Everyware

Adam Greenfield has written one of the most provocative books in years. If the right people read it, Everyware: The Dawning Age of Ubiquitous Computing may do for the coming, computerless computing interface what Don Norman’s The Design of Everyday Things did for design generally. Like Norman, Greenfield argues for good design not as an aesthetic issue but as an ethical and business imperative. There is an urgency and clarity to every word.

Everyware is both a prescription and a warning. Although films like Minority Report have made such ubicomp staples as the gestural interface look a bit silly, these kinds of interactivity are coming soon to a wall or object near you. Depending on who designs them and by what principles, they will work beautifully or badly. Everyware will enhance our lives by anticipating our needs or it will destroy our privacy — or both.

Besides Don Norman’s book, the other piece of writing I sometimes thought of as I read Everyware was Walter Benjamin’s “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction.” Writing in 1937, Benjamin pondered what the existence of photographic reproduction did to the status of the unique work of art. If the Mona Lisa can be reproduced by lithography, what is the value of the Mona Lisa?

It’s not that Greenfield writes like Benjamin (he doesn’t). It’s that both writers see and can describe changes in the world to which their contemporaries are oblivious. Greenfield is a friend and former member of Happy Cog so I have an interest in seeing his book do well. But if I didn’t know him or couldn’t stand him I would still highly recommend this book to anyone who cares about how design and technology are shaping our time.