Technological innovation can help reveal reality

Tomorrow I’m going to a conference entitled ‘How technology can change behaviour (and what you can do about it)’

The subject areas look amazing. There’s the usual futurology and herding type stuff, but also talks on how businesses can re-engineer themselves to benefit from the lessons of gaming, innovation, and the psychology of technology.

This last point reminds me of the little I’ve read by BJ Fogg. In his thinking around ‘persuasive technologies’ he talks about something called persuasion windows. These are moments of interaction between people and technological interfaces, where experiences can momentarily affect the mood people are in, and therefore the decisions people make, during the immediate aftermath.

The idea that technology can influence the way people behave is one that’s fairly easy to accept, I think. There’s certainly an obvious argument about the way tasks have been made more convenient, and the point has long been made about technology’s capacity to connect people, and accelerate the way communities of interest can cluster around what’s important to them.

There’s a more interesting, I think, and subtler argument here. I’ve seen Russell Davies write about the idea of ‘noticing’. This is a brilliantly counter-intuitive insight that seems to make more sense the more I get to thinking about it. It’s an idea that goes against the usual charge against modern technology, that it helps people retreat from the real world all too easily. Kids gaming, social networking, the obsession with mobile phones – each of them in turn leading us down the handcart-strewn path to hell…

But actually, modern technology is helping us get better at ‘noticing’ what goes on in the real world. Smartphones, with their location-based usefulness, are centring us ever more tangibly in our own space. Whether it’s maps, or AR apps, increasingly we’re becoming more conscious of where we are. Even the supposedly attention-reducing platforms of Facebook and Twitter force us to think about the way we capture, interpret and project our own interior lives – their very formats making it critical to keep looking around us for things to say.

And as for blogs…

I guess it’s very easy, therefore, to think about all this in the context of 21st century, so used are we to thinking of our own time as the most progressive there has ever been. Previous eras can seem, by definition, old-fashioned. What was once innovative very quickly becomes old hat. From Wired to Tired…

My wife attends an art class at the moment. She was struggling with getting the shadow right, until her teacher told her about the colour wheel (see above). It’s a fantastic technological innovation that allows painters to get shadow just right, by using the colour on the opposite side of the wheel of the light you’re painting. Sounds simple, but imagine how much innovation it took to get that right!

It helped, among others, the Impressionists. They used the colour wheel to get light and shade right – pretty important when you’re revolutionising the way painting represents the world, and you need to leave people a way in. They reached for something new, different, and not literal – but attained something more true in the process.

It might have been more that 100 years ago, but if that’s not using technological innovation to reveal the world, I don’t know what is.