A New Computer Interface - Your Skin

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When I was doing interviews for a story about Skintech – a technology that turns a user’s skin into a mobile device’s primary input surface – someone brought up the old science joke “don’t ask why, but why not?”

While clichés like this often fail to resonate with any real meaning, this time it lingered just long enough for me to make me wonder: How plugged in do we really need to be?

The benefits of something like Skintech are obvious. You can control your iPod by simply tapping your fingers. You can dial your phone without ever taking it out. And the possibilities extend further than that, says the project’s creator Chris Harrison, a doctoral student at Carnegie Mellon University.

“The funny thing about mobile devices today is that they are really constrained by size,” he said. The idea of Skintech is to extend the usability of a mobile device beyond its necessarily small size by using your skin to expand the input surface.

That quiet game of Tetris you play during the morning commute on the L expands to the size of forearm. You Tube video’s jump from the small, glossy screen on your iPhone and light up in the palm of your hand.

There are two common responses to technology like this. The first, often heard from tech geeks, is one mixed with equal parts awe and greed. They are impressed by the capabilities of the new product, then overcome with an unquenchable desire to own it. The second and more common response is to question the necessity. When the portable phone first entered the collective conscious, the common response (with a shrug) was “Who needs it?” Just over a decade later, there’s a mobile device in almost every pocket in America, and the pay phone and landline telephone have become as anachronistic as a covered wagon.

So as I continue to wonder how plugged in we really need to be, I start to think I should rephrase my question, and it becomes one with a more oppressive undertone. It's no longer how plugged in we NEED to be, but rather how plugged in WILL we become. The forward march of technology is an inevitable one, as first noted by Intel founder Gordon E. Moore nearly a half century ago. And it stops for no ONE, not even the most stubborn. Ten years ago, I had a Walkman, so I didn’t need an iPod. Five years ago, I had a SMALL laptop, so I didn’t need a smart phone. Five years from now, maybe I’ll have Skintech, so I won’t need any of it.

- blog authored by Alex Baumgardner (image courtesy of Chris Harrison)

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