3_Trends_Vol.9: Chris Dancy: Interface Collapse, Coercive Convenience + Hyper Empathy


3_TRENDS is an interview series with experts who have their ear to culture, identifying the overlooked ripples turning into swells.

Chris’ first 3_TRENDS volume can be found here.

Chris Dancy (CD) is “the Most Connected Man on Earth,” earning his moniker by utilizing 700 sensors, devices, and apps to track, analyze, and optimize every component of his life. Featured on Showtime’s Dark Net, interviewed by the WSJ, BBC, and Wired, and as the subject of TED talks, Dancy is a keynote speaker and author of Don't Unplug, an examination of living with technology.

MK: Chris, what’s on your mind?

Interface Collapse

CD: In 2010, the idea of mass smartphone adoption was not widely taken seriously by mainstream press nor businesses worldwide. Yet by the 2020s, smartphones have penetrated upwards of 70% of the world's population.

In 2020, the idea of mass wearable tech adoption seemed to be just as under-considered as phones were a decade ago.

Yet look around; if you're under 30, you spend a lot of time with wireless headphones in your ears all day. Apple Watch has replaced yesterday's Fitbits, and not just on athletes or the worried well.

What we’re experiencing is interface collapse.

We've gone from "Personal Computers" to "Intimate Computers" in the past fifty years.

The lack of a screen to directly interact with will reshape and rewire everything about the next decade.

The invisible, audible notifications and sly, suggestive taps on our bodies are slowly influencing how people fuse with their devices' suggestions and driving a world post-screen.

MK: Trends often leave room for deviation. Not this one. It’s crystal clear.

Apple’s product innovation is the map for this movement. They’re actively building a world beyond phone screens. TV’s, watches, headphones, speakers, and cars are our new interfaces, or rather: everything is now an interface. An omnipresent Siri is your entry to the ethereal and universal OS.

But while I wholeheartedly agree with Interface Collapse, and also envision computers thriving ubiquitously and also pervasively — i.e. inside of us — I’m conflicted as screens will still somehow rule.

Neuroscientists from MIT discovered our brains can process entire images from the eye in as little as 13 milliseconds. (It takes you 300-400 milliseconds to just blink your eye.) It’s a futile race for written text, speech and much of audio. Images remain best-in-class for relaying information.

With that, in a time-crunched world demanding more of our attention, it will be difficult to keep up and take it all in... that is, without the advantage of screens cutting our time on intake.

In Interface Collapse, screens may still somehow prevail. Just where? Or maybe it’s possible we’ll take the leap and sacrifice speed for omnipresence?

Anything for that sweet, easy access...

Coercive Convenience

CD: On the heels of “Interface Collapse,” the last vestiges of autonomy in decision making are leaking from humanity. From trends that turn into movements, to technology suggesting what to watch, read or listen to, today’s humans are witnessing a “Coercive Convenience” in a quest to reduce their cognitive overload with day-to-day decisions.

Technology has moved from Big Brother, to Big Mother, and now is used to justify all sorts of behaviors as when to meditate, to alternative ways to drive to work.

Our unbearable present moments have been orchestrated by our devices’ attempts to suggest the next thing to watch, listen to, or attend. Our quest to create the most frictionless experience is leaving people devoid of autonomy and longing for the feeling of 1st person living.

MK: I think about this frequently with my Spotify algorithm. Do I love my Discover Weekly because Spotify knows me so well, or because Spotify has deftly conditioned my tastes over the last five years? Maybe both...

This is an innocuous example, but the ruse can get dark, fast.

Mindfulness and skepticism is necessary here before we over-rely, falling trap to the hypnotizing hum of “Just For You.”

It’s a stretch, but play with me here...

Journeying back to Psych 101, we can summon the infamous Milgram Experiment, a study on obedience. After a certain genocide, Stanley Milgram found that roughly 60% of lab participants can be instructed to provide fatal voltages to another (acting) participant. All you have to do is just tell them.

Milgram was a study on not just the obedience of listeners, but on the simple, quiet authority of an entity providing instructions.

Historically, we have less agency than we think. Do we — or will we ever — consider Siri or Alexa authorities? To get there, either their persuasion must enhance, or our collective judgement must falter.

Both are on the table.

Hyper Empathy

CD: What happens when half the world becomes overly selfish, polarized, and publicly non-aware of others? “Hyper Empathy.” Our brain's pathways are being trained to be hyper-vigilant of our bodies, hypersensitive of our surroundings, and hyperconnected to the people we love.

Life beyond our current polarity will be a journey to the outer reaches of self, the inner space of selfishness.

Hyper Empathy is the condition of being overly sensitized to the world and its surroundings.

Our news cycles of fear has unequally affected those who opted for an approach that emphasized mutuality over self-centeredness. Self-love has given way to selfless love, and people are walking on the eggshells of their connections. From the rise of “Karenism,” the internet’s religion of selflessness, to the cult of the Corporatization of Values, we have found a new way to express our individuality, but focusing on our relationship to each other.

MK: In so many cases it feels, culturally, Me has dethroned We. But in many others, Me remains unfortunately deprioritized. It’s not one over the other, though. It’s simply remaining mindful that we’re all interconnected, living together. It’s awareness that we so frequently overlap, and that we’re all closer than we think or feel. Keeping this in mind is quite powerful.

This is about patience for a delayed email response. Or restraining to reply flippantly to a serious tweet.

“Hyper Empathy” sounds utopian. But it’s not exactly. It’s more of a new social requirement. One for others, but also ourselves.