A common scene at a dinner table these days doesn’t include lively conversation among diners, but rather each person being absorbed in his own gadgets, communicating with everybody and nobody in particular, through Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and other social network platforms. That’s because we now live in a world where technology dictates our behavior.
This is why one of my favorite TED.com lectures is Pranav Mistry’s “The thrilling potential of Sixth Sense technology.” It was delivered in 2009, a year before the iPad was on the market, and yet his invention, SixthSense is relevant today. SixthSense is a wearable device that connects interaction between the real world and the world of data.
Wearing the device, which has a camera and a couple of sensors on the fingertips, for example, you can take photos just by framing the object with your fingers and thumbs, or dial phone numbers on the back of your hand. Place a chip on a piece of paper, and you have a screen on which to watch a video, play games, use as a touch-based computer screen, or anything that today’s tablet computer can do.
The finger can also be used to make 3D digital drawings anywhere, create a watch on your wrist to tell the time and bring books, magazines and newspapers to life by linking what you see with the information in the digital world.
The implication of this innovation is enormous, especially with the advantages it can bring for the disabled and the elderly, where everyday tasks can be done with just a movement of the fingers or the sound of a word. Of course, it must be developed so it can be mass produced but all digital technology should be steered in this direction. It should adapt to human behavior and not the other way around.
What I find exciting about Mistry’s invention is the potential for digitizing our world in a way that is human and intuitive. Current technology is sucking us into a life that makes us interact with gadgets, and making us feel more connected to a virtual world instead of the real world. It’s turned us into socially-withdrawn beings who find more comfort with our computers than in face-to-face conversations. Mistry offers the opposite. It turns the world around us into a digital device, as we interact like normal human beings.
Wearing the device, we become the computer, capable of browsing the Internet by moving our fingers. We can find information, download maps, check the weather and talk to friends. And we can do all this while taking a walk, hanging out with friends and being active.
Much of today’s time with friends and family is spent as mere physical gatherings, while we’re someplace else mentally. Conversing and interacting with the invisible world is sadly more rewarding, honest and authentic than the strained verbal exchanges that real-life conversations demand.
People are finding it easier to speak their minds and have productive conversations through their gadgets as they are in the same room. Certainly, in the workplace, discussions and arguments are done easier done in a Blackberry group, instead of meeting rooms.
Imagine a technology that increases our curiosity about the people that we meet, the places we visit and the things that we see, without our gadgets and trapping us into a life of staring at a screen.
The technology with SixthSense becomes part of our senses, but one that allows us to connect with the wealth of information that the Internet provides; a technology that is digital in the real sense of the word because we use our fingers.
Touching a boarding pass can tell us if our flight is delayed. Meeting people, we can get information about their professions and hobbies. We can find that stuff online — without having to go online.
Then our real world will be a lot more fascinating than our virtual world. Like it should be.
Desi Anwar is a senior anchor at Metro TV. She can be contacted at desianwar.com and dailyavocado.net.