Jess Martin

⚠️ Warning! This is an in-progress research note exported directly from Jess's note-taking system. The ideas in this note are still under active development.

Last Updated: August 11, 2020

The Future of Computing

I have an obsession. It’s one of those ideas that you can’t shake, that keeps coming back in a variety of ways, through sparks of insight, frustrations with the current state of reality, delightful experiences, books, movies, and all sorts of ways.

My principle is that the analog and the digital should be complimentary rather than duplicative. The first 50 years of digital technology has been about two things:

  1. Discovering what is unique about the digital realm and inventing paradigms for interacting with it.
  2. Re-creating low fidelity versions of analog tools in a digital way.

We’ve discovered much, and it’s been thrilling! The computing paradigms of bygone years have taken us far, very far. But we’ve largely accomplished great things by abandoning entirely the analog world (real paper, pencils and pens, whiteboards, real materials and their natural features) in favor of the digital world (circuits, bits and bytes, glass and plastic, and, in a word, screens).

I believe it’s time to take a concerted effort to blend the analog and the digital, to create new interfaces for interacting with the digital, for allowing the analog world to be used as an instrument of the digital rather than forcing everything to be digital first. Each has incredible strengths - if we were to design a computing environment designed to leverage the strengths of analog and digital and to focus on building a purely complimentary system, the entire human race would benefit.

MANTRA: Free computing from the confines of the screen

One of the fundamental elements of the digital world is the screen. Screens are a portal, a window, to another world. They don’t exist in our world, they exist to take us OUT of our world and into another.

One reason for that are that they are inherently single-user - think about it - one pointer for the mice to control, no matter how many you plug in. One keyboard entry point to type in, no matter how many keyboards are plugged in. Bringing the digital world into the real world will make screens more like whiteboards and less like “windows.” They will allow multiple to think/work/draw/observe/design at the same time. While a perfectly blended analog + digital device will support a single user, the device will be designed to be collaborative, not tacking it on as an afterthought.

Also, digital devices are “general purpose” computing devices. This is a strength, yes, in that they can tackle a wide variety of challenges, and be programmed to solve a wide variety of problems. But this is also a limitation in that they cannot be adapted to be singularly good at a single workflow, a single task, a single use case. Optimized for usage and delight in one way and way only. Furthermore, this “general purpose” also permits a variety of uses, which destroys focus. Humans are weak-willed creatures. The simplicity and directness of paper or whiteboard permit little wandering, little distraction. There’s just not that much else to do. The new world of blended analog + digital will have more “single purpose” computing devices, allowing for both greater focus and superior, crafted, delightful workflows.

Here are a few other mantras that need development:

  • Every surface a computing device.
  • Computing beyond the computer.
  • Optimize for creation over consumption.
    • Empower a new generation of creators.
    • De-specialize the computer for creatives. Democratize creativity.

Where to start?

In order to make this more tangible, here’s a place to start: redesign the calendar. (or the household grocery list)

  • Write up a story of using the new analog+digital calendar.

Where I am today (2017-12-27)

I have a company to run, products to design, and a family to tend to. I don’t have the time to invest in bringing this vision to life right now. But that’s OK, but this vision is impossible. It’s not a limited-time opportunity. It’s something that will take years, decades, to even begin to see fruit. It necessarily involves new kinds of hardware, a new kind of software that doesn’t yet exist, and use cases yet to be discovered. This is crazy ambitious.

The best thing I can do is to maximize my learnings and earnings at First to set myself up to be able to dedicate my working life to this problem. I’ve probably got another 25 years of productive work left in me, maybe more. I expect that First will take another five years, at least, to leave it’s mark on the world. That leaves me with another two decades to lay out the foundational ideas in the analog+digital space.

Largely, in order to succeed at First, I need to put several ideas and initiatives out of my head until the time is right.

  1. Replacing my paper journaling system with a digital system. (See [[The iPad Pro Experiment]]) I need to be experimenting with the best of what is currently available when it comes to hardware and software that promises to empower creatives with new interfaces. But that time is for later. Right now, I should concentrate on minor improvements to my current organization system (MacBook + paper + markdown notes) rather than trying to integrate new interfaces.
  2. Build a scanner and digitize my paper notebooks. I’d love to have a lot of raw material to work with so that I can experiment with my ideas for augmenting paper notebooks with the digital. But that needs to wait for now. Keep writing, keep producing, but build a scanner later.
  3. Reading, thinking, dreaming about new interfaces. Much as it pains me, I need to go deep on building First to be the best and most successful company it can be. The best thing I can do today to give myself a shot at bringing these crazy ideas to life is to be crazy successful at First.

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© 2023 - Jess Martin