December 23, 2015

Using Calm Technology to Spark Ideas

Amber Case has been deeply integrated in technology since her first coding job at 14 years old. Today, she is known for many things: cyborg anthropologist, writer, speaker, product developer and author. Every day, via her website, blogs, social media, email and phone, she engages with her followers or fields requests from event producers and even feature film directors looking to tap into her vast expertise. So how does someone with such a large social footprint navigate her digital life to optimize smart technology without getting distracted by peripheral interactions? By using Calm Technology.

It’s a subject that’s become the latest area of focus for Case. While she’s an obvious proponent of technology, she believes that first and foremost, it needs to give people what they need to solve their problem and nothing more.

This is where the principles of Calm Technology come into play. Though it’s not a new concept (it originated at research firm Xerox PARC in the late ‘90s), Case is working to revitalize this movement to bring attention to the need to design products that serve a primary purpose without overburdening us with multiple functions that aren’t essential to the task at hand.

Case outlines the principles of Calm Technology by suggesting that it should

1. Require the least amount of our attention: communicate without taking the user out of the environment or task
2. Inform and encalm: give people what they need to solve their problem and nothing more
3. Make use of the Periphery: move easily from the periphery of our attention to the primary focus and back
4. Amplify the best of technology and humanity: machines shouldn’t act like humans and conversely, humans shouldn’t act like machines

Two familiar examples of this include the old school tea kettle that exists quietly until it needs to signal that water is at a boil. Or the Roomba, which enlists simple tones to alert us when it’s done or if it’s stuck.

Fortunately, tech innovators are starting to take heed of this idea and designing products with the user in mind. Since its release, Case has used the Bamboo Spark in lieu of the unwieldy notebooks she used to collect. She appreciates the “analog” experience of pen on paper, but also recognizes the benefit of being able to easily archive her notes, build on her ideas and share them with others. She says it’s another great example of Calm Technology being employed: “The Bamboo Spark has just this simple power button, so you aren’t distracted by other functions. It helps me not just capture the flow of ideas, but tame them as well.”

As an anthropologist, Case observes the world around her with curiosity and diligence. It’s not uncommon for her to jot down a phrase she’s just overheard or note an idea she wants to go back and explore further. Since her early days (age four!) she’s kept a journal and captured her thoughts in notebooks. She would fill them up with what she calls “notes from her future self” but her process of archival was rudimentary at best with her system consisting of cataloging by size of her notebooks, i.e. largest = most recent work.

With the introduction of the Bamboo Spark, she was able to upgrade from her static notebooks to the simple technology of a smart stylus and regular paper, so taking notes feels the same but has the added benefits of easy archiving and ability to quickly reference past notes and ideas, which is an essential step in her process of drafting her presentations and lectures.

Curious about how Case uses the Bamboo Spark?

* First, she scribbles down anything she may want to revisit later. This means ditch the self-editing and allow your stream of consciousness to flow. Since there’s no special paper needed with the Bamboo Spark, you can use any notebook so no need to limit your content.
* She advocates incorporating images as well as words into her notes. Sometimes a picture is the best way to illustrate her point or can at least complement an idea she’s formulating. She saves her images to Flickr or Dropbox and can then toggle between her notes and images, part of her process of building a compelling presentation.
* Last, she recognizes that ideas don’t always materialize, but you never know when something from the past can inspire a thought in the future. So take note, even if it stays dormant for a long time.

At present, Case is working on a lecture about how technology can affect sleep. As those who have listened to her TED talks know, she will undoubtedly offer a solution that applies the principles of Calm Technology: simple and unobtrusive; informative but focused.

With this in mind, Case thinks we’re slowly moving away from the industrial revolution-style model of utilizing machinery and technology for efficiency and increased yield, to that of an information society, where technology can help amplify ideas, share knowledge and forge connections.

Case echoes technologist Mark Weiser’s idea that in today’s world, our scarcest resource is our attention. We need to maximize the output of our ideas while using the least amount of attention span—so that we can focus our precious attention on things like furthering education, interactions and the ability to shape improvisational ideas into those that can solve real problems, or at least make life that much simpler.


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Bamboo Spark

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Bamboo Spark Take notes. Make ideas. From paper, to cloud, to life. The Bamboo Spark is a smart folio with a smart ballpoint pen, and a spot for your favourite paper. Write by hand. Press a button and save your handwritten notes to the Bamboo Spark app for light editing. Use the Wacom Cloud for archiving, sharing and access anywhere. Capture handwritten notes on any paper and with a push of a button your handwritten content is saved in the...

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