The Long Now

Quick ideation exercises following an experimental research through making process with constrained set of materials at hand

We live in a world where the speed of technological progress doubles every ~2 years, ​efficiency is perceived as the ultimate goal of businesses, while the human mind and body are stretched to their limits gifting us with information overload and exhaustion from overwork. An organisation named "The Long Now" founded by computer scientist Daniel Hillis, proposes an alternative to this fast-paced, short-sighted, profit-hungry world by initiating a new kind of myth and a mechanism that will force us to think long-term.

Inspired by the long now philosophy, a series of mini projects produced as ideation exercises are presented here. A common theme across all of the projects is 'slow interaction', realized from interaction designer's perspective. The ideas are experimental and are meant to be intriguing, provoking and, in most cases, wildly optimistic, ranging from architectural scale messengers to household pests as smart home devices. Enjoy.

"Hello Mum and Dad. I am well."

Moore's Law states that the number of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every ~2 years. As electronic components become smaller and faster, our productivity and the speed with which information travels have kept increasing to the point that we no longer have to wait for weeks to receive a letter from Australia in the US. But for many, fast is no longer what they desire or need. So if small stood for better and faster in the tech world, perhaps what will slow us down is ought to be 'grande'?

Then, what is going to be big enough and bold enough for us to ​pause what we are doing? What can be considered 'big' in relation to a transistor? A micro-controller? A chopping board? A school bus? What about a building? An architectural piece designed for the sole purpose of transmitting message? And it's big, bold and beautiful! I would pause to take a look.

This prototype started as just a set of off-cut acrylic pieces. With no concept or design requirement, the only aim was to re-purpose the acrylic pieces in meaningful way and use them as tool for research through making.

 

Through play with form, the differently shaped acrylic pieces were combined in various ways. While trying to understand the forms I was creating and attempting to contextualize them, one form in particular reminded me of architectural models.

 

Developing this further, an architectural model was 'constructed'. Using an LED strip that I found lying around, the acrylic-made model was then lit up to give it another dimension and then also a messaging capability. Using Morse code, letters of the alphabet were converted to a sequence of blinking lights controlled by an Arduino. Lights turning on for a very brief moment stands for dot (i.e. delay(300) = 0.3 sec), while lights turning on for a slightly longer period stands for dash (i.e. delay(900) = 0.9 sec). The user inputs their message in the Arduino serial monitor, and the message is turned into an architectural spectacle.

Materials & research through making
Video showing a segment from the message "Hello, Mum and Dad. I am well." 
Final model/assembly of off-cut pieces

2020: an electrical outlet

This prototype uses humor to ask "how can we slow down our experience of performing what we consider as mundane, everyday tasks that are best to be done with as quickly as possible?" Could it be that it is in these seemingly mundane tasks that we find meaning and mindfulness?

It is speculated that in the near future, a new type of electrical outlet will be widely adopted. It will have a non-detachable, 15cm long, super-slow charging USB cable as part of its design. The length of the cable is extremely short (and non-detachable) to discourage users from using their phone while it is being charged. The super-slow charging speed is in stark contrast to the lightning-fast chargers available on the market today. It is hoped that these features will force users to use their phones less, thus reducing work efficiency, and slowing down the pace of life.

Materials: black Sugru (moldable silicone) pack was used along with a found electrical outlet cover and a broken usb cable

2020: a metrocard

The future metrocard is imagined as a large disk shaped plastic sheet. The magnetic strip follows the circumference of the card, and the entire length of the strip needs to be swiped in the card reader to register as a single swipe. It is hoped that this will force commuters to take longer time to perform the task of swiping a metrocard - a mundane action that takes less than a second now. As commuters focus on keeping the plastic disk in straight line to the card reader, and take their time rotating the disk in the reader, they would be forced to concentrate on the task, effectively giving themselves time off from other stressful thoughts.

a 2020 metrocard (in a card reader)
The metrocard turns into a face mask that gives much needed personal space on subways

The Connected Home

The IoT presents us with many breakthrough innovations that can be seamlessly integrated into our daily lives, boosting our productivity while making our experience of the world highly personalised. It's attractive as a concept and the IoT land is like a land full of treasure waiting to be explored and exploited. But the current state of implementing the internet of things is far from seamless and there is much to be done in terms of the rules and regulations governing the use and reach of smart devices, as well as reliable connectivity and wearability.

This prototype is a stop-motion animation depicting a house equipped with IoT technology. It differs from your typical IoT application in that the pets and pests play a role in activating the smart sensors and actuators in the house. In the story, our protagonist arrives home and scans his RFID card. He then has to wait for a chain of events to take place before he can enter the house. The wait is purposefully built into the interaction as a way to slow down his perception of time. It is however questionable whether the end result of this exercise is a real solution or a critique of the IoT hype.

The Connected Home as materialized as an Arduino-operated doll house

Rapid low-fidelity prototyping & the non-linear design process

Repetition

This prototype was an experiment with the radical idea of designing without a user in the interaction loop. Since this project began as an exploration of the ways people can experience life at a slower pace - thus achieving more balance in their lives - thinking about such an experience without the human user seemed like a difficult task. The simplest approach I could think of was to design an interaction that would normally require a user interacting with an object, and then simply remove the user from this experience to analyse what is left behind. Interestingly this approach led to a prototype resembling a device of some sort that is not talking to a user, but to itself, effectively creating a machine-to-machine interaction.

An abstract scenario emerged when 'repetition' was applied as a design technique. A machine talking to itself, interacting with itself, and/or patting itself over and over again in itself could be an interesting interaction to explore in the future. Perhaps for the human audience of this hypnotizing interaction, time will have slowed down, too.​

Repetition when used wisely, say during meditation, can be an effective way to focus the mind and meditate. But in different contexts, it could also turn into a frustrating experience whereby we are forced to repeat the same mundane task over and over again just to achieve a nearly negligible progress.

© 2019 BOLOR AMGALAN

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