Co-evolving

I heard a term the other day that I really liked: co-evolve. It was said in the context of humans and technology…humans and technology co-evolve together. In other words, we change technology by creating it, and then it changes us as we use it. And we both change in response to each other. Many times […]

I heard a term the other day that I really liked: co-evolve. It was said in the context of humans and technology…humans and technology co-evolve together.

In other words, we change technology by creating it, and then it changes us as we use it. And we both change in response to each other. Many times when we talk about technology we talk only as creators…should we create it…should it have been created? But by the time we have created technology it’s too late to ask that question…it’s already changed us in some way. We can’t go back, at least not this generation. Maybe the next generation will forget.

The gun-rights activists like to assume the first frame…that we are sovereign over the technology we create and it doesn’t change us. Guns don’t kill humans, humans kill humans. On CNN the other day was a photo of a protester holding up a sign: “if guns kill humans, do pencils write books?”.

But thoughtful people know it’s not that simple. Technology isn’t neutral…the mere presence of it changes our behavior. I’ve read about a study in which the mere presence of a gun in the room (a randomly placed gun…nobody mentions it during the study) made people uneasy and tense. The people in the study thought they were there for something else…but of course everyone notices the gun and it has a direct affect on their behavior. They act more hostile, more angry. When you have a hammer everything looks like a nail. When you have a gun everything looks like a target.

Of course, if guns didn’t kill people our army wouldn’t need them to kill people.

Ahh!!!…there’s the key. Guns make it easier to kill people…they enable a behavior, and by enabling the behavior, by making it easier to do, it is done more often. And as guns get easier to use and more deadly, they make it even easier. This is the grey area…the area that people who see the world in black and white can’t see…

Anyway, this piece wasn’t supposed to be about guns. It was supposed to be about technology. Lately I’ve been using several tools that enable me to perform actions easier, and as those actions become easier it changes the way I work. So while they don’t do anything new, per se, the fact that they make an activity so easy and fast changes the way I do the activity. I think this is a sign of me co-evolving with the technology I use.

Here are a few:

  • WordPress when I installed WordPress many years ago the ease of publishing allowed me to publish more. Tumblr is another recent tool that makes it even easier to post.
  • Skitch Skitch is a screen-capture program that makes it incredibly easy to grab screenshots, annotate them, and throw them up on the web. Because it allows uploading in one-click, I’m now using my Flickr account to store screen grabs that I think are interesting.
  • LaterLoop I’ve just begun using LaterLoop, but it’s a great way to save things you want to read later…to “loop back on”. This happens to me a lot, when I have 80 tabs open and simply want to remember them, but don’t necessarily want to bookmark them permanently (although it does that too)
  • Time Machine Time Machine is the backup program in Apple’s latest OS Leopard. It makes backups super easy to do, which results in the happy outcome that you backup more often. The addition of a wireless base station (which I don’t have) will make this even easier.

It’s interesting to note that these technologies are late-comers by a long-shot. Many, many solutions had already existed in the marketplace supporting the exact same activities for a long time before they showed up. But this software is designed so smoothly that it actually pushes the state-of-the-art forward…changing the way we do those activities.

That seems to me to be the hallmark of good design…when the person and the technology co-evolve…changing each other as time goes on.

Published: July 2nd, 2008

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