43 Folders

Back to Work

Merlin’s weekly podcast with Dan Benjamin. We talk about creativity, independence, and making things you love.

Join us via RSS, iTunes, or at 5by5.tv.

”What’s 43 Folders?”
43Folders.com is Merlin Mann’s website about finding the time and attention to do your best creative work.

Calm Technology: How do I know when I need to know?

Designing Calm Technology

This nine-year-old article on “calm technology” seems more relevant than ever today.

A calm technology will move easily from the periphery of our attention, to the center, and back. This is fundamentally encalming, for two reasons.

First, by placing things in the periphery we are able to attune to many more things than we could if everything had to be at the center. Things in the periphery are attuned to by the large portion of our brains devoted to peripheral (sensory) processing. Thus the periphery is informing without overburdening.

Second, by recentering something formerly in the periphery we take control of it. Peripherally we may become aware that something is not quite right, as when awkward sentences leave a reader tired and discomforted without knowing why. By moving sentence construction from periphery to center we are empowered to act, either by finding better literature or accepting the source of the unease and continuing. Without centering the periphery might be a source of frantic following of fashion; with centering the periphery is a fundamental enabler of calm through increased awareness and power.

I’m convinced—as I believe Danny is—that doing this sort of thing well will become increasingly important to overstimulated, easily-distracted people (like me). There’s no way we can process all the stuff that begs our attention, so we’ll need to rely heavily on smarter, less disruptive ways to know when our attention is really needed. To do this with a minimal amount of focal change is a challenge in need of some very clever solutions.

[Via: heyblog: Thoughts on Dashboard and ambient information]

Merlin's picture

Sounds like ambient devices to...

Sounds like ambient devices to me.

I think that’s one piece of the puzzle, albeit a small one.

Personally, I’m more interested in stuff like onscreen notifications that vary in intensity and level of interruption based on urgency and importance. So the “pink blob” is important, but the logic behind what triggers an escalation in attention-grabbing is really fascinating to me.

  • “You’ve had ten new emails with the same subject in the last hour” (Crisis afoot?)
  • “Your TiVo will be full by the time ‘The Daily Show’ comes on” (Will I lose the O.C.?)
  • “You’re getting an unusual amount of traffic on port foo” (Hack attempt?)
  • “Your site traffic has gone up 60% over the usual for this time of day.” (BoingBoing Link?)
  • “You have an email that’s now been in your inbox for two weeks” (Am I getting slack?)

Having a system that can detect these kinds of patterns and know when to tap me on the shoulder would make it much easier for me to concentrate, I suspect.




An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


Subscribe with Google Reader

Subscribe on Netvibes

Add to Technorati Favorites

Subscribe on Pageflakes

Add RSS feed

The Podcast Feed


Merlin used to crank. He’s not cranking any more.

This is an essay about family, priorities, and Shakey’s Pizza, and it’s probably the best thing he’s written. »

Scared Shitless

Merlin’s scared. You’re scared. Everybody is scared.

This is the video of Merlin’s keynote at Webstock 2011. The one where he cried. You should watch it. »