The Future Is In Your Hands
He dropped a magazine on my desk and smiled.
“You might wanna read through this. There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there.”
I had never seen an IEEE magazine before.
Being an IEEE member is a privilege. Belonging to one of the world’s largest tech publication for professionals – that’s a big deal.
Especially to a young, hungry, 22 year old intern.
My boss was a brilliant Electrical Engineer. He had an IEEE membership and he knew I was hungry to read whatever I could get my hands on – especially when it comes to technology.
I was doing an internship in Toronto back in 2001, working as the only software guy in a team of electrical engineers, in the optical communications division of Celestica. A billion-dollar electronics manufacturer but – like many tech companies in 2001 – it was struggling and it laid off thousands of people just before I joined as an intern. I joined right in the middle of that major restructuring and took over a gigantic task from the previous intern.
It was my first real job, before graduating, building software and maintaining a large distributed system. I enjoyed my time at Celestica. I spent an entire year there as an intern in between my third and fourth year of my Computer Science program at U of T.
The First Time I Really Saw The Future
That year was special.
We had just turned the corner into a brand new millennium and I was incredibly excited about the future. There’s something about being in your early twenties, as a technologist, at the turn of the third millennium, when all the cool tech stuff was just starting to get really interesting. I was eager to get my hands as dirty as possible and participate in building the future – one way or another.
Everything has young back then.
Computers. The Internet. Our tech tools. We were just getting started.
That year was particularly special to me, because it was the year when I discovered a vision of the future that changed my entire outlook on technology and on the way human beings use technology.
That vision was a revolutionary concept, called “Ubiquitous Computing”.
I remember opening up that IEEE magazine and reading about the concept of “Ubiquitous Computing” for the first time in my life. That magazine spawned years of an intense of trying to grasp – even a little – a sense of where technology is going to go in the 21st century. My days and nights become one continuous quest of reading and researching.
The vision of UbiComp started with a brilliant man named Mark Weiser, from Xerox PARC, an iconic Research Lab where a lot of the technology we now take for granted was originally invented. Including the Graphical User Interface – yeah. As in the precursor of the Macintosh graphical interface and as in the precursor of Windows 95. The also invented the mouse. Laser printers. And so much more.
The Three Computing Eras
Well, Mark Weiser, a chief scientist at PARC, divided the Technological Revolution in three eras. The Mainframe Computing Era, the Personal Computing (PC) Era and the Ubiquitous Computing Era.
The first era, was a time of discovery. That’s when computers were as big as a room and extremely complex to use. In fact, only a few people in the world knew how to use a mainframe computer. That time frame started in the 40’s and peaked in the 70’s. The way human beings interacted with technology during this first era of computing was fascinating. Several people would use one single, giant mainframe. Many humans – one machine.
The second era introduced the concept of one human, one machine. The so called “Personal Computing” or PC for short phenomenon started in the 80’s, grew exponentially during the 90’s and peaked in the early 2000’s. This new way of interacting with technology was a drastic evolution from the mainframe experience. Now, any individual human being, technical or not so technical, could own their very own computer, and they could use it in a never-before-seen-before kind of way. Using a Graphical User Interface. Oh – and a mouse. That was a huge leap forward.
But Mark Weiser and his colleagues at PARC saw even further into the future and prototyped technologies way ahead of their time. Mark posited the notion of moving forward in the human-machine interaction into a future where one human being would interact with a lot of machines. Going from the one machine (one huge mainframe computer) being used by many people – to personal computers, one computer for each person – to much smaller computers, multiple such smaller computers for one single person.
True Technology Serves Humanity - Not The Other Way Around
Enter the mobile revolution.
Mark spoke of pads, tabs and walls. The pads they prototype were the precursors to tablet, while the tabs were handheld devices – the precursors to smartphones. And walls, were large interactive displays.
According to this vision, we now live in the Ubiquitous Computing era and what an era it is.
But, unfortunately Mark passed away in 1999, before he could see how right he was along along about the progression of technology into the 21st century.
I wonder what he’d think of where we are now.
I have a feeling he’d think we’re just scratching the surface of the ultimate human-machine interaction.
And here’s that ultimate kind of technology in Mark’s vision.
He called it “Calm Technology.”
I could go on forever with this but for now, the relevant key point is that the best technology is that which becomes invisible to the user.
Meaning, it gets out of the way and you don’t even notice it.
Like a pair of glasses.
They enhance your eyesight and they’re right on your nose but they get out of the way so incredibly well that you sometimes literally forget you have them on.
Or like a smart thermostat.
It regulates your room’s temperature just right – without you even thinking about it. You can completely forget you have a thermostat and you can be sure the temperature will always be just right – almost magically.
Good technology is always kinda magical, isn’t it?
We're Not There Yet - But We Could Be
Are we surrounded by calm technologies left and right today?
Not even close.
The ultimate dream of enhancing human experiences through calm technology is now possible more than ever. We can now make it happen – unlike a decade ago.
But we need you.
We need people who care.
We need technologists who care about the Human Experience – so much so that they create technology that serves humans – not the other way around.
Unfortunately, the world of technologists today is inundated with incredibly smart people who care more about manipulating human experiences using technology for the ultimate motive of them all – money.
We’re becoming more and more addicted to technology in our generation than any other generation before us.
Technology is making us sick. Literally. And our minds take the worst hit - because the computer is an extension of the human mind – just like the shoe is an extension of the foot, or a hammer is an extension of the hand, or glasses are an extension of our eyes.
The way software products are built today inherently make us sick. Think about it. What’s the best compliment an App Developer gets in their reviews of their App on the App Store? “This app is addictive.”
When we say that about software – that it’s addictive – I wonder if it’s not a masked plea for help. As in – this is too additive, please stop it. I want my life back.
But no, software developers always take it as a badge of honor.
“Our software is addictive.”
Really? That’s the best we can do in this marvellous century of ours – with technology we’ve never even dreamed of before?
That’s the best we can do? Build software that triggers mental health problems?
We must do better. We have to do better.
We can do better.
I know the tech industry is biased towards this kind of development philosophy. And I also know that it’s probably gonna get worse and worse.
I Think We Can Do So Much Better
I want Carmel to be different.
Not just in the sense that I don’t want it to mess with your mind and create problems for you. No. On the contrary. Using Carmel will build up your mind and make you a better version of yourself.
But I mean, not just in that way – different. I mean different in the sense that if you stick to Carmel and keep learning, I want you to become a Software Developer that cares about human beings. First.
My dream for Carmel is that Carmel Developers will be driven by this simple, but foundational principle:
Humans are more valuable than machines (H > m)
My hope in teaching you to become a great Software Developer, is that you won’t use your newfound powers to manipulate our minds with your creations. My hope is that the more you become a part of the Carmel story, the more you will believe what we believe – H > M.
And the better the world will be.
I look forward to a future of Calm Technologies, build by you, using Carmel.
Let’s keep Mark’s vision alive and build technology that doesn’t take front and center space in our lives – but technology that gets out of the way, humbly, and lets us be – well, us. Us, humans.
Let’s build technology that way. For us. For us, humans.
Intelligent machines will soon build technology for themselves. They probably won’t be too concerned with our needs.
But we should be.
Let’s build an army of Carmel Developers who believe H > m and who will flood the world with beautiful, humble, extraordinary, magical software products that will get out of the way and let us experience life – more fully.
Stick to the Carmel Story.
Even if you're not a Software Developer today - if your heart is in the right place and you're willing to give programming a shot - we need you. And I want to help you get there.
The world needs your heart.
We need you to learn to build software and build good - no, great software products, and then go out there and build a better world for all us. And for future generations.
Ready when you are.