Intimate technology

In preparation for my next few speaking events, I’m thinking around the theme of “intimate technology”. No, not that kind of intimate – more the way in which our relationship with devices and services is becoming increasingly personal and, well, intimate.

Take, for example, the Uniqlo Wake Up app: you don’t get much more intimate than being the first thing that a person interacts with in the morning (although on the negative side, in the past I’ve always hated my alarm clock with a passion…)

If a smart phone, an alarm service, or indeed a “private social network and massager” (see the first link) are at the “intimate” end of the technology spectrum, today I’ve discovered its polar opposite: the most impersonal, treating the human as merely a necessary cog in the machine, form of technology. I give you the central heating programmer.

We’ve got renovations underway at home at the moment, and so for the first time ever I have actively had to look at (rather than merely inherit) the controller for our home heating system. Take a look for yourselves: http://www.screwfix.com/c/heating-plumbing/central-heating-controls/cat831042

I seem to remember seeing a West Coast start up looking at reinventing the device (although focused on US heating and cooling systems, rather than our heat-only central heating required in the UK. British Gas’s website has some marketing puff about homes of the future (http://www.britishgas.co.uk/smarter-living/smart-homes.html) but no promises about when that future might actually be.

But as things stand, I struggle to think of a less appealing form of technology and yet this is a vital interface both in terms of basic human needs fulfilment (warmth) and economics (gas isn’t getting any cheaper). I can only conclude that the human interface design folk responsible for this lot are moonlighting from their day jobs as, well, something that doesn’t have any people skills.

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