This is, somewhat, another pre-Wired panic deadline post. But possibly not, because I'm not sure there's enough here. Well, actually, I'm convinced there's loads here but I don't really know how to come at it. (I also have a slight feeling I've already written this but i can't bring myself to look back at my old copy - it's too inevitable I'll find some horrible mistake in there.)
Let's start with something potentially over the top. I just bought three things - a Roomba, a Sony Rolly and an RC Helicopter - and together they sort of make me feel like when I downloaded the mosaic browser or telneted to some bookshop to buy a book. They feel like early indications of something.
These are just notes towards working out what that is.
They all seem to suggest there's going to be an interesting job coming - somewhere between design and communications - expressed in behaviour. And something to do with animation and something to do with choreography.
Let's start with the Roomba. I know I'm reporting known phenomena but it's different reading about something versus having it in your house. The Roomba - despite being explicitly designed not to be personified - was instantly known as 'he' the minute he entered the house. That makes design decisions different.
And it cleans efficiently but frustratingly. It sweeps a room like a machine intelligence would do - which, it turns out, is grating to a human intelligence if you're in the same room.
Look, for instance, at this brilliant BotJunkie post, the top shot shows the pattern the Roomba used. The second one down shows the Neato. The Roomba pattern may be more efficient, but it just doesn't look right to a human brain. It's not how a human would do it. The Neato pattern looks more like how I would clean.
That's going to be a thing - not just designing efficient, effective behaviour - but designing behaviour that's emotionally satisfying to the owner and appropriate to the character of the object. There's a component of that that's like branding.
I've written about the Rolly before. It's obviously an odd and mostly useless thing. But I decided to sit down and work out how to choreograph it - I wanted to get it to recite a poem convincingly. And I realised how much character you can get out of it, if you really know what you're doing. (I could only do it briefly and by accident.) You have to work out which machine bits we read as human bits (what are the shoulders? what are the eyes?) you have to get them to move convincingly, then you realise you can make them move grumpily or happily or whatever. Then you realise that you have to decide who this object is.
That's going to be a thing - regular consumer products will be coming to life, they'll be getting behaviours and then all that planning nonsense about 'what's the personality of the product' will finally be useful. All those personalities we've been trying to inject remotely via advertising and design cues will just be baked into the product's behaviour.
And then we bought one of these RC helicopters. And, versus all those slightly unsatisfiying, cheap microhelicopters you'd bought before, this one just works. The gyroscope in it means it'll just hover where you want it to. And it's only £25. Think of that. It's cheap, almost disposable, not far off being machine controllable. It'll get cheaper.
This seems like a potential darkside in waiting. Aside from all the surveillance concerns you've suddenly got objects that can swarm in three dimensions and might get cheap enough for the economics of spam to apply. Never mind walking past a Starbucks gets you a coffee voucher on your phone - we'll just soak the area with robovouchers that'll get in your hair until you buy a cappucino.
But it points at something to do with object independence. About how they'll find their way into our world, on their own.
Like I say - these aren't connected thoughts. But there's something about the collision of products, services and media here - not expressed through screens but expressed through the designed behaviour of objects. And it's interesting.