Recently I’ve noticed a trend in future visioning videos, ones that attempt to visually describe some kind of future technology enabling and meeting the needs of an increasingly connected and technological society. It’s a trend that would seem to be designed to appease the future shock in an assumed audience. It works to help transport a viewer from the present into this new scenario, by placing cues and similar elements to mentally and emotionally tie the two together. I’ve seen this cropping up in a few different places, and I think it’s worth giving name to. For the moment, I’m going to simply call it ubiquitous coffee (or ubicof).
from Microsoft’s recent Productivity Future Vision.
From Berg London’s Media Surfaces: The Journey video sketch.
From Microsoft’s Future Vision 2019 video.
From a compilation of Microsoft and Cisco future visioning videos.
Don’t get me wrong, coffee has been consumed for more than 500 years now, so it’s not unlikely to be around in another 10 years or so. I think the technique at play here is – “look at this futuristic place with new technology, but don’t be too worried, we all still drink lots of coffee”. A way of tempering future shock with some present-day cultural symbols. Not very deep, but at the surface level, effective.
Watching all of these augmented media visioning videos is actually quite depressing, the sheer banality and similarity of ideas present (not to mention the prominence of hand-waving and non-meaningful touch gestures) really set the bar low for the future of technology and information interfaces.
So much of what’s shown is either possible today, only a small step in a slightly different direction for the emergence of new technologies. The major tech companies (RIM, MS, Nokia, IBM, Cisco) seem to spend countless hours telling us what the future could look like, and it’s honestly not very inspiring. Not to parade the success of Apple, but their vision looks a lot more like this;
Familiar, no? It’s what’s available today. Tested, iterated, prototyped and designed to within an inch of its’ life. A real device, that will change the way we think about the future. I expect I’ll follow this post in 6-12 months or so, when RIM, IBM and Cisco decide to copy the reality of Apple with their own “visions” of the future.
But more to the point, the field of research into Tangible User Interfaces (TUIs) is so much more rich and interesting, full of design complexity and real world challenges that at least excite the mind. This glass-half-full future (which ironically is half filled with glass interfaces) just doesn’t sit well with me. We can do so much better.