What’s the future of interaction?

 

The proliferation of connected devices, especially the Internet of Things, was spurred by access to cheap parts. Anyone can now affordably slap a chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, and 3D-printed shell together to build something smart. But they still face one major challenge: how to give users control of their brand-new thing. Some manufacturers opt for a smartphone app; others build a touchscreen control panel right into their gadget. The touchscreen is easy, affordable, and involves no user learning curve. But still, the touchscreen presents its own problems.

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What’s the future of interaction?

 

The proliferation of connected devices, especially the Internet of Things, was spurred by access to cheap parts. Anyone can now affordably slap a chip, accelerometer, gyroscope, and 3D-printed shell together to build something smart. But they still face one major challenge: how to give users control of their brand-new thing. Some manufacturers opt for a smartphone app; others build a touchscreen control panel right into their gadget. The touchscreen is easy, affordable, and involves no user learning curve. But still, the touchscreen presents its own problems.

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Conversation in the Post-iPhone World

I have seen this resilience during my own research at a device-free summer camp. At a nightly cabin chat, a group of 14-year-old boys spoke about a recent three-day wilderness hike. Not that many years ago, the most exciting aspect of that hike might have been the idea of roughing it or the beauty of unspoiled nature. These days, what made the biggest impression was being phoneless. One boy called it “time where you have nothing to do but think quietly and talk to your friends.” The campers also spoke about their new taste for life away from the online feed. Their embrace of the virtue of disconnection suggests a crucial connection: The capacity for empathic conversation goes hand in hand with the capacity for solitude. In solitude we find ourselves; we prepare ourselves to come to conversation with something to say that is authentic, ours. If we can’t gather ourselves, we can’t recognize other people for who they are. If we are not content to be alone, we turn others into the people we need them to be. If we don’t know how to be alone, we’ll only know how to be lonely.

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