When technology fills in for human connection

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By Ramachandran /  02 Jan 2012 , 14:41

Sharin visited your path, my phone alerted me the other day. For all the things Path does, this feature is a killer. In a real world context the alert could mean many things. Sharin came home. You bumped into Sharin on the street. You met Sharin for coffee. Except that you didn’t.

If you have not already, you must try Path. It’s an app for the iPhone and Android devices. Share Life says this video that advertises Path. While it does many things that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Foursquare do, there is a little bit more. A nuance that makes a new kind of connection.

While Path is the new shiny, and this story is not specifically about Path, but about technology beginning to make a human connection. Not just for the shy and the socially inept. “If I have been to sleep and don’t have at least four messages when I wake up, I feel no one loves me” said this quote from this study of 2005. The world has moved on, and for many of us checking our phone for email or SMS messages is the first thing we do when we wake up in the morning.

We are the first generation of humans touched by technology.

What started in analog with telephone answering machine has been converted into bits and bytes and is coursing the veins of the digital nervous system we call the world-wide web. Soon we will be hearing about the Internet of things, like how we did, Web 2.0 a few years ago. And as it unfolds, more things will be connected to the Internet. Objects like the streets of Tokyo or if you can call cows objects, like in this experiment in Holland where a startup, Sparked, is connecting animals to keep track of their health.

It is easy to understand how we can build bridges between objects and the Internet. Haven’t we have heard of concepts like connected refrigerators that could order for fresh stocks of milk and eggs or cars that could made SOS calls when in an emergency, since the early days of the internet? Many of these ideas are not just concepts anymore and as this video from IBM tells us there are more things connected to the internet than there are people.

However what makes my experience with Path a little different is that unlike objects that have an IP address and make dumb connections, Path can play with human emotion. What did Sharin find out about me when she dropped by my path unannounced.

There are others. Take Availabot, one of the early examples of an Internet connected object that could play with us. A USB device that would wake up when a friend of mine logged on to IM. Made me smile. Or Mingling Mii, a virtual Nintendo Wii avatar that, if connected to the internet could popup in the audience as my friends played virtual games no matter where they were.

We are going further as this breathtaking idea from Interaction Design shows us. With PillowTalk you can sleep next to your loved one even when you are far, far away. Wish I had thought of that.

As we move into a world with omnipresent Wi-Fi and 3G networks, RFID and NFC chips, QR codes and augmented reality overlays. Of connected databases that know us, our friends and our preferences better we will see more richness, more meaning being built around us. Ideas that can change our moods, play with our feelings and mind states.

The reason why this fascinates us is because we are the first generation of humans who have been touched by technology, as this baby born into a home with an iPad thought that a magazine is an iPad that does not work.


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