A society’s cultural norms define the social forces that push humans to interact in a way that is congruent with accepted social rules . Else, the individual may encounter what sociologist Erving Goffman describes as “losing face ” Our interactions with technology are not exempt: every device and tool comes with societal expectations that tell us how

? Goffman, Erving . Interaction Ritual: Essays on Face to Face Behavior. 1st Pantheon Books ed. New York: Pantheon Books, 1982 .

and when they’re acceptable to use . When we talk about a socially “normal” technology, what we really mean is one that conforms with existing norms, or (more often) one that our norms have adjusted to accept .

Marc Weiser wrote that “the most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it .”* An accepted technology becomes unremarkable, to the point where it is effectively invisible . In much of the urbanized world, a smartphone is one such technology. We don’t take a second glance at someone using a smartphone today, even though it would have been quite astonishing to watch someone tapping away at a mobile screen 10 years ago .

This process of cultural “metabolization” takes place at different rates for different technologies, and for some technologies it never happens

at all. The smartphone took just a year or two to seem normal, while Google Glass is still creepy three years after release, and the Segway remains a joke after a decade

Journalism can act as a catalyst for metabolization, but the creators of the technology are also responsible for the task of designing its message in a way that minimizes fear and dismissiveness They also need to serve up new features in a digestible size, so that users aren’t bombarded with too many shifts at once

One of the easiest ways for a technology to be metabolized is if it’s perceived as restoring people to the norm . Eyeglasses are not fear inducing, and neither are wheelchairs or crutches, because they give people capabilities that put them back in line with what’s considered “normal ” If a technology is seen as enhancing, on the other hand—if it promises to elevate someone’s capabilities beyond “normal”—the reaction to it is more likely to be fear. So part of the task of creating messaging for new technologies lies in expanding people’s definition of “normal.” This is almost always a gradual process

Can you imagine the early reaction to the telephone? It was magical and exciting, of course, but also a dramatically unfamiliar experience . Some people couldn’t imagine the idea of a person going into a room

§ Weiser, Mark . “The Computer for the Twenty-First Century.” Scientific American 265, no . 9 (1991): 66-75 .

alone and talking to another person far away. In fact, many at the time were worried that telephones would lead to social isolation and depression . But after they started showing up in people’s businesses and homes, calling people far away became the norm, and the telephone was seen as a connector, not an isolator.

The telephone was metabolized in a very gradual way, over the course of decades, and it helped that it began with public telephones in places like post offices and banks, to make the technology feel “under control” and less intimidating . It also helped that it was building on the precedent set by the telegraph . By the time the first telephone exchanges were opening in the 1880s, the telegraph had been in operation for more than 40 years, and “reported via telegraph” was a common notation in the newspapers Americans and Europeans read every day. This helped the telephone feel like a next step, not a complete disruption

A similar revolution happened with the advent of the mobile phone camera . Neither the cell phone nor the digital camera were new technologies, but when the two were combined, a certain paranoia set in Now people could take pictures discreetly anywhere . Camera phones were banned from locker rooms, even offices . Papers were written about the end of privacy. People were upset, but 5-10 years later, camera phones have become the norm

What happened? Everyone bought one . The social action of taking a photo became commonplace, whether at a family gathering, a concert, or a restaurant The ability for anyone to take a picture at any time made the entire concept mundane, and that made it feel safe

In 2005, Apple began working on a mobile phone that offered a new method of interaction: a large, multi-touch touchscreen . It wasn’t the first phone with Internet capabilities, but it did allow a much clearer view of the Web than any previous mobile device . Suddenly the Web became enjoyable on the phone, and there were apps, too—but not at first . Let’s take a closer look at how the product evolved .

On June 29, 2007, Steve Jobs introduced what at the time seemed like a ridiculous product to the world . It was an iPhone (see Figure 2-9). A solid piece of metal and glass that was like a smooth stone about the size of your hand . Inside this strange device were some built-in apps like a web browser and a very low-resolution camera

Consumers were a little shocked . Where was the keyboard? Why was the screen the full size of the device? Why would Apple make a phone? It seemed like a huge risk And the price was outrageous! One thing was for sure—only a few people were going to buy this thing (or rather, some tech writers quipped, beta test it) . It didn't seem like a good idea at all But it was

At first, the iPhone was an expensive luxury item, allowing its supply chain to start small and build up as demand increased. In 2008, Apple introduced an improved iPhone at a lower price point, and the phone came with another new capability: the ability to download apps developed by third parties At that point, customers were familiar with what an iPhone could do, and any team of developers could pay $99 to get early access to Apple's developer tools and build apps in anticipation of the next phone's release . Before long, developers started showing up from all over. Fourteen-year-olds made silly apps . A whoopee cushion app caused headlines and mirth. This playfulness helped demonstrate the features that made the iPhone unique, but it also made it feel less frightening. The developers, along with news sites and early adopters, told the story—not Apple

The iPhone's core hardware continued to improve . Every season, a new set of improvements and capabilities were introduced, and everyone got to learn about the new features at the same time, build new categories

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The Apple home page in January 2007, at the time of the first iPhone launch—the first version of the iPhone shipped with a handful of built-in iPhone apps, apple maps, a web browser with a “mobile” view of the New York Times, a music player, and a phone interface.

CALM TECHNOLOGY of software using them, and communicate the new features to one another. The App Store grew and grew with each new release, ushering in a whole new set of developers and an entirely new way to make money. Young developers, some just barely teenagers, could post tutorials on YouTube and teach people to code . Documentation was written by users and added to over time . As of mid-2015, over 1.5 million apps were listed on the App Store, and 100+ billion apps have been downloaded .

Apple’s iPhone became a market leader because it improved on what was already out there . The first iPhone improved the user interface standards set by a market dominated by Nokia, Blackberry, Palm, and Windows Mobile phones . All of these devices had a physical keyboard. While useful for emails and text messages, the keyboards took up roughly half of the device . By allowing the keyboard to dissolve and reappear on the screen, the iPhone could make use of a much larger screen size . This opened up an industry-changing shift—the ability to make full-screen, full-touch applications

It still took many years for the iPhone to come to maturity, but imagine if Apple had released an iPhone with apps, location awareness, multitasking, and a large screen all at once? The price point would have been outrageous, the device completely alien, and the smartphone almost certainly a disastrous failure . Give people one feature or concept at a time, per season, so users can readjust to the idea and it can become the norm . Otherwise you might be stuck with an amalgamation of random features, many of which will not be functional for your users . And if you’re making a physical product, it gives your supply chain a chance to breathe, improve, and evolve

Google Glass, shown in Figure 2-10, failed for exactly this reason . When Glass launched in 2013, developers had to pay $1,600 USD and be invited by Google in order to buy a device and start building applications for it . Without many people capable of doing this, it became mysterious, and certainly not an object of play. It also included a broad array of features released all at once, making for a big marketing splash but very little focus, and a lot of confusion and concern .

Without a clear feature to focus on, public opinion seized on its own concern: the idea that anyone wearing Glass was recording everyone

all the time. Glass didn’t have a recording indicator light, as essentially every other video recording device up to that point had This omission created ambiguity, leading many people to assume that any

Glass-wearer was persistently recording—when in fact, after 15-20 minutes of video, it got too hot and the battery ran out . For about six weeks in 2014, I wore Glass constantly, all around the world, in groups of people from a wide range of social classes, age groups, and nationalities . By far the most common first question I received was, “are you recording me right now?”


Developer Brennan Novak tries out my pair of Google Glass at a bar in Brighton, England, at the height of “Google Glass mania” in September 2013.

If you took all of the articles about feature phones with cameras from the 2000s and replaced the word “camera” with “Glass,” you'd have the same articles on Google Glass we saw in 2014. As with cameraphones, there will eventually be a new set of social rules to govern head-wearable devices, but we're not there yet . Wearing Glass gives you a lot of power, but you also have to explain the limits of that power to others, and many of us are fundamentally uncomfortable with the idea of wearing a camera on our faces . Sometimes it's better just to leave it off

Additionally, Google created a closed system that couldn't be hacked or played with, meaning that all excitement about and discovery of the product was blocked . The so-called “Explorers” program Google launched with Glass didn't actually allow people to explore the product because its use cases were actually fairly limited

To make a successful product launch, it’s crucial to study your audience,

their social cues, and the local culture around technology, to ensure that you understand why people might or might not want your product . Release features slowly until they are adopted by the general public, and provide a way for people to play with your product and become comfortable with it

Calm Technology lives in the real world, among people . Respect their expectations, and they’ll respect your technology.

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