Here’s a piece I particularly enjoyed writing, commissioned by American site 99U: an exploration of the extraordinary intimacy of our relationships with digital tools, and what it means to negotiate with them successfully.
There’s no such thing as a neutral tool. Everything we use wants something from us.
Cars ask us to behave differently than buses or trains or planes; each encodes different ways of thinking about space and movement. A television asks us to sit and watch. Software asks us to interact and respond. Even the subtlest design feature can nudge us towards new actions—like the social scientists who painted a pair of eyes above an honesty box and saw a tripling in donations from people who suddenly felt themselves as being “watched.”
What, then, about the intricacies of one of the closest relationships in modern life—between us and the digital devices we carry with us—and the ways in which we might meaningfully hope to judge this?
I say “relationship,” and it’s a word I mean in all of its ambivalent, yearning, chest-tightening intensity. A few technologies occupy a startlingly intimate place in most modern lives. Our smartphones are among the most sacred and personal of our possessions, rarely out of sight or mind. For many of us, they are the first thing we touch when we wake in the morning and the last thing we touch when we go to bed at night. Continue reading