Our lives are largely consumed with staring at screens - whether televisions, phones, tablets, laptops, or PCs. A 2014 study of 16 to 44-year-olds by Milward Brown found that people spend an average of 444 minutes every day looking at screens, or 7.4 hours. If you work in front of a computer, this likely goes up to at least 10 hours.
In a recent TED talk, designer and Google Creative Director, Tom Uglow, pointed out that it is not screens that we are addicted to, but the information that is displayed on them. Screens have gone up and down in size, from the giant to the tiny, but they remain essentially the same. Uglow wants to move away from our reliance on screens and rethink them as merely one of many different forms of information output devices. Uglow wants to move back to a world filled with natural objects, only, these natural objects are imbued with the internet. And he’s not alone. Major tech companies like Amazon are also investing time and money into a screenless future.
Uglow’s ideas vary from the simple to the bizarre. They include pulling apart phones and putting them into trees, with his ‘Treehugger’ project. He has also worked on the Moodstone project, a partnership between Google and Japanese design firm AQ, to develop technology that allows people to record their emotions during the day and then later record the environment that created the emotions.
It’s hard not to see many of these as gimmicky art projects, but he certainly has a point. Screens are everywhere, and many parents are trying to guide their children away from them yet finding it impossible because of their sheer ubiquity. Uglow’s ideas, however, do not seem to really be moving away from the idea of screens, they simply involve putting screens in new places. True innovation is not just developing what we already have, but thinking past that. We need to be looking at screenless technology instead of simply better screens, touchless instead of better touch. Some companies are making more tangible progress in changing the way we experience information.
When imagining a truly screenless future, there are two obvious places to start - audio and brain implants. Some sources say that Google Glass are set to move in this direction by developing a screenless version of the product n the near future. This will most likely work in the same way that the Microsoft HoloLens delivers its audio feedback, using vibrations sent straight to the inner ear. This allows users to hear the output of the device and still have clear hearing when it comes to their surroundings.
The idea of an implant that sends information straight to your brain has been around for a while. It may sound like something doodled on the back of a match book by a bored futurist, but major universities are continually reporting progress with brain implants used in lab rats and humans, while commercial applications for noninvasive coupling with human brain signals are also emerging. Japanese company, Necomimi, has even developed cat ears that can be worn on the human head and manipulated using only the human mind. This may sound banal, but the underlying technology behind this kind of mind control could have huge implications for developing screenless technology.
Do people really want to spend their entire lives hunched over screens? Putting aside the physical damage being done to people’s backs and eyes, somebody walking along gormlessly gawping at their phone, laughing aggressively to themselves, is a tragic sight for humanity. While people like Uglow may have some work to do, it is an admirable goal.