Mobile tech and the challenge and opportunity for design

All opinions are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

Lots of things bother me when I’m driving my car.  But recently I’ve found that the number one thing making me bang my head on the steering wheel is when I’m behind a car at a stoplight, the light changes…and nothing happens. Many times I can see the back of the driver’s head, which is almost always tilted down, and I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that this is because the person in front of me is texting or surfing the web.

A recent report from the Seattle Times that one in twelve active drivers in Washington State was observed using a cellphone while driving confirms how widespread this problem is. The thing is, the problem is, the opportunity is, this is only one small symptom of how our world is changing and becoming full of distraction. I may be irritated when the person in front of me isn’t paying attention but at the same time I’m continually impressed by the immediacy and mobility of technology.  In some ways, much as I might rant about people who are texting while driving, I also understand why. They do it because it’s easy, simple, and feeds our hardwired desire for rapid positive feedback.

So what can be done? Continue reading

Tall poppies, tall corn and creating the right environment

All opinions my own and do not necessarily reflect those of Novo Nordisk.

The first time I heard the saying, “Cutting down the tall poppies,” I was in Australia, over 20 years ago, talking to an Professor who was a US expatriate and working at the University of Queensland.  I’ve heard it since in conversations with people from the UK, Denmark and other countries.  The specific connotation in each culture differs somewhat, but the general underlying meaning is that those who rise above the crowd should in some way be brought back down to the level of everyone else. This might be in a physical and material sense, or in an attitudinal way, as in, “don’t think you are better than us just because of your (choose one) wealth, success, position, knowledge, etc.” An egalitarian sentiment, to be sure, but one that sounds odd to someone raised in the US, where individual attainment and excellence are among the key values.

I often contrast that idea to the following story about tall corn.  I first heard it from Professor Michael Freeling when I was a graduate teaching assistant at UC Berkeley, and assigned to TA for his class on Genetics and Society. This was an undergraduate survey class and on the first day, a freshman stood up (aren’t freshmen cute?  Always so earnest and ready to play “stump the Professor.”) and asked Michael where he stood on the question of Nature versus Nurture.

Michael’s answer was to describe his own work in maize genetics. Take a handful of genetically diverse maize kernels, he said, and sow them in a field and see what happens.  You get plants growing to a variety of heights, and each plant will give you different yields. Take another handful of kernels from the same batch and plant them in a greenhouse.  Give them fertilizer, gro-lights, plenty of water, keep out bugs and other pathogens. Then you’ll see the plants growing to more or less the same height, and yielding similarly, every ear on every one.

Continue reading

One small, wistful story about the shutdown

Seattle, like San Francisco, like New York City, is a city of water and bridges.  I remember reading Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin back in college. I think it’s a book that I’d benefit from reading now, again, but one of the concepts that struck me even in my callow youth was his observation about cities that have bridges as part of their fundamental being.  He described how a city, to be magnificent, must “project, extend, fling itself in all directions–over the water, in peninsulas, hills, soaring towers, and islands linked by bridges.”

Seattle is that kind of city.

And it made me sad when I heard that one of our bridges, albeit a small and specialized one, was closing because of the government shutdown. Continue reading