November 20, 2013

Guest Post: The future of technology is human, the currency – conversation

By Sana Rao

All through my education and career, I’ve heard over and over again that design is a problem solving discipline. We find problems that plague humanity and we solve them. We design for pain-points, but in the process completely forget about joy-points. We don’t design enough for the basic things that make us human. For joy, for emotions, for connections and for conversation.

A family interviewed in Academy Award nominee  Roko Belic’s documentary  Happy, who live in the most flood prone part of West Bengal, India, have many problems that we can design for. But surprisingly they have no problems with their dilapidated living quarters, or a lack of adequate income- sure it would be splendid to have a concrete house and more earnings, but the thing that keeps them going – is happiness, it is the joy of their connection with each other and their daily conversations. Human connection is happiness.

Today, more and more conversations and connections are taking place over or through technology, as we continue become global citizens and don’t necessarily stay with family or even friends. The mediums we design are shaping the kind of conversations people are having with each other. When we design with human connection as a palette, we will uncover a deeply thoughtful design, a new kind of design that connects the user to himself and to others in a truly meaningful way.

A design through which conversations happen spontaneously as two or more people come together, will be the one that designs for joy points. One great example for such a service design is Lyft – it’s a new sort of carpooling service in San Francisco, you open the app and request a Lyft and someone driving nearby who is a part of the Lyft community gets a request. They arrive with an eccentric pink mustache stuck to the car’s front, it’s easily identifiable. You sit in the front seat (it’s not a cab) and give a jovial fist bump to the person driving you. In the past few months alone, I have had some of the most interesting conversations in the span of those 5-10 minutes it took to get to my destination. Be it a slum in India or the Silicon Valley, be it in a modest dwelling or a luxury car, the currency of happiness lies in authentic conversations.

In the future, I foresee a web of such services expanding all over the globe, where each service not only provides a sense of community and belonging but also fosters real human interactions and hence conversations. The next big service is a million of these small but human services. Last year, Frog released a tech trends chart for 2013, 11 of the 20 trends released point to a very human progression that the industry is slowly leaning towards. I would venture so far as to say that the broader themes apply to not just 2013 but to the next decade at the very least.

Yes, the future of technology will be decidedly human, it will be full of conversations, generosity and human connection.


 Sana Rao is part interaction designer, part storyteller and a poet at heart. She currently lives in the sunny Silicon Valley and continues her love affair with words by being a designer at Twitter. She tweets as @sanarao and you can see her work here and read her poems here. She has also written about her experiences of studying design abroad, and about storytelling in design.

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