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Let's remake the world for tech

Mike Elgan | Sept. 15, 2015
Consumer technology changes our behavior. Shouldn't it also change our homes and cars?

Apple will no doubt catch up just when VR is ready to become very widespread. The evidence that Apple is working on VR is its acquisition of a company called Metaio, which holds virtual reality patents and employs VR engineers. Apple even poached the top audio engineer from Microsoft's HoloLens project.

But our homes aren't ready for VR. We're going to need a dedicated VR room, or at least a redesign of our existing living rooms. Specifically, VR requires some unobstructed open space  -- an area devoid of items to trip over, like coffee tables. VR rooms would also need doors that can be closed so people who aren't using the systems can't walk in unannounced, because VR applications and games will be so immersive that you could easily startle a user if you, say, tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention.

Apple is also working on a self-driving car. And who isn't? Google has been working on one. Uber is poaching Carnegie Mellon researchers by the dozens and has set up two research centers to develop self-driving technologies. And, of course, all the car companies are working on self-driving vehicles.

Self-driving cars will probably be just like today's cars but with the ability to drive themselves. But what they should be is completely reimagined living spaces. A four-seater, for example, should have front seats that usually face backwards. People are going to want to sleep safely in their cars while being driven around. And there will have to be room for screen-related activities like video calls, game-playing and more.

Our kitchens need major overhauls to become what they're meant to be --- the control center of all home-related activities. They'll need not only cooking equipment and smart appliances, but also a computer assistant that connects you and all members of your family to the home and to one another.

The need to remake the world for technology involves design solutions to first-world problems to be sure. But it makes no sense to continue designing anachronisms into consumer products.

I still encounter public bathroom sinks with separate spigots for hot and cold water. Cars are still made with electrical outlets that were designed for cigarette lighters. Most jeans still have tiny pockets that were designed to hold pocket watches -- they're little square ones above and partly inside the right front pocket.

We largely accept the existence of human spaces and objects designed for a bygone era. And we tolerate homes, offices, cars and clothing that don't accommodate the technology we use today -- or the ways in which that technology is changing how we live.

It's time to consider how technology changes human behavior and then design our spaces accordingly.


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