How’s that title for some sci-(fi) jargon? My brother linked me an article by Venkatesh Rao talking about Future Nausea. It’s quite a doozy. So take your time. The most fascinating part about the article is Venkatesh’s idea of the manufactured normalcy field. The concept is more simple than it sounds: We aren’t psychologically capable to quickly adapt to the future, and thus products have to be manufactured in a way that sustains the idea that nothing really changes. Thus there exists this “field” of manufactured (natural, emergent or designed) normalcy that makes us comfortable and be able to deal with future technology.
An example of this (and the one he uses) is air travel. As humans, we have evolved without a doubt not to be able to fly, yet we are. It is rather absurd, but to us it feels normal and okay, because the experiences have been designed so that it seems familiar. For example, why are forward-facing seats still used when rear-facing seats have shown to be safer? Adults have shown that they prefer using forward-facing seats when given the option (tested in trains). If you think about it: we are already flying in a tube high in the air, moving at speeds we were never designed to go, facing forward makes it a lot more mentally ‘digestible’, because, well, that’s the way we’ve always been moving forward.
New technology must be normalized:
Normalization involves incorporation of a piece of technological novelty into larger conceptual metaphors built out of familiar experiences.
This idea for me, gels with Jack Dorsey’s stance on technology:
The best technologies, they disappear, they fade into the background and they’re relevant when you want to use them, and they get out of the way when you don’t.
Related to Venkatesh’s manufactured normalcy field, this is exactly what Square is doing. It just fades away, using the same interaction experience we’ve used for ages.
Out there technology on the other hand, while novel and seemingly useful might not be adopted because it is just not adapted to our familiar concepts.
Continuing from the airplane example: the Concorde’s demise has been cited by lower passenger numbers after the 2000 crash, general lower air travel after 9/11 and high maintenance costs. However, read this guy’s experience of it, and you’ll see all the points of unreal experiences and technology that gets in the way. Crazier g-forces, loud noises, seeing the curvature of the earth, hot sides, etc. It was great flying the Concorde, because that was the experience of itself, not using it as transport.
Another great example is the Segway.
As the top voted answer on Quora about why the Segway failed points out (by Anshu Sharma):
The Segway is great but its not a great solution that fits into our existing way of moving:
Elon Musk’s Hyperloop
Now. Where I want to get at with this whole post, and what sparked the relation to Venkatesh’s normalcy field concept, is Elon Musk’s hyperloop. If you don’t know, Elon Musk was behind PayPal and now recently SpaceX and Tesla Motors. In pandodaily’s recent fireside chat with Elon Musk, Sarah Lacy asked whether he had any other ideas lying around. One of these got me quite excited: he called it the hyperloop.
He starts talking about it at 43:50 about. Basically: fast, can’t crash, immune to weather, etc. He thinks it is entirely possible. It sounds like the idea of a vacuum tunnel, however after a recent tweet, Elon said it’s not. On top of that he’ll open source the idea soon.
However. I can’t shake the feeling, that although given his track record, it just won’t work. If it is just too future-y, how will people adopt it? Ideally it shouldn’t be marketed like the Concorde (the experience itself) and be comparable to the mass populace’s idea of moving. I’m opening myself up to potentially being entirely wrong in the near future. What do you think?