17.09.18

Weather Sense - Accessing our Digital World in a Calmer Way

Written By Leonardo Amico
4 mins read

Weather Sense is a wearable device that allows you to check the weather through simple gestures. By sticking a finger in the air you can check how strong the wind will be and by showing your palm to the sky you can know if it’ll rain and how heavy it will be - even if you’re inside.

We wanted to explore a notification free approach to accessing digital information. Instead of turning users into data-targets, Weather Sense turns weather forecast into data we can sense: ready to be accessed quickly at any moment, without getting in the way of whatever we’re doing.

At the mercy of data

Think about your day. From the moment you wake up, until the moment you fall asleep. During this time, everything you do is continuously chopped up by buzzes, tones and visual notifications. Your laptop, smartphone and smartwatch are all constantly shouting at you, demanding a snippet of your time. Publishers wants your attention, social media wants your attention, your fitness app wants your attention, and so does that YouTube guy you forgot you followed. With a growing number of internet connected devices entering our homes, it’s just going to get worse. But most critically, living such hyperconnected lives have real consequences, as research demonstrates, it takes us 25 minutes to get back to the previous task, once we are distracted by some kind of interruption.

Having an abundance of information at our fingertips is undoubtedly an invaluable resource and shouldn't be a problem. The problem is in fact with how we access that information. In one of Mark Wieser’s papers, the internet of things pioneer uses a fascinating metaphor to illustrate the issue, comparing a forest with our digital environment: “There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating”.

When he wrote that in ‘91, he surely couldn't imagine computers are frustrating as we have them in 2018. But why does his comparison still feel so accurate? The main difference is that computers, including smartphones, especially in recent years, are designed by maximising the time we spend with them by effectively targeting us with data we are going to engage with. On the other hand, in a forest, the data is just there: available to our senses but not directed to them. So it’s up to us to choose what to focus on or what to ignore and if we are going to act or not.

 

A new sense for the information world

But what if we could access data in the same way we sense the natural environment? Despite our ever-decreasing attention span, our brains have “plenty of room to take in all kinds of sensor data”, says neuroscientist David Eagleman. Accessing data in a sensory way, then, would be just a more suitable approach for experiencing our information-rich world.

If we could sense digital information in the same way as we sense natural information - almost unconsciously, and not swayed to focus on specific signals - our experience of the digital world would become calm and relaxing,  like that walk in the woods.

This intuition is what led us to create Weather Sense. Weather Sense is our first attempt of giving people a new way to access digital data. We want this information to feed into people’s lives without them having to consciously think about it. Instead of telling the user if is going to rain with a barrage of notifications, we wanted that user to have a feeling, a sense, that is going to rain.

This is what accessing data as if we had new sense for it could be like. Perhaps it means a new kind of relationship with our rich and complex digital world that ceases to be frustrating and distracting and instead becomes calm and empowering.

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