At the Trade Show during the tech section of SXSW, I spent a fascinating afternoon exploring the various technologies, software solutions, inventions and other tech paraphenalia on the convention floor. Much of the stuff on display was connected to data management and analysis, and scattered amongst it all were innovations from all over the world. Down one particualr aisle we came across a crowd of people talking and laughing and generally making a big hubbub. Turned out that they were interacting with a new mobile video-casting technology called Beam. Essentially a big monitor screen set at eye level on wheels, it was a remarkable experience to chat with someone ocated elsewhere, have them 'walk' along with you and interact in a very relaxed way. It sorted of reminded me of something that might have been utilized in Spike Jonze's Her.
The device showed up again yesterday at the TED conference in Vancouver. Afriend of mine who is attending, posted a picture of Tim Berners Lee interviewed Edward Snowden, and Snowden was 'on stage' via a Beam device.
Of course web-conferencing is nothing new, what is new is the recovery of partial mobility. Given that communication is more than a 'talking head' enterprise, it is still surprising how much of a humanising element the simple mobility, size and height of the device offers--it represents something of a communication shift in my mind, probably more in the mind of the reciever than anything, but a shift nonetheless. There has been chatter of late, that we have come to the end of an invention cycle in terms of new devices--i.e. with smart phones and tablets etc., there is not much else we need in terms of device innovation. I don't know if that is true or not, who knew we 'needed' what we have now, and I feel that we are never as sure of what is ahead of us as we would like to think. Regardless of that conversation, it seems to me, that innovation, at least in the immediate, will be focused a bit more on making our interactions with technology more 'real.'
For instance, Apple's shift away from skeuomorphic design (Skeuomorphism is a catch-all term for when objects retain ornamental elements of past, derivative iterations–elements that are no longer necessary to the current objects’ functions), the opting for a more flattened design approach to our interface with it's technology would seem to represent an awareness that our familiarity with it no longer requires a referencing of old technologies to make us feel comfortable. Beyond this it seems we might be getting a slew of things to make us even more seamless in our interactions.
Now let me say that I am not a 'singularity' disciple, the idea that one day artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence radically changing human civilization and nature seems a little much to me, and smacks of an apocalypticism that threads through much of American culture, like the ghost of a particular religious influence. So when I speak about this, I do so with a bit of a amoral perspective, I try not to be a Luddite or blind appropriator, but as I look around I simply see more and more ways in which technology is being woven into the fabric of our lives and ultimately perhaps, under our skin. Like most technological shifts we will probably do our best thinking about it after the fact, once we have embedded it and experience both the losses and gains. In the meantime, Beam is a remarkable device that allows for a more flexible and fluid engagement with human and machine.
As for Edward Snowden, he said something about surveillance and Internet freedom. The right to data privacy, he suggests, is not a partisan issue, but requires a fundamental rethink of the role of the internet in our lives — and the laws that protect it. "Your rights matter,” he say, "because you never know when you're going to need them." You can follow that conversation here.