The glimpse of the future Ray Bradbury gives us in his short story ”August 2026: There Will Come Soft Rains” is one of cold machination. (Before it becomes apparent how very wrong things have gone), this future envisions an environment where every need is catered to by an all knowing robotic living environment. This is supposed to feel like utopia, where we become godlike as our every need or wish is supplied to us by the environment we live in before we even need to express it.
In this 2000 Wired article, Bill Joy gives the first dream of robotics as “that intelligent machines can do our work for us, allowing us lives of leisure, restoring us to Eden.”
But is this really the dream?
The vision of this future is one of someone that expects and demands the world to bend to his will. The actor in this vision is the very center of his own universe.
As I read through these visions and thought about these futures, it struck me as not only arrogant and self serving, but lonely and isolating. In envisioning the future, as much as we’re putting Pictures Under Glass, we also seem to be locking Man in A Bubble.
Our own present culture has harnessed these forces in ways that have yielded extraordinary wealth and comfort and personal freedom. The freedom all to be lords of our tiny skull-sized kingdoms, alone at the center of all creation. This kind of freedom has much to recommend it. But of course there are all different kinds of freedom, and the kind that is most precious you will not hear much talk about much in the great outside world of wanting and achieving…. The really important kind of freedom involves attention and awareness and discipline, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them over and over in myriad petty, unsexy ways every day.”
Sure we can make ourselves gods, figuring out how to bend our immediate worlds to our will, locking ourselves into the “skull-sized kingdoms” of our own experiences. But will that really take us anywhere?
“When it all goes quiet behind my eyes, I see everything that made me, flying around in invisible pieces. I see that I’m a little piece of a big, big universe.”
As human beings we crave connection. In Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, our need to be connected is surpassed only by our need for survival and safety. There’s power in connection. And so in my initial sketch of a product I wanted to focus on something that would break people out of their bubble and also connect in a way that was more immediate, and physical, than words on a screen.
(Now bear with me, this is in early early ideation.)
In creating a product, I wanted to create a touch point of connection between human beings. A small flash of recognition, of play, of creation as we go about our daily lives. What I am proposing in an alarm clock, that wakes you up with a series of beats, about 5 seconds or so long, that repeat on a loop. The only way to get it to turn off, is in some degree of accuracy, repeat the rhythm on the drum inputs on the top of the clock.
The alarm will then prompt you to create your own 5 seconds of drum beats. This rhythm is to be sent to someone else, at random or perhaps in a predetermined list of friends with later wake-up times, who will have to repeat the same process in order to turn off their alarms.
What I’m seeing in the opportunity of this product is:
The opportunity to be physical/tactile with the object. Not just pushing buttons on a screen, but having to get up and move (small movements, but movements!)
The opportunity to play, to create. Interjecting a little bit of randomness and fun into your mornings, and to know you are playing this game with people across the globe.
The opportunity to be useful, to impact someone’s day by waking them up in the morning. In slightly the same vein but of a different flavor, the opportunity to be…difficult, in creating the most complex pattern you can in the time constraints you’re given. (If there’s another thing humans love to do, it’s to be kind of a dick.)
I also recently revisited the YouTube chorus, an experiment in which choir director Eric Whitacre conducted a virtual choir thousands of members strong, of people who were alone, isolated, but in the end, together.
The power of using that connection in creating something bigger is something I think has a cosmic resonance in everyone. (If you’ve ever participated in a crowd chant in a large sporting arena you probably have felt it.) In that vein, I see as part of this clock the ability to go online and replay the entire chain of drumbeats as they played out each morning. While there would be no direction to make each rhythm relate to the one before, I’d be interested to see if that would start to happen on it’s own. The website would allow you to see who was in your chain, and allow you to play and remix the different beats created if you wanted to continue the game. The chore of getting up for the day becomes the basis for collaborative creation.