Monday, June 30, 2003

Inside the car, inside your mind

I learned a new word today… endogenous. It means, “produced or growing from within”… especially as it refers to activity within a living cell. The word, and its opposite, exogenous, was in an article about cell phones and driving. Basically making the point that endogenous thought (like letting your mind wander while you are driving) is one of the things that can cause you to react slower to what is happening on the road.

The article was reporting on a psychology study in Spain on what factors affect driver attention. They tested a number of scenarios including cell phone use. They found that although distractions obviously impair driving that many people are quite capable of dividing their attention and still driving effectively. What was interesting is that they said that in some ways, city driving is safer than country driving. In city driving, there is so much going on externally that it tends to command your attention. This makes it hard for the mind to wander and suggests to most (unfortunately, not all) of us that it’s a bad time to be on the phone. In contrast, driving on a quiet country road without other cars around is the perfect condition to encourage endogenous thinking.

I think this is so true for the creative process. It’s so hard to be creative when you’re surrounded by external stimulus and noise. About a month ago, I had a few hours on a Saturday, so I drove over to the local beach here in San Francisco. I brought a book with me. I read for a while but then I just sat and watched the waves roll in. I wasn’t really thinking about anything. But that is exactly when the new ideas started coming to mind. It started with a completely random association with what I had just been reading but then took off from there. Endogenous… it’s a little clinical, but I like the word. I’m going to try it on my wife the next time she says I wasn’t listening.

Sunday, June 29, 2003

Saw this article on Tech Central Station by Arnold Kling about the diminishing role of software in a future of wirelessly connected devices.

He uses an interesting metaphor of centrifugal and centripetal forces. Centripital forces were at work in the personal computer age where the more integration the better in terms of price, performance and reliability. In the coming era, wireless communication will create centrifugal forces that will pull hardware apart into multiple components that talk to each other as needed. He also makes the point that the focus of our interaction will move from being document focussed (the Xerox legacy) to being transaction focussed.

While I agree with the above points, he also predicts that software will become commoditized in this new hardware focussed world. This I am not so sure about. I work for a company that feels the pain of hardware commodification. I do feel that hardware will gain renewed value as it solves more of the unique needs of users in the wireless world. But, I also feel that software will not diminish in value. There are still so many problems to be solved. How do people want to interact or transact in this new world of ad-hoc device communications? How do people want to interact with each other through the devices? How will security and copyrights be managed? How does one device create an appropriate interface for the services offered by another? These are tough problems that don't even begin to address the range of solutions that could be created for the variety of users (young, old, novice, expert, bad eyesight, etc.).

The centrifugal forces seem to be already in play as evidenced by the variety of forms being explored in cell phones, PDAs and portable AV devices. But, there seems to be plenty of work ahead for both hardware and software designers.
We're looking for a house in San Francisco. My thought for the day... The bubble is about to burst.

Saturday, June 28, 2003

First post... writing from home in San Francisco. Last 2 days have been really hot. The streets were full, the bars were packed. San Francisco changes when the wind blows in from Sacramento.