Give the child a Cone: crowdmaking and the new age of enlightenment

I was happy to see a proper mass market IoT product come out of the music tech community. Aether’s Cone is an intelligent combination of web service-connected product, meaningful cloud content driven by intelligent music systems and gesture-driven personalisation training (check out how it works). It belongs to the world as described in both Cory Doctorow’s fictional Makers and Chris Anderson’s living community of Makers. These visions reflect our current reality. But they are still missing one vital element. Once we design intelligent products which plug into the cloud and which are wonderfully trained to cater for our personal needs and preferences, the most innovative space will happen when we *jointly* connect via our products. This means not only via an awkward touch-screen (essentially button-pressing) application, but by using a broader range of gesture and signalling. The best we can do for our new products is not just to enable them to respond to us, but to *talk to each other* via a common platform. This is at the core of crowdmaking.

Which brings me to the main reason why our age is so revolutionary compared to anything we, as experiential beings, have witnessed in the past. Colleagues from some of the cutting edge innovation teams from EU industry speak to me of the era of “New Enlightenment” – access to vast amounts of new knowledge gathered from intelligent data systems, which drives new, well-informed behaviours. There is definitely some truth in this. However there is a major difference between our age and a historic movement which flourished as a reaction to the oppression of individual opinion in the Middle Ages. Aided, as ever, by a technological leap (in this case the invention of the printing press), and hence dominated by the written word, better-informed personal opinion became not only possible, but strongly encouraged. It became the foundation of our education system. Most western education systems still insist on *discouraging doodling and tinkering* in favour of the written word. We (rightly or wrongly) trust *only* the written word when it comes to assurances and justice. We still carry the written word ethos which praises individualism to the extent that it has generated entire cultures and economic systems based on encouraging individual progress above the common good.

Our age has highlighted the benefits of a different form of behaviour – one that encourages collective intelligence. Unlike the Enlightenment’s individualist drip-feeding of personal knowledge, connected communities of the – so called – “new era of enlightenment” usefully moderate and collectively produce torrents of valuable information. Ideas of sharing and moderation prove to be more effective and more valuable than individual accumulation. The social revolution is not inherent in the digital medium, but transpires from new behaviours afforded through connectivity.

This collective intelligence is already heavily fuelled by visual imagery – which is historically where our mark-making communications started. Despite the dominance of the written word in school, our children spend most of their time using visual and gestural communication via tablets and robotic toys. We know they are already better at combining *gesture – signal – image – word* than we could ever be with the limitations of our training.

Gesture and signalling offer a vast range of affordances which can bypass the awkwardness of language, the slowness of typing, and the limitations of cross-cultural spoken language. Just watch children from different linguistic backgrounds interact. Some of their methods are truly ingenious. They seamlessly integrate gesture and available props, showing that tools are a much richer field of communication than boring flat tablets.

Now give the child a Cone. My guess is that the child will pick up the Cone and turn the dial vigorously wanting to influence *your* experience of it (wicked or fun as that may be). Why? Because we have always communicated via our tools. Now, watch what happens when we connect them.

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