The future of portable computing

Here’s an article about NPUC 2005 at IBM (the second part is here.) I attended part of the event, never having been before. Professionally, I think it’s good for me to spend time at different types of conferences. In the past few years I’ve gone to events for advertising, licensing, design, and of course user research folk. The method of discourse is so different at each of these, the values of the community so blatantly different, that I often find it so disquieting that it’s hard to engage sufficiently to learn something about the content. I keep trying, I keep attending, but I’m honestly not sure if the returns are worth the effort.

Yesterday was dramatically academic, with people from the various R&D institutions (PARC, FX/Pal, IBM Almaden, Ricoh etc.) having PhD level discussions of what technology could provide. And these are the user-centered technologists! Yet there’s no focus on the demand side, only on technological or interactive innovations that could solve known problems. Maybe some of those problems aren’t real (a whole discussion about how we need to move 5G of our own data around seemed strangely decoupled from the reality of ordinary people), or maybe they are real, or maybe that’s not even the point – that you let the big brains focus on big problems that don’t affect typical people but eventually those solutions trickle down or can be applied as needed.

My fave quote from the first article above

Smith asked how many people know about Dodgeball? Three souls raised their hands. It’s an SMS app that lets you check in and see if your friends are nearby. Googled recently bought the startup. It has 15,000 users, mostly centered in New York (and a bit of San Francisco), with about 1,500 users a day in NYC. ‘It’s too early to know how sticky it will be.”

Maybe people were just being shy (doubtful) but how they could not know about Dodgeball? Ah, because it’s something new in the marketplace, not in the technologyspace and I guess this group doesn’t care about that. It was a pretty disconnecting (ironically) experience, although nice to run into a few friends. I had serious flashbacks to my earlier days as an interaction guy, attending CHI conferences back in grad school/undergrad, because I ran into a few people I hadn’t seen in 15 years or so, although there was not an opportunity to say “hey.”

I showed up late, and I left early, but I got a bit of flavor, and a chance to reflect a bit on where I need to be focusing or diverging my own techo/culture scrounging.


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