When I saw the “Productivity Future Vision” video I found myself impressed with certain aspects of Microsoft’s future vision. The cleaner design and total integration of technology is beautiful to look at and the actors seem to be able to work and communicate very efficiently.
But, the tools being used are not much different from the email, search, video chat, and cloud sharing functions that already exist on our clunkier desktops, tablets, and mobile devices. It seems to me that these visions of technology are redundant. They are glossy and pretty, but not much more innovative than the . Do we really need an app to tell us what’s in our refrigerator? Just open it! Look at the actual objects in the fridge with your own eyes. Crawford might say that this is an example of form superseding function. This would be a case of products being superfluously redesigned.
By Victor’s working definition of a tool (addressing human needs by amplifying human capabilities) the tools being used in the video do not necessarily “amplify” the users capabilities. The only thing that seems to be amplified is the space between all the users. They are estranged from their families and co-workers and they interact almost exclusively through technologies which mediate their interactions. Yes, their ability to share information while being apart from each other is amplified. But if the goal is increased interactions between humans, then this vision of the future is only slightly more successful than the technology we have now. For the people working together on a spreadsheet at their job, this technology is successful. It is successful because their primary interaction before the introduction of the “future technology” was based around efficiently processing and manipulating spreadsheets and data.
But for other interactions such as the businesswoman and the hotel attendant, the technology does not do much to help the people interact with each other. Instead they act more like research tools. If you are working at the hotel you can download the client’s information and facilitate a speedy transition from the taxi to the hotel room. But this could easily be done with out a human attendant at all. After all the attendant was simply silently accompanying her to her room. Presumably a system of conveyor belts for the luggage and prompts from the screens for directions could have provided the same service.
In the house hold all the screens were larger and on different surfaces, but they did not necessarily enhance the person to person experience anymore than what we have already done. The child is playing video games and video chatting with mom. The husband is updating a digital calendar. But this is not necessarily innovative or even much more efficient. It seems like more of a novel reformatting of existing tools.
I don’t think that all technology has to cater to human to human interaction. But I do think that the technologies presenting themselves as communications tools should better facilitate human to human interaction. Meaning they should not just make all human interaction faster or more efficient, but they should somehow enrich our experience so that we do not feel like we are just looking at “pictures behind a glass” but rather that we are actually connected in a tangible and physical way to the world around us. Can there even be a technological analog to shaking an attendants hand and introducing yourself? Or being with your spouse and child in person? I’m not sure, but I think this is something we should keep in mind when designing new tools for interaction. After all human interaction is often more than just productivity.