I recently read this Washington Post article (We can’t see the forest for the T-Mobiles). The article discusses how many of us are getting 8.5 hrs screen-time a day, either through TVs, computers or our mobile phones (Blackberrys, iPods, etc.) The latter in particular poses a potential problem; have we become ‘digital zombies’, walking around completely unawares of our surroundings? Working, playing or social networking on the fly. Are we missing out on the real world? The beauty of our cities, the culture within them, or have we replaced it with something more interesting?
The content available to us through our handheld devices has never been more extensive and is set to continue to grow, both in volume and in terms of complexity.
Last year there was a campaign on the London Underground to get people to take out their earphones to listen to the buskers (who are given spots to play within the underground stations). The problem being that with huge music libraries at our disposal, we almost always have something we would rather listen to, and the buskers don’t get as much income from their performance.
However, it is hard to criticize people for wanting to use their phones; playing games and using the Internet stimulates the mind and potentially extends the working day. We may be zombies on the outside, but inside we are being stimulated by a wealth of material, arguably more than there is to observe in our real world commute. On top of this, people are being sociable, not with their fellow passengers, but with friends, family and colleagues. While we are not making new connections with passengers, online tools are helping us make more relevant social connections through our phones.
What we are missing out on is the random connections provided by a commute, random music provided by buskers and radio stations, and the random surprises that our physical environment has to offer. While we rely on digital tools to provide us with new content, we will always be limited to our patterns of use and circles of comfort. Random interactions force us to meet with new people, music and ideas. This is why the human element of the web is so important, and tools like twitter, which provide us with human-filtered content, are key to stimulating our minds.
As for being zombies on the outside, developments in the way we consume online material, namely augmented reality (AR), will move viewing behaviors to a head-up display with information layered upon our physical environment. Whether we will then pay more attention to what is physically around us is another matter.
Ok, so I have some decent headphones already. They’re kinda bulky, so when I can’t be bothered to take them with me, I make do with the crappy iPod in-ear headphones. Now, I almost certainly don’t need more headphones, but a couple of offerings from the continent are really making me want to reach for my wallet.
Urbanears - Tanto by Norranorr (Sweden) are available in a wide range of ’80s pastels as well as some more neutral colours. The real draw for me is the fabric cable, which is a really nice touch. US$40
The Tracks headphones, designed by Danish studio Kilo Design for AIAIAI (€50) are also offering retro-styled headphones in some awesome colour-ways (as well as black and cream). Components are interchangeable to mix and match colours - the black with teal is a particularly nice combo. They also do some pretty cool in-ear headphones in similarly cool colours.
Maybe when I’m feeling a bit richer I’ll pick up a pair. In the mean time, all eyes to Scandinavia for some super-cool in-house design.
Playing with scale is always fun. Like eating the eat me cake in Alice in Wonderland, unusual proportions bring unfamiliarity, and with it comes a feeling of wonderment. But in a retail environment, how does the effect of scale change the characteristics of a product, and who do oversized and miniaturized products appeal to? Here are a few examples:
Jasper Morisson and Naoto Fuakasawa define the goose egg as the paradigm of super normal. Almost identical to the chicken egg, except for its size, the goose egg provides amazement through its manipulation of normality.
The classic Swatch watch comes in two sizes: gents and ladies. Whilst I very much like and perhaps even prefer the smaller watch, it is most definitely more feminine than the larger one. Masculine watches are traditionally chunky, with large faces, while feminine watches are slim and dainty; designed not to attract attention, but to adorn, much like a bracelet.
The Nokia N97 has just had a downsizing. The N97 Mini, is identical in almost every detail, but is a scaled down version of the original.
What’s interesting is that its being sold alongside its big brother, meaning that rather than being a direct update, it is being marketed as a smaller version. Unfortunately it seems to be being sold on different tariffs (the Mini, available on cheaper tariffs - presumably because of its pared down functionality) meaning the consumer can’t base their purchasing decisions entirely on scale. What would be interesting to see, is if the smaller phone appealed to a largely feminine market, as with the watches. Whether it being seen as cute, or dainty would appeal to a different market demographic.
What else could be done to create more of a masculine/feminine aesthetic for the phones? Perhaps flatter edges on the larger phone or sharper curves could make it appear more masculine in comparison to its smaller sibling.
Without comparison, however, the effect is lost. The consumer must either be very familiar with the classic shape (as with the chicken egg) to be pleasantly surprised by the larger version, or be able to view both side by side to appreciate the difference in scale.
In the mobile phone world, bigness is a negative and must be counterbalanced with improved functionality, for both sizes to be successful on the market. I hope Nokia manage to balance the two for some time, so I can see a world of big and little phones together in harmony. And hopefully one day something other than a pink metallic finish will be used to appeal to the female mobile phone market.