What is real-world search in a digital world?

Looking through a magnifying glass to illustrate the concept of real-world search

What is real-world search, and why might it serve us in the digital world? The promise of a fully connected, digital paradigm is access to all the world’s information, at any time, everywhere. But there are some reasons why this ubiquity of access might not be a good thing. 

  • There is a risk that we become less confident in going out into the world without the information we need. 
  • We may lose the ability to find information other than by searching for it via a web browser. 
  • We may become less willing to seek information from people rather than machines.
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Analogue Skill 002: Remember some phone numbers

Your loved ones. Your best friends. Your colleagues. Could you call them if you needed to? 

This skill is an enabler for leaving the house with your phone. If you need to call home you can use a phone box but only if you know what number to dial. 

Remembering phone numbers just takes practice. Find the rhythm. Find the pattern. Set them to song, if it helps. Practise recall by dialing the numbers rather than using the saved number.

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More lanes = more cars. More apps = more things to do?

Deleting apps and leaving your phone at home could be analogous to dismantling urban highways.

I read earlier this week about the research that established a direct link between building more roads and the level of traffic in a system. The researches established a directly proportional link. Increase road capacity by 10% and traffic increases by 10%. The causal link is that when you increase road capacity, you make it easier for more people to make more journeys. And so more people drive until the new road reaches capacity. At which point the traffic stops growing until new roads are built.

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Analogue Skill 001: Buy tickets at the station

Analogue Skill - buying tickets at the station

Go to the station. Stand in the queue. Look at all the people and wonder where they are going. See leaflets in the rack for places you hadn’t thought of going before. Look up at the station architecture, notice how drab it is, notice where someone has made an effort.

Talk to the person at the window. Smile at them. You might be the first person to do this today. Engage in life-affirming transaction. You want to buy a ticket and they want to help. Ask an expert. What’s the best route? What’s the best time to travel? Find out if there is a different way. Find out if there really aren’t any spaces available for your bike (or was the computer lying?).

Leave, ticket in hand, a malleable scrap of evidence that you are going somewhere and you didn’t just imagine it. A ticket that won’t run out of power.

Creating contours in the flat landscape of lockdown

In the midst of lockdown we have created a new household tradition that brings a highlight to the week. On Saturday nights we dress for dinner, enjoy our meal, watch Strictly on our new TV, and then push back the furniture and dance. 

With the household locked down, one day could easily look like the rest. To use Matthew Crawford‘s  language, the ‘affordances’ of one day look exactly like the rest: there are a fewer physical contours that shape how different parts of the week feel now that we are always at home. So you have to create that structure for yourself.

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New adventures with a television – part 2.

I wrote earlier this week about getting a TV for the first time in 13 years. It reminds me of when I took my first flight in seven years. Things have changed but there isn’t an instruction manual for the uninitiated.

When you are in a system it is hard to see it change, but when you step out and return, the changes are much more obvious. Television watching now:

  • Involves many more controllers
  • Is much more expensive with the subscription services
  • Involves a bewildering amount of choice.
  • Is now on demand meaning you can watch anything at any time.

Nobody we asked seemed to know if we could just have a TV with a few channels. If you type into a search engine how do I watch BBC1 on a television, the top result is how to watch BBC1 via the iPlayer on your television.

But I am happy to say we have, as far as I can see, the simplest set-up possible in the modern world: a TV plugged into an aerial that shows the free view terrestrial channels, and that’s it. No internet streaming subscriptions, no catch-up (no VHS!).

It means that if we want to watch something, we have to watch it at the time that it is on. A rediscovered pleasure is looking at the listing in the newspaper. If there is a clash, we have to negotiate. It’s the return of appointment TV, and I’m loving it.

Of course, Disney Plus is very popular these days but we’ve been experimenting with just getting Disney DVDs from the library. I call it Disney Minus, and it’s much cheaper. Actually we do have a subscription service – it’s called the BBC, and as far as I am concerned is the best value-for-money service out there.

Right, got to run, there is a 75 year anniversary screening of Brief Encounter starting in a few minutes.

Asking someone instead of Googling

What if you couldn’t look stuff up online? This is a question I keep returning to. One answer is that other people might become a more important source of information. You’d need to pay more attention. You’d probably look forward to the opportunity to speak to them more. And you’d remember more about what they said.

The premise makes me think of books set in a time before tv and radio (let alone internet) when the arrival of a new visitor in the house represented the chance to mine a new seam of experience. 

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A click of the ratchet from physical to virtual

Across all the of the projects I’m involved with we are working out what can go ahead and what must be postponed. A significant factor in whether to proceed is whether the activity can go ahead virtually. While the ability to move online is a blessing for business and job continuity, I think it represents an irriversible step for industry and society away from the phyical to the virtual – a click of the ratchet – that will have long-lasting impacts on our freedom and how we interact with other people.

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