Temporary interactive tattoos


The ultimate “wearable”; smart temporary tattoos that have functionality. Seriously I think all the gadgets we currently carry – phones, trackers, health monitoring devices will very soon just be stickers that we attach to ourselves (or be woven into our clothing) – wrote about both of those before (http://lindaricci.com/body-stickers and http://lindaricci.com/quantifying-apparel).

These are fascinating. Coming out of the MIT Media Lab, these temporary tattoos have different configurations: one iteration has an NFC chip embedded in it (allowing for interaction with nearby gadgets), another lets you use your finger to interact with your computer screen…made out of real gold or silver leaf, anyone can make their own design / circuits, and “tattoo” them on their skin.

While it’s early days on how powerful the interaction is, the battery / power needs are limited – and of course, the programming that drives the interaction is a big question mark for me! – it’s a harbinger of the future and has fascinating potential applications.

We are already moving towards being a disposably minded society. From apparel to jewelry, electronics to furniture, we are in the midst of a revolution in attitude about how we acquire and consume goods. Clothing isn’t bought to wear for years, but is increasingly cheaply made and sold, intended to be worn and discarded a few months later…people aren’t buying a “serious” piece of jewelry once every few years, intended to be eventually be handed to children and posterity, instead cheap “fun” mass produced jewelry that scratches a trendy itch prevails. Once, our grandparents bought a sofa when they got married and meant for it to last decades; electronics are traded in for upgrades every six months.

Even music has gone from owning physical albums to streaming, meaning we don’t have to “own” anything, but can stream whatever we want on demand.

So is it any surprise that when the need for a piece of equipment is eliminated because we can have one to do whatever we want at the moment, the desire or need to own an object dedicated to one function will disappear?



Pandora’s box: Facebook, Google+, and the future of social networking

I’ve been watching the discussions around the launch of Google+ with interest. In the press there’s a definite “Coke vs Pepsi”, “Microsoft vs Apple” flavor to the discussion…I don’t think this is relevant, as much as the press seems to like to hype, speculate and crow over every blow-by-blow “win” or “lose” as if it were a football game.

For me the relevant paradigm shift is that Facebook’s monopoly has been broken; Google has opened Pandora’s box, and I think social networking will be revolutionized by it.

Because it won’t be about choosing which one you use, and then convincing all your friends to migrate. Everyone will just sign up for both – as it’s free (more on that later) there’s no need to choose.

But my friends are all on ABC.com!” you say. (Ok, Facebook).

A hurdle, initially, as you need two apps, browsers, or however you interact with your social networking site. A royal pain indeed (and really very Web 1.0, if I do say so myself).

And let’s not forget, Facebook and Google+ are only one flavor of current social networking sites. Everything from Linkedin to YouTube, Tumblr to Delicious, Twitter to StumbleUpon etc is a form of social networking – and we currently use each of these alone, with nary an integration in sight. Which is contributing to why it seems – well, overwhelming. Even to those of us who live and breathe this industry.

Until there’s an app developed that eliminates the need to interact on those sites / apps only. It will pull the relevant data you specify in the manner you want it delivered, when you want it delivered, and in the format you want to interact with it. In other words, someone will develop an uber app which will let you personalize how you interact with other people digitally.

Because (imposed) walled gardens and dictated formats ultimately don’t work in the digital world.

I always did like Rosseti

Concurrently, I predict that as people find faults with Google+ (the lack of anonymity being one that annoys me personally, and how insidiously it is integrated with the rest of the data Google has on you) just as they did with Facebook’s privacy issues, personalized modular type social networking “networks” will emerge, where you can tailor your own features and functionality and roll it out to your own network. A more drastic version of Google+’s circles – where you pull various desired modules together into a customized interface, and network with people across not just computer/phone based interaction points, but across all channels.

Because increasingly communication will not be typing based, there is also voice, video, and a plethora of other ways to communicate your thoughts, verbally, aurally, visually.

Which leads to the subject of another blog post, about how human/computer interface is changing – but I leave that for another day.

I also think people will start paying a subscription-based fee to engage in social networking that gives them the opportunity to control how they interact; the current “free because of advertising” model is only one option, but I believe as people will increasingly demand control over their privacy, actually paying for the privilege of keeping their information personal will outweigh the cost.

So – like Pandora’s box, which also included Hope (and which Pandora left inside the box after snapping the lid shut and letting all the evils escape), there is a potential upside to all this. Currently the giants of the industry are controlling how we use social networking – and we have little to say. But ultimately increased fragmentation will lead to more consumer control. The box hasn’t been snapped shut yet.

Asgard awaits: Analyzing the entertainment model

Gratuitous shot of Chris Hemsworth as Thor

So. Movies. Specifically, action ones (but any, really). I just indulged in 3D Imax Thor, good enough entertainment – shot a little too much with “angles” for gratuitous 3D impact, but overall beautiful and surprisingly sweet.

I’m just sorry the actual screen resolution is still so low….and that the 3D is a bit wonky. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s an improvement in the “embedding” yourself aspect of being entertained, but why am I still faking 3D with cheap plastic glasses, and too low resolution on 2D screens?

Why am I not being surrounded with at the very least, a curved screen, and optimally – sitting in the middle of the action with a visor that put me into the movie? Whatever happened to the promise of virtual reality? The gaming industry is going there. I understand that it would require a tech revolution in filming technique (360° vision required), but as so much of the environment on screen is currently created with Cad-like programs anyway, it shouldn’t be too much of a stretch.

I realize those owners of huge real estate housing large screens have a good reason to *not* go there, but entice viewers to shell out $15 (!) for the “big screen” experience, but to be honest the small visor / virtual reality version would look better.

And the established film creation industry has similar interests in keeping the status quo.

So while I understand the legacy industry players have a vested interest in keeping the seats filled, I wonder if there isn’t any room for other players to innovate the space? Particularly since other players in the entertainment industry are starting to create original content.

Instead of the current model (entertainment companies make a movie, which is turned into a game), how hard would it be for the game companies to create their own original movies / entertainment with a game-like interface? Or other players who don’t have a vested interest in the existing interface?

I’m not underestimating the amount of effort it would take to launch a completely new entertainment model, but I don’t think there’s a lot the established industry could do if a well financed, concerted effort was made – in partnership with the visor / hardware companies. It sure would be a really interesting space to innovate.

I’ve consciously kept this post reasonably attainable, because where I think really interesting development is, is in true interactive virtual reality so you’re not just watching from the vantage point of the producer but are free to interact with your surroundings in any way you want.

This would open a whole new world of commercial applications – from eliminating the need to travel (you can do that trip of a lifetime, without the food poisoning or uncomfortable beds) to simulations for any activity the requires any physical training (fire, police, pilot, race car driver, etc). You could actually walk through Asgard, sit on the throne, walk through the halls.

Reminds me of a “living theater” experience in Manhattan recently told me about: the entire building is made up of rooms, each of which has a part of a story line being acted out. You choose to sit, engage, walk from room to room, create the experience you want while being transported to a crime scene a la Agatha Christie.

It makes sense that people who are – by the time the technology arrives – spoiled for personalized experiences they dictate themselves, instead of ones foisted upon them – would prefer this type of entertainment. So: a merging of the gaming industry and movie / entertainment is inevitable.

Throw in augmented reality so that interactions in your daily life can be enhanced with game-like features, and the convergence is 360°. I have to admit, the idea of actually interacting the Chris Hemsworth – albeit, virtually – an enticing one! 

Democratizing design: 3D printing and on demand design

Regina Connell at Handful of Salt writes a blog about gorgeous high end craft and design…as a fan of both craft and technology, she asked me to muse around the intersection between them.

Good design is expensive – whether it’s an antique, a handmade statement piece by a modern craftsperson or a luxury post modern statement.

Producing a piece of craft takes a long time to learn, a long time to make, and customers who appreciate the cost associated with all of this. The 20th century has seen the slow demise in the desire for “something handmade”; mass production and standardization have for the most part replaced the time and skill it takes to make things.

Part of the problem is that – frankly – many who make “crafts’ approach it in a slightly egocentric way; they are the artist, they make what they like, and they then try to sell it. Often through stores that sell on commission, meaning they need to put a LOT of time, effort, and sometimes money (for the raw materials) into inventory that might sit at a retailers for months before they see any cash from the sale.

Some are lucky enough to sell by prototype, where a customer can custom order elements (I was the spine blue, and the legs red) – but this requires a lot of patience (and money) on the part of the customer. But the majority are not famous enough to demand the prices necessary to justify a well known distributor agreeing to represent them.

The high end luxury brands aren’t really all that different; although they create multiple of the same thing, only a percentage produce on demand – most come up with that season’s designs, manufacture them, and then sell at wholesale through a retail distribution system. This creates the same inventory problem for the design company, or for the customer (price + lead time to delivery).

To (eventually!) get to my point….most things that are high “design” items, whether handmade by one person, or designed and made by a high end company, are out of reach of the average consumer. And are expensive to make for the people and companies that make them.

The solution that is (slowly) emerging is 3d printing.

For those of you not familiar with what it is, it’s basically exactly what it sounds like; a graphic designed with a program that generates actual 3D information is “printed” using a machine that takes the virtual information and slowly, a micron thick layer at a time, builds a “real” version of what was in the computer before – currently in a hard plastic resin. But rapidly expanding in terms of color,  (eventually, faux) finishes, and (I believe) textures – so printing “leather” etc. might become a reality (with a nod to Corbusier, I’m not sure pony hair is an option, but then again, who knows?)

The technology has been around for quite a while, actually, predominantly to create prototypes for maufacturing, but has recently started getting good enough (and fast enough) to be used for making the actual objects. And although the size of what can be printed is currently limited, and it’s still fairly time consuming, but it’s improving rapidly.

The genius to this is that in the future, companies (or craftspeople) won’t have to hold inventory. Customers can order customized (personalized) furniture for much less money (no hand labor!) and much quicker than if they waited for the “real” thing (if they were able to own the “original” at all).

And the most interesting part: it will completely disintermediate the retail channel.

No longer will retailers wield the power they now do since a person can go online, look at a virtual version of the cad file (using virtual world technology? Undoubtedly!), place it in a virtual mock up of their house, pick the col0r/dimensions they want, order it directly – and get exactly what they want. Without having to pay the (huge!!) retail markup. Little waste (much more environmentally friendly!) as there’s no more guessing each season how many to make then dump, or in fact lose out on missed sales since the inventory wasn’t available. With a license fee going to the artist who created the original design.

It’s already happening! For small scale objects…give it time.

But it’s not the same as handmade” you say. Indeed – it’s not. But for the huge swathe of people who never would have been able to own anything so high end, it will open a whole new world of access to high end design that they would have never had….plus the option to personalize, which is, as the dear readers of my blog know, one of my biggest soapboxes for how consumers will demand all things in the future (what, you thought I meant only in how they get content delivered??).

And for the craftspeople, they can still create a prototype by hand, 3D scan it, and offer it to potential customers without having to make lots of product that just sit in the retail channel. While some will reject the notion because it’s not handmade, many will see the benefit to creating access to a wider market and a positive cash flow without extra investment – and then focus on creating new pieces without worrying about paying the rent in the meantime.

It’s a great way to grow and in many ways, frees an artist up to spend more time creating.

And it opens up a whole new world for crowdsourcing, social opinionating and sharing sites to sprout – which can become the new transaction facilitators between customers and artists. Getting rid of the traditional retail channel in the meantime.

The only hesitation I have to this bright new world of design democracy is that – as with digital printing, video creation, and music composition (and, erm, Photoshop) – what was once the privilege and realm of the (trained) designer will be democraticized to the point where bad design will become commonplace. Currently the barrier to the truly heinous and ugly is quite high…will Uncle Bob think he’s a designer, mixing purple legs and brown fringe? Undoubtedly.

Is the trade off worth it? Absolutely. And we will all think we’re design geniuses.

The island of “me”: Digital narcissism, personalization, and ego

I’m intrigued by a pet observation that’s been swirling and coalescing in my little head lately: namely, the internet – an instant platform for all our own little opinions and soapboxes – has made us all think we’re important. Way too important, actually. The digital world has given us our proverbial “15 minutes of fame” – except, when everyone have a loud opinion, perversely none count, and the soapbox isn’t 15 minutes, but forever.

It used to be that you knew your relative importance in the world – possibly you shared your opinion with friends, family, some co-workers (probably not), you might have been a big fish in your own teeny weeny pond, and indeed, some managed to develop extraordinary egos just on that alone. But on the whole there was a small audience and you knew you weren’t all that important. For better or worse, people believed in authority and respected it.

But now, with a built in “audience” (x number of facebook/twitter “friends”!) you start to believe in your own importance. You imagine that your audience gives a rat’s patooty about what you think, and all of a sudden that ego that your parents worked so hard to quelch, train, and curb, has been given a venue to run wild.

People are commenting on every article being published; they have to share their opinions, because in their mind, it’s important that other people hear them. They are sharing their music lists, their favorite entertainment sources, their political advice – all of their proverbial intellectual DNA. Somehow, people are starting to believe that their <fill in the blank> is important. Drinking their own Kool-Aid.

The result of all this can be seen with the furor over the Wikileaks scandal. The point is not whether you agree this is a good thing or not, but what’s interesting to me is that we’ve moved as a society to a point where everyone feels they have a “right” to know everything. Which is a direct result of the move towards a seemingly egalitarian society, because everyone has a say (dammit!) and an audience, inflating their sense of importance.

Just another example of how the digital world is impacting on our “real” society and human psychology. Entitled might be the best word of all.

What’s going to happen as we increasingly all feel so important? => Combined with increasing personalization, and how spoiled we are getting from getting everything delivered immediately, I’m predicting a world of individual narcissists all operating on their own little self regulated “islands”. Which raises all sorts of interesting thought “vectors”…mostly around individual serving sized food right now (I’m hungry).

But also around the challenges brands and products (two different things) will have in reaching people, and influencing them; we are truly moving from a “push” marketing model to an engagement one, and the companies that don’t understand how to be invited and embed themselves in consumers’ lives will fail. Seamless operating integration between various technologies (hardware, connectivity, content) will be imperative to ensure that consumers keep you permanently in their lives. And then partnering with synergistic content, to deliver “package” experiences to consumers receptive to your product/service. I definitely think the era of the stand alone brand is ending.

But ironically, all this partnering and invisible web weaving will reduce your actual choices. Which is why I previously said “seemingly” egalitarian. But you won’t know it, because you’ll be feeling very important.