Re-imagining the future, 2009
February 20th, 2009

Today, on the 100 year anniversary of Futurism, Eric Paulos (professor of HCI and Ubiquitous Computing at Carnegie Mellon), lays out a vision for technology design that is increasingly participatory and relevant to contemporary social concerns, in his Manifesto of Open Disruption and Participation. Paulos highlights the computing design shift from professionals concerned with usability, to creative amateurs, artists, and hackers who have influenced technology use in unanticipated ways. In particular, he emphasizes the need to rethink the goal of technology and ubiquitous computing, exhorting us to envision new technology in terms of usefulness and relevance over usability or efficiency — that is, “what matters:”

Blinded by our quest for “smart technologies” we have forgotten to contemplate the design of technologies to inspire us to be smarter, more curious, and more inquisitive. We owe it to ourselves to rethink the impact we desire to have on this historic moment in computing culture.

We must choose to participate in and perhaps lead a dialogue that heralds an expansive new acceptable practice of designing to enable participation by experts and non-experts alike. We are in the milieu of the rise of the “expert amateur”.

Paulos incites all of us concerned with new technology and social media to think about how to further novel forms of participation, particularly in terms of social and political impact:

In any case, the same cultural practice instilled in our ubiquitous computing technology – characterized by open communication, decentralization of authority, freedom to share, and public participation, we be central to the problem solving effort. And who will be the primary leaders in helping to solve these challenges ahead – not the scientists and engineers as in generations past, not us as ubiquitous computing researchers but – “everyone”, you, me, all of us a everyday citizens of our world.

Paulos raises many good points, particularly about the values or goals that have driven the development of new technology, such as usability and productivity. In addition, I think we also need to consider whose world is at stake in envisioning the future of computing, keeping in mind that technology access remains uneven in most of the world. After all, who gets to determine what matters?

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