowding into our lives. Calmness is a fundamental challenge for all technological design of the next fifty years. The rest of this paper opens a dialogue about the design of calm technology. ...

We use 'periphery' to name what we are attuned to without attending to explicitly. Ordinarily when driving our attention is centered on the road, the radio, our passenger, but not the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately, showing that we were attuned to the noise in the periphery, and could come quickly to attend to it.

It should be clear that what we mean by the periphery is anything but on the fringe or unimportant. What is in the periphery at one moment may in the next moment come to be at the center of our attention and so be crucial. The same physical form may even have elements in both the center and periphery. The ink that communicates the central words of a text also peripherally clues us into the genre of the text though choice of font and layout.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons.

First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening.

Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it. Peripherally we may become aware that something is not quite right, as when awkward sentences leave a reader tired and discomforted without knowing why. By moving sentence construction from periphery to center we are empowered to act, either by finding better literature or accepting the source of the unease and continuing. Without centering the periphery might be a source of frantic following of fashion; with centering the periphery is a fundamental enabler of calm through increased awareness and power.

Not all technology need be calm. A calm videogame would get little use; the point is to be excited. But too much design focuses on the object itself and its surface features without regard for context. We must learn to design for the periphery so that we can most fully command technology without being dominated by it.

Our notion of technology in the periphery is related to the notion of affordances, due to Gibson and applied to technology by Gaver and Norman. An affordance is a relationship between an object in the world and the intentions, perceptions, and capabilities of a person. The side of a door that only pushes out affords this action by offering a flat pushplate. The idea of affordance, powerful as it is, tends to describe the surface of a design. For us the term 'affordance ' does not reach far enough into the periphery where a design must be attuned to but not attended to."

(Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, 1997)

"The Coming Age of Calm Technology," Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, In Beyond Calculation: The Next Fifty Years of Computing, Peter J. Denning and Robert M. Metcalfe, New York, Springer–Verlag 1997.

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1997affordancesambient awarenessaround usattentionattunementbecoming invisible • blend into the background • calm • calm technologycalmness • distributed computing • Donald Norman • encalm • encalming technology • engaged interaction • everyday thingsexcitement • explicitly • human computer interactioninteraction designJames GibsonJohn Seely Brown • Mark Weiser • peripheral attention • periphery • sensory phenomena • sensory processing • technological change • technological design • technology affordancesubiquitous computing • William Gaver • Xerox PARC

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
12 JUNE 2014

Handwritten directions from strangers used to map Manhattan

"A map of Manhattan composed of hand–drawn maps by various New York pedestrians whom the artist asked for directions.

Pretending to be a tourist by wearing a souvenir cap and carrying a shopping bag of Century 21, a major tourist shopping place, I ask various New York pedestrians to draw a map to direct me to another location. I connect and place these small maps based on actual geography in order to make them function as parts of a larger map."

(Nobutaka Aozaki, 2012)

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2012around us • asking for directions • cartographycity maps • draw a map • geographical locationhand-drawnhand-drawn mapshand-scrawledlocation-specificManhattanmapmapmakingmappingNew YorkNew Yorker • Nobutaka Aozaki • outline drawingpedestrianpersonal cartographyphysical geographyphysical spaceplacerandomness • shopping bag • souvenir cap • spatial environments • tourist • urban mappingwayfinding

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
13 SEPTEMBER 2013

Mapping Manhattan: a public art project mapping personal experience

"Becky Cooper, a 24–year–old cartographer and writer... asked New Yorkers–and visitors–to map their own versions of Manhattan. She took to the streets, distributing 3,000 copies of a hand–printed outline of the island and encouraged participants to "map who you are or where you are; the invisible or the obvious". All copies were self–addressed and stamped so they could be mailed back to her.

Cooper says around 10% of the maps were mailed back and Mapping Manhattan features 75 of the best contributions. Some are heartbreaking (one person mapped key places in his life, from the first apartment he shared with his wife to where she later died); many invoke humour (a map of lost gloves, pictured above); some are confessions (a student who shows how she funded her studies with work at various strip joints). Some are handscrawled in biro, others are collages, and a few use watercolours."

(Vicky Baker, 15 May 2013, The Guardian)

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2009 • Adam Gopnik • around us • Becky Cooper • belongingbirocartographycity mapscultural memorydaily activitydiversity of experienceshand-drawnhand-drawn maps • hand-printed outline • hand-scrawled • heartbreaking • juxtapositionlocation-specificManhattanmapmakingmapping • Mapping Manhattan (project) • memoryNew YorkNew Yorkeroutline drawingpathpersonal cartographypersonal experienceplacepublic artqualitative descriptionsrememberingspatial narrative • strip joint • territoryurban mappingwayfinding

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
26 AUGUST 2010

The UK Soundmap project: mapping Britain's sonic environment

"The SoundMap is a partnership project of the British Library and the Noise Futures Network. It uses widely available mobile technology in a novel way to capture and aggregate research–quality audio samples. Your recordings will be studied by experts from the Noise Futures Network and we shall post an overview of the research results once sufficient data has been collected and analysed.

Britain's sonic environment is ever changing. Urbanisation, transport developments, climate change and even everyday lifestyles all affect our built and natural soundscapes. The sounds around us have an impact on our well being. Some sounds have a positive or calming influence. Others can be intrusive and disturbing or even affect our health. By capturing sounds of today and contributing to the British Library's digital collections you can help build a permanent researchable resource."

(The British Library Board)

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around usaudioaudio samplesbelongingcitycollectiveconvergencecountrysideculturedigital collectionsenvironmenteverydayexperiencegeographylifestylelocationlocation-specificmobilemobile technology • natural soundscapes • Noise Futures Network • placeplace-based contentrecordingresearchresourcesocial changesonic environmentsound • SoundMap • soundscapetechnologyUKurbanisationwellbeing

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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