The Game Design of Everyday Things

Tom Armitage writes a new column for Kill Screen about The Game Design of Everyday Things. The first installment is about buttons and can be found here.


Sofducts (ugh) and Value Creation

If you’re in dire need of neologisms to throw around, this article has you covered: it features Slabs, Sofducts and Bespoke Objects. Some good thinking in there, especially regarding Sofducts, a terrible term referring to software / product hybrids:

For example, GPS navigation systems have been sold in a box, physically shipped, with a warranty card and customer service phone number. Now, the sofduct version gives you the exact same functionality but is downloaded and runs on a slab as a piece of software. To the user, the end result looks and feels just like the traditional physical product. The sofduct is very disruptive in this way.

Which reminded me of something i read in an article by Timothy B. Lee about The Great Ephemeralization:

Google waved a magic wand that transformed millions of Android phones into sophisticated navigation devices with turn-by-turn directions. This was functionality that people had previously paid hundreds of dollars for in stand-alone devices. Now it’s just another feature that comes with every Android phone, and the cost of Android phones hasn’t gone up. I haven’t checked, but I bet that this wealth creation was not reflected in GDP statistics. And it’s actually worse than that: as people stop buying stand-alone GPS devices, Google’s innovation will actually show up in the statistics as a reduction in GDP.

And also:

Every time the software industry displaces a special purpose device, our standard of living improves but measured GDP falls. If what you care about is government revenue, this point might not matter much—it’s hard to tax something if no one’s paying for it. But the real lesson here may not be that the American economy is stagnating, but rather that the government is bad at measuring improvements in our standard of living that come from the software industry.

Which strikes me as an interesting thought.

What I will say is that, although there is no one future to be predicted or inferred — that the idea of the consensus future is resolutely 20th century and should be put to rest — it’s really nice to see people looking for what’s next again.

Warren Ellis » The New Aesthetic

The New Aesthetic: Sensor Vernacular

Lovely back-and-forth between RIG’s James Bridle and BERG’s Matt Jones on a New Aesthetic. James kicked things off with a wonderful moodboard (since expanded into a Tumblr), followed up by Matt’s ruminations on what he termed Sensor Vernacular (i fully expect that name to catch on), including bits like this:

It is – perhaps – at once a fascination with the raw possibility of a technology, and – a disinterest, in a way, of anything but the qualities of its output. Perhaps it happens when new technology becomes cheap and mundane enough to experiment with, and break – when it becomes semi-domesticated but still a little significantly-other.

When it becomes a working material not a technology.

And this:

I think my attraction to it – what ever it is – is that these signals are hints that the hangover of 10 years of ‘war-on-terror’ funding into defense and surveillance technology (where after all the advances in computer vision and relative-cheapness of devices like the Kinect came from) might get turned into an exuberant party.

And then Tom Armitage (previously of BERG) had this to add:

The Sensor-Vernacular isn’t, I don’t think, just about the aesthetic of the “robot-readable world“; it’s also about the behaviours it inspires and leads to.

How does a robot-readable world change human behaviour?

Something worth keeping an eye on.


Steven Wittens rethinks the computer terminal with TermKit, an application domain i find badly in need of a good and proper rethinking.

Unfortunately skimming through the comments is mildly depressing as there are many angry people on the internet who need to share their belief that one must not, ever, rethink the terminal, for it is holy, pure and without flaw. Which just goes to show that if someone were to rethink the terminal (hypothetically, as actually doing so would be heresy), one might be well-advised to focus on the few hundred million people who don’t yet appreciate the magnificence of terminals and command lines and thus don’t use them.

Steven Wittens isn’t content with rethinking, though – he’s also building his vision of TermKit. It’s an overwhelmingly ambitious goal and i sincerely hope something good will come of it.

Twitter Digest for Week Ending 2011-05-22

My daughter was first sued in the womb. It was all very new then. I’d posted ultrasound scans online for friends and family. I didn’t know the scans had steganographic thumbprints. A giant electronics company that made ultrasound machines acquired a speculative law firm for many tens of millions of dollars. The new legal division cut a deal with all five Big Socials to dig out contact information for anyone who’d posted pictures of their babies in-utero. It turns out the ultrasounds had no clear rights story; I didn’t actually own mine. It sounds stupid now but we didn’t know. The first backsuits named millions of people, and the Big Socials just caved, ripped up their privacy policies in exchange for a cut. So five months after I posted the ultrasounds, one month before my daughter was born, we received a letter (back then a paper letter) naming myself, my wife, and one or more unidentified fetal defendants in a suit. We faced, I learned, unspecified penalties for copyright violation and theft of trade secrets, and risked, it was implied, that my daughter would be born bankrupt.

Nanolaw with Daughter (

Today we’ve become so aware of the downsides of innovations, and so disappointed with the promises of past utopias, that we now find it hard to believe even in protopia — that tomorrow will be better than today. We find it very difficult to imagine any kind of future we would want to live in. Name a single science fiction future that is both plausible and desirable?
No one wants to move to the future today. We are avoiding it. We don’t have much desire for life one hundred years from now. Many dread it. That makes it hard to take the future seriously. So we don’t take a generational perspective. We’re stuck in the short now. We also adopt the Singularity perspective: that imagining the future in 100 years is technically impossible. So there is no protopia we are reaching for.
It may be that this future-blindness is simply the inescapable affliction of our modern world. Perhaps at this stage in civilization and technological advance, we enter into permanent and ceaseless future-blindness. Utopia, dystopia, and protopia all disappear. There is only the Blind Now.

The Technium: Protopia