I’ve been thinking a lot about technology and its implications lately, and this morning I sketched out a simple framework for an “anthropocentric technology.” Here goes:
- The significance of technology is bound to its human application and usefulness.
- Humans adapt to technology but technology can be invented at a rate much faster than human biological evolution or social change; therefore, technology that is shaped to fit fixed human characteristics is more likely to succeed.
- “Anthropocentric technology” does not mean simply user-centered design, though it suggests it. It is more an analytical framework, i.e. to gain insight into the significance of a technology, ask “is it anthropocentric, and how is it so?”
- The limits of the human body and mind present fixed boundaries. How much can a person read and retain in an hour? A day? How fast can a person walk or run? How much can a human lift and move? A human can not fly unassisted. They can not witness events in real-time at a distance beyond the limits of their eyes, or make their voice heard miles away.
What I have in mind is something to help me assess my own ideas both in regards to what constitutes good design for software applications, and also the significance of a technology more broadly. And while doing so, putting the human ahead of the gadget.
Another way of putting it is this: just because a thing becomes possible doesn’t give it an intrinsic importance, it’s how it’s used that is most interesting and valuable.
I was thinking about high resolution displays and how to assess their importance. It occurred to me that what matters is that the pixel density in these screens is approaching the limits of what the human eye can perceive. Any improvement beyond that has limited significance, because a human limit has been reached and exceeding it gives the human individual nothing extra. We tend not to focus on human limits when talking about technology; instead, we’re focused on the limits of what physical laws and natural resources will permit and what invention can achieve.
Other applications for thinking about “anthropocentric technology” would be in predicting the invention or obsolescence of technologies. By asking “what do humans like to do” and “what do they not like to do,” as you extrapolate current trends, you can imagine how our inventions will be shaped by us (and in turn, shape us).