Encalming Technology

In their article, Weiser and Brown give the Ambient Information Systems a name called Calm Technology. According to Weiser and Brown, “enhanced peripheral reach increases our knowledge and so our ability to act without increasing information overload” (P.2, Weiser and Brown 1995). This type of technology provide the users information they need to know for their actions in the background and only brings the user’s attention to these information when needed. The best example, which illuminate their point, in my view, is the inner office windows. According to Weiser and Brown, adding inner office windows in a office “connects people inside to the nearby world” by  providing information such as “motion of other people down the hall (it is time for lunch; the big meeting is starting) or noticing the same person peeking in for the third time while you are on the phone (they really want to see me; I forgot an appointment)” ,etc.

These kind of technology is very exciting because it utilize the senses that are normally peripheral to us to provide information which enhances the users’ actions. For example, in the “Dangling String” example, The users will be able to notice something wrong with the bit transmission by some irregular sounds from the strings. In this way the users can focus on other actions and shift their attention to the data transmission part of the system only when the irregular sounds occur.  As Weiser and Brown mentioned, in this way, “more information could be more encalming.” (P5, Weiser & Brown, 1995).

Sensory information in calm computing

First off, I found it very interesting that the authors of Calm Technology chose to discuss glass office windows as an example—I found it very fitting, but surprising! However, it helped me bring the concept of calm computing more into my everyday life, since I don’t regularly encounter items like the Live Wire piece.

One aspect I think is missing from the examples is the concept of progress. One of the reasons, for instance, that users might have a dashboard is to know what their schedule is, what is upcoming, or what time it is. Is there a way to use ambient media to signal progress along some sort of continuum? Currently there are many variations tackling that problem using GUIs and traditional patterns, but it didn’t seem that any of the examples covered it. I take it as an assumption that one would need “progress” to be in the center of their attention in order to grasp it, but why? After all, we can judge progress in terms of distance out of our peripheral vision, or when there are tangible items within our view. But I’m having trouble calling to mind an example of calm computing that incorporates notions of progress when the TUI is in the periphery rather than central.

I’d also be curious to discuss how to bring in our other senses to calm computing. For instance, vision and hearing play a big role in the examples: one is looking at a dashboard, seeing or hearing a Live Wire, or looking through or hearing people through a glass window. But what about taste? What about touch or skin conductance? (These are, after all, classified as TUIs—but there wasn’t any discussion of their tangible properties.) What about temperature variations? And what about smell? Those senses always alert us to potential danger—original ambient media, as another student pointed out in reference to smoke detectors—but how are artists and creators incorporating them into calm computing as a way to communicate meaning and information?