4.3Calm Technology (CT): Increasing Supply Without Increasing Demand
If Ubiquitous Computing would 'only' be about putting computers everywhere and in virtually anything, than users of such technology might still feel overwhelmed by both all these devices around them as well as by all the input and information they receive from them. It is for this important reason that UC goes hand in hand with a special technology, one which enables users to do more while at the same time a sense of calmness remains as well as the notion that you are still in full control of everything you are doing. This new approach or technology is called "Calm Technology";
The greatest strength of Calm Technology therefore lies in the fact that computers are made to conform to their users, and not the other way around. Information is presented in the manner that a user decides, and is easily accessible. The user does not feel distracted or slowed down by using this Calm Technology: he can do more with less (effort), i.e. it will enable him to process more information without getting the feeling that this task is more taxing.
What is it that makes one technology Calm, whereas another technology is perceived as overwhelming or irritating? The difference is in the way technologies engage our attention. Calm Technology (CT) engages both the periphery as well as the centre of our attention, and can easily move between the two. The term "periphery" is meant "to describe what we are attuned to without attending to explicitly"; "Whenever people learn something sufficiently well, they cease to be aware of it. When you look at a street sign, for example, you absorb its information without consciously performing the act of reading.. Computer scientist, economist, and Nobelist Herb Simon calls this phenomenon "compiling"; philosopher Michael Polanyi calls it the "tacit dimension"; psychologist TK Gibson calls it "visual invariants"; philosophers Georg Gadamer and Martin Heidegger call it "the horizon" and the "ready-to-hand", John Seely Brown at PARC calls it the "periphery". All say, in essence, that only when things disappear in this way are we freed to use them without thinking and so to focus beyond them on new goals." (from [WEIS91])
It should be clear that what is denoted by "periphery" is anything but trivial or unimportant. What is in the periphery at one moment may in the next moment come to be at the centre of our attention and so be crucial: "Ordinarily when driving our attention is centred on the road, the radio, our passenger, but not the noise of the engine. But an unusual noise is noticed immediately, showing that we were attuned to the noise in the periphery, and could come quickly to attend to it."
A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the centre, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons:1
Thus, when designing CT, it is important that the periphery is informing without being overbearing.
A technology can not only empower our periphery by making it easy to move from the centre of attention to the periphery and back, but also by having it enhance our so-called "peripheral reach" by bringing more details into the periphery. "An example is a video conference that, by comparison to a telephone conference, enables us to attune to nuances of body posture and facial expression that would otherwise be inaccessible. This is encalming when the enhanced peripheral reach increases our knowledge and so our ability to act without increasing information overload." (from [WEIS95])
1= This information is largely quoted from [WEIS95].