“To stay human” and “to be more connected to our physical world,” is the hope that Pranav Mistry articulates as he ends his TED lecture, “The thrilling potential of SixthSense technology.” The technology he developed and shows in the lecture is very impressive, but how it helps us to be any more “connected to our physical world” is a statement that makes little sense to me, despite being really amazed at the technology that he showed off.
His goal is “to connect these two worlds [digital and physical] seamlessly.” His direction looks promising and very different than what we currently see happening in the marketplace with smartphones and iPads and other gadgets. It’s visionary, it’s genius, it’s a jumping off point of huge proportions, but the digital divide is still there as wide a gap as ever.
He says at the beginning of the lecture that “unlike most of our computing devices, these objects are much more fun to use.” There’s a disconnect there. Once his pendant gadget projects information on the object, it’s not the object we’re interested in anymore. It’s the SixthSense pendant gadget we’re interested in — a computing device and what it can do. So, it’s a pendant I can wear? Well, it better look cool.
We love stuff. That smart phone may be a bit of a pain to dig out of our pocket, but we love all of the things it does just as much as we love how it’s all encapsulated into that small device in our hands. That iPod or iPad is a phenomenal marketplace success because its designers understand the intimate relationship between people and objects — even computing objects. We’ve hoarded objects since forever. Ask any archaeologist. We’ve buried our god-kings in tombs filled to the ceiling with knick-knacks so they could get their object-fix in the next life. The practice has changed, but the sentiment hasn’t — at least not much. Read: the bumper sticker that says “The one who dies with the most toys, wins.”
I think we will be seeing more of SixthSense technology, definitely. I think that the public and the marketplace will take his open-source technology and find great applications for it regardless of whether it helps reconnect us to the physical world or not.
I’ll pick up a favorite physical book and enjoy the weight of it and the way it rests in my hand. Maybe even the smell of the pages — the binding glue, and the ink. Sensing those things as a part of the act of using/reading the book is what being connected to the physical world means.
Moving that piled up opinion aside, I still like the technology Mistry developed, and I’d like to point out this article in Publisher’s Weekly on bringing rich-media to physical books: It reminds me of Mistry’s technology, and I like its application.