Disappearing Acts.


What do you see when you look at this picture?

Most would say they see a tranquil fall scene, perhaps somewhere in New England, and an empty road beckoning them to great times and even better memories. Of course, they’d be correct.

Few would say that they’re looking at an interface. When most people think of that word, they think of the stuff that you’re probably dealing with right now–clicking computer mouses, dragging cursors, scrolling bars, keyboards, the screen, etc.–all of which are tools that let you get to the motherboard, hard drive, CPU, and data that is “really” your computer.

leaf_diagramBut an interface is precisely what you’re seeing in the image. In fact, you’re seeing at least two: the forest, and then the road. Even more, depending on how you see the forest, and what you notice when you do, right, one could argue that you’re looking at, not just one but, a series of complex independent interfaces–ones that, together, we read as “nature”–all of them enabling access to a host of subsystems that trap moisture, scrub air, regulate and capture sunlight, house animals, fertilize soil, stabilize ambient temperature, ablate wind, feed users, etc., etc. Indeed, nature is continuously “computing.” It’s just so low-key about it that not only do we not notice, we don’t even think of it this way. (Plus, nature never crashes.)

What would it take to create hardware and software that do what nature’s do: Vanish, so that you don’t even perceive them any more?

In his book, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing, author Adam Greenfield argues for a nearing era of “ubiquitous computing…a computing without computers, where information processing has diffused into everyday life, and virtually disappeared from view.”

225px-luther46cLike Martin Luther, right, who wrought a revolution when he nailed his 95 theses to the door of the castle church in Wittenberg, Greenfield has divided his text into 81 “‘theses on the next computing,’ divided into six sections.” As he says in the intro to his book,

This book is an attempt to describe the form computing will take in the next few years. Specifically, it’s about a vision of processing power so distributed throughout the environment that computers per se effectively disappear. It’s about the enormous consequences this disappearance has for the kinds of tasks computers are applied to, for the way we use them, and for what we understand them to be.

Although aspects of this vision have been called a variety of names – ubiquitous computing, pervasive computing, physical computing, tangible media, and so on – I think of each as a facet of one coherent paradigm of interaction that I call everyware.

How possible is this, or likely? Even more, what will it mean for human culture when our computers become so powerful that they just blend into the woodwork, so to speak?

Adam Greenfield is the guest today on this repeat edition of my WBAI-NY / 99.5 FM radio show, NONFICTION, this afternoon, Friday, March 27, at 2 pm ET.

You can hear his ideas by tuning in at 2 pm. If you’re outside of the New York tri-state, check out our stream on the web. If you miss the live show, dig into our archives for up to 90 days after broadcast.



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