Interface is Everything

Emotiv's brain interface.

If you think the debate over iPhone vs. Android, or Windows vs. Mac is too vitriolic, prepare for the real battles to come. Touch interfaces have removed a psychological and functional barrier, and opened the way to an always-connected, computing in your hand world. This is a major step forward, but as early demonstrations of Google Glasses reveal, computing technology continues to strive for an ever greater and closer integration into our psyche.

That’s interface. And whether it’s touch, gestures, voice, augmented reality glasses, or eventually a direct brain connection, it is going to play a much greater role in our lives in the coming years. Our online data and activities are bound to leak in and eventually fully integrate with our everyday physical existence. Eventually, interface will not only shape how we “use apps” or “surf the web” – it will filter how we view the physical world around us, shape how we make sense of it, drive how we operate in it. Increasingly, the people who shape the interfaces we use shape our lives, and even shape us.

That’s why it’s important to realize that different interfaces are based on different assumptions about the world and the user. Embedded in Apple’s software interface, for example, is the assumption that your experience while using the tool is just as important as what the tool does. Dig deeper, and you’ll see a present-oriented approach. The idea that life is made of a string of “nows”, and that good experiences are therefore the most important thing in life. Embedded in Google’s designs is the idea that new technical capabilities must be available to users as soon as possible, and that over time the right experience will develop. Again, dig deeper and the assumption seems to be that your ability to get a certain result in the future is more important than your experience in the present. Google, in other words, views life as a string of past and future milestones. As long as you hit the right ones, what’s in between matters less.

When buying into a software platform, we should be aware that we are buying into a philosophy of life, and that that philosophy, whether conscious or not, will shape our lives in no small way. When thinking of particular app designs, the assumptions become more concrete. What is the most important thing for us to know in a given situation? What is the most important action we need to take? When and how should we take that action? When is it OK to interrupt us, and who gets to decides that? All of these are interface questions that already shape our lives today.

How much more influential will they become, when software becomes less and less separable from our own psyche?

What’s Syntropy?

Syntropy is the opposite of entropy.

It is the appearance of order out of chaos. The self-organizing tendency of matter, over long periods of time. The tendency towards greater complexity and harmony that occurs naturally and counteracts the universal law of entropy, in living systems as well as inanimate constellations.

The term is not in common use. A more common name is “Negentropy”, or “Negative Entropy”. Wikipedia describes the term’s evolution as follows:

The concept and phrase “negative entropy” were introduced by Erwin Schrödinger in his 1943 popular-science book What is Life? Later, Léon Brillouin shortened the phrase to negentropy, to express it in a more “positive” way: a living system imports negentropy and stores it. In 1974, Albert Szent-Györgyi proposed replacing the term negentropy with syntropy. That term may have originated in the 1940s with the Italian mathematician Luigi Fantappiè, who tried to construct a unified theory of biology and physics. Buckminster Fuller tried to popularize this usage, but negentropy remains common.

Whatever word we use, I believe that the concept is of the utmost importance:

To the extent that there is a single “reason” for our existence, and for everything around us, the fact of syntropy is it. And if any one concept can guide us forward, as the rate of technical innovation accelerates and the very way we think of humanity expands, I believe that syntropy is that concept.

This is my personal blog, and I intend to blog about many things including philosophy, technology, art, and the psychology of human happiness. But I also hope to express some of my ideas about syntropy and its applications. I hope to engage with others who are thinking about similar topics. And I hope to get more people talking and thinking about syntropy.

Enjoy the ride!

Why do many people believe things based on faith rather than due to the Scientific Method?

(Originally published on Quora on December 29th, 2011)

I believe that the following reasons play a major role:

  1. Human beings have a psychological need for meaning. That meaning must be more than the simple injunction to “make the most of it.” People are looking for some way to look at life and feel that it matters in more than just a personal sense. They want to know what is a life well-lived, and what is the standard.
  2. Human beings have a need for everyday psychological guidance and practice. This goes beyond “curing mental disease”, which is the focus of most of today’s psychotherapy. People are looking for guidance in dealing with the normal difficulties of life. Especially the universal limitations that all human beings must deal with: limited control, limited time, uncertainty, etc. People are looking for tools for increasing happiness, satisfaction, perspective, and meaning in the face of the inherent difficulties of everyday life.
  3. Human beings need a systematic way of dealing with and accepting death.Even Atheists (such as myself) find it helpful to remember and “digest” the fact of their own mortality, and place it in a positive framework. Virtually every religion in the world revolved around a core concept that either denies death or explains it away in a way that help people accept it, at least as long as they believe in the model.
  4. Human beings have a psychological need for meaningful social ritual. By this I mean a way to share and celebrate life and its meaning with others. A structured way to share the journey with your loved ones and your community. A structured way for the community to provide emotional and moral support in times of crisis.

As an Atheist, I believe it is possible for a completely scientific, rational, and proven system to provide us with all of the above. However, it’s also important to note thatno such system exists today.

Until one is developed, people will always flock to systems that seem designed to answer those fundamental needs. They would rather ignore the light of reason when it means, to them, a meaningless and cold existence with no support network or the comfort of social rituals.

Steve Jobs is Gone

Steve Jobs

 

 

I’ve been playing with the idea for this blog for a long time. But something about today made me start it: Steve Jobs is dead.

A couple of hours ago the news started surfacing online, and then we read this statement by Apple’s board of directors:

 

CUPERTINO, Calif. — We are deeply saddened to announce that Steve Jobs passed away today.
Steve’s brilliance, passion and energy were the source of countless innovations that enrich and improve all of our lives. The world is immeasurably better because of Steve.

His greatest love was for his wife, Laurene, and his family. Our hearts go out to them and to all who were touched by his extraordinary gifts.

Steve Jobs, the ultimate man of Syntropy. The man who almost alone among the early computer enthusiasts, realized that the personal computer would one day change everything, then proceeded to effect this change by creating Apple and the first accessible, beautiful personal computer. The man who, years later, saved the same Apple from bankruptcy by heading it again, and leading it to become the world’s most profitable, and one of the most deeply impactful, companies in the world.  The man who had spent a lifetime removing friction, obstacles, and unnecessary complexity from our lives, while making us more productive, more connected, and yes – happier.

Each one of his major products: the Mac, the iPod, the iPhone, the iPad introduced new possibilities, allowed new forms of interaction, production, and enjoyment. Each one was followed by an outpouring of creative energies, business ventures, and competitors quick to copy his ideas.

Steve was also a man who understood the inevitable nature of entropy. He knew that our time on this earth is precious. He knew that what we do with it, with every second, is the only thing that mattered. In his Stanford Commencement Address, he famously told us:

When I was 17, I read a quote that went something like: “If you live each day as if it was your last, someday you’ll most certainly be right.” It made an impression on me, and since then, for the past 33 years, I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: “If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?” And whenever the answer has been “No” for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.

So I’m following mine. I’ve wanted to start this blog for a very long time, and today – I did. And for that, along with everything else, I thank you Steve Jobs.