An Internet Without Screens Might Look Like This | Tom Uglow | TED Talks


I’d like to start by asking you all
to go to your happy place, please. Yes, your happy place, I know you’ve got one even if it’s fake. (Laughter) OK, so, comfortable? Good. Now I’d like to you to mentally answer
the following questions. Is there any strip lighting
in your happy place? Any plastic tables? Polyester flooring? Mobile phones? No? I think we all know that our happy place is meant to be
somewhere natural, outdoors — on a beach, fireside. We’ll be reading or eating or knitting. And we’re surrounded
by natural light and organic elements. Natural things make us happy. And happiness is a great motivator;
we strive for happiness. Perhaps that’s why
we’re always redesigning everything, in the hopes that our solutions
might feel more natural. So let’s start there — with the idea that good design
should feel natural. Your phone is not very natural. And you probably think
you’re addicted to your phone, but you’re really not. We’re not addicted to devices, we’re addicted to the information
that flows through them. I wonder how long you would be
happy in your happy place without any information
from the outside world. I’m interested in how we access
that information, how we experience it. We’re moving from a time
of static information, held in books and libraries and bus stops, through a period of digital information, towards a period of fluid information, where your children will expect to be able
to access anything, anywhere at any time, from quantum physics
to medieval viticulture, from gender theory to tomorrow’s weather, just like switching on a lightbulb — Imagine that. Humans also like simple tools. Your phone is not a very simple tool. A fork is a simple tool. (Laughter) And we don’t like them made of plastic, in the same way I don’t really like
my phone very much — it’s not how I want
to experience information. I think there are better solutions
than a world mediated by screens. I don’t hate screens, but I don’t feel — and I don’t think any of us feel that good about how much time
we spend slouched over them. Fortunately, the big tech companies seem to agree. They’re actually heavily invested
in touch and speech and gesture, and also in senses — things that can turn
dumb objects, like cups, and imbue them with the magic
of the Internet, potentially turning this digital cloud into something we might touch and move. The parents in crisis over screen time need physical digital toys
teaching their kids to read, as well as family-safe app stores. And I think, actually,
that’s already really happening. Reality is richer than screens. For example, I love books. For me they are time machines —
atoms and molecules bound in space, from the moment of their creation
to the moment of my experience. But frankly, the content’s identical on my phone. So what makes this
a richer experience than a screen? I mean, scientifically. We need screens, of course. I’m going to show film,
I need the enormous screen. But there’s more than you can do
with these magic boxes. Your phone is not
the Internet’s door bitch. (Laughter) We can build things —
physical things, using physics and pixels, that can integrate the Internet
into the world around us. And I’m going to show you
a few examples of those. A while ago, I got to work
with a design agency, Berg, on an exploration of what the Internet
without screens might actually look like. And they showed us a range ways that light can work with simple senses
and physical objects to really bring the Internet to life,
to make it tangible. Like this wonderfully mechanical
YouTube player. And this was an inspiration to me. Next I worked with
the Japanese agency, AQ, on a research project into mental health. We wanted to create an object that could capture the subjective data
around mood swings that’s so essential to diagnosis. This object captures your touch, so you might press it
very hard if you’re angry, or stroke it if you’re calm. It’s like a digital emoji stick. And then you might revisit
those moments later, and add context to them online. Most of all, we wanted to create
an intimate, beautiful thing that could live in your pocket and be loved. The binoculars are actually
a birthday present for the Sydney Opera House’s
40th anniversary. Our friends at Tellart in Boston
brought over a pair of street binoculars, the kind you might find
on the Empire State Building, and they fitted them with 360-degree views of other iconic world heritage sights — (Laughter) using Street View. And then we stuck them under the steps. So, they became this very physical,
simple reappropriation, or like a portal to these other icons. So you might see Versailles
or Shackleton’s Hut. Basically, it’s virtual
reality circa 1955. (Laughter) In our office we use
hacky sacks to exchange URLs. This is incredibly simple,
it’s like your Opal card. You basically put a website
on the little chip in here, and then you do this and … bosh! — the website appears on your phone. It’s about 10 cents. Treehugger is a project
that we’re working on with Grumpy Sailor and Finch,
here in Sydney. And I’m very excited
about what might happen when you pull the phones apart
and you put the bits into trees, and that my children
might have an opportunity to visit an enchanted forest
guided by a magic wand, where they could talk to digital fairies
and ask them questions, and be asked questions in return. As you can see, we’re at the cardboard stage
with this one. (Laughter) But I’m very excited by the possibility of getting kids
back outside without screens, but with all the powerful magic
of the Internet at their fingertips. And we hope to have something like this
working by the end of the year. So let’s recap. Humans like natural solutions. Humans love information. Humans need simple tools. These principles should underpin
how we design for the future, not just for the Internet. You may feel uncomfortable about the age
of information that we’re moving into. You may feel challenged,
rather than simply excited. Guess what? Me too. It’s a really extraordinary period
of human history. We are the people
that actually build our world, there are no artificial intelligences… yet. (Laughter) It’s us — designers, architects,
artists, engineers. And if we challenge ourselves, I think that actually
we can have a happy place filled with the information we love that feels as natural and as simple
as switching on lightbulb. And although it may seem inevitable, that what the public wants
is watches and websites and widgets, maybe we could give a bit of thought
to cork and light and hacky sacks. Thank you very much. (Applause)

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