Spark Salon Conversation Starters

September 20, 2013

Humanizing The Internet Of Everything

MAYA Design’s Mickey McManus discusses how design in the connected world can be about people first.

Mickey McManus is the President and CEO of MAYA Design.

Within the next five years, the very idea of computing will be turned inside out. Instead of information being inside computers, people, products and cultures will begin to live in the information. This is something I’ve referred to as the Age of Trillions—when all the “things” in our world (not millions, but trillions of them) are connected to each other and to us. 

What will mobile technology feel like for people in the Internet of Everything? This era promises to be a time of great turmoil but also has the potential to be one of the most democratizing forces for the enrichment of people across today’s “digital divide.” When connectivity spreads to ordinary objects and they are suddenly vulnerable to viruses or bad updates, complexity will be inevitable. So how can we tame this complexity and make mobile technology human-literate? Simple. If you have the back of a napkin I can sketch it out for you.

Let’s Make a List

Make a list of everything you carry, wear, eat, drive or otherwise move in. List it all, from candy bars to clothing and earrings to bicycles. Make all those things connected and capable of engaging and extending your senses. Now multiply that by all the other mobile things that swarm around you—then multiply that by the bits and bytes of data stored up about you and a million of your closest friends. Finally, multiply that by the place that surrounds you and the weather at that very moment. Now take that list, all that stuff, and make it social—social like the way an idea can hatch upheavals, innovations, transformations and subversions. 

We’re not done yet: It’s time for a little social Darwinnowing. Get rid of all the nagging and annoying bits, the attention drains, the idiotic flashing logos, the dancing cats, the alarmist almost-out-of-battery-power signs, and the blue screens of death. Save only the parts that treat your attention like valuable currency. Keep the parts that play nice and protect your privacy without asking—but also let you share. Multiply it by everybody across the digital divide, so everyone has the same connectivity and access to information. Imagine the possibilities when the poorest child in the most remote part of the world has the same access to the sorts of computing power, knowledge and tools that were previously reserved for kings and industrialized countries.

That’s what mobile technology will feel like for people in the age of the Internet of Everything. 

Are We There Yet?

It’s tempting to think that we’re almost there. There are certainly hints at what’s possible. Take, for example, the tools that turn healthy living into a part of your life or even take the idea of mobile to an entirely more personal level.  (Click here to read our Sports salon on body hacking with fitness tracking devices.) 

At my company, MAYA Design, we are working on two initiatives that will make it possible for anyone—from kids to business-savvy entrepreneurs—to author connected mobile products across swarms of tens, hundreds, or even thousands of devices in minutes instead of months. We think of these initiatives as the first authoring tools for the Internet of Everything, kind of like how “Hypercard” or “iMovie” or even HTML and the “Web” were for the last information age. Kids will be able to turn their homes into virtual playgrounds or pull long-forgotten toys out of the attic and tie them together to create a wholly new experience, while tomorrow’s pioneers connect the cameras on thousands of phones to put us in the middle of the next revolution.

What Are We Waiting For?

Okay, so the formula didn’t fit on the back of a napkin. Soon enough it probably will. If we can now make anything and make it right, maybe it’s time to forget technology for a moment and focus on making the right things. And that’s really a question of design. Because mobile won’t be about stuff; it will be about people. 

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