Last Rites - 01

Evening fam.

A little bit of personal news to start off: I left Pison two weeks ago. It was an end I've been planning for a few weeks now but a sad one nonetheless. Once the new semester rolled around and I started re-evaluating what I wanted to spend my time on, I realized that I just didn't have any more room in my schedule for Pison. The problems that they was tackling was truly at the frontier of human-computer interaction and led to some really interesting projects in my time at the company. I learned a lot about speculative design from them and very grateful towards the entire team for the experience they gave me. If anyone wants to work at an innovative early-stage company creating the next big interaction paradigm, hmu for the intro!

So onwards to the main topic, in these last few months, I’ve been attempting to become more aware of my personal decision-making framework and have recently reached a point where I feel comfortable consciously inserting my own axes into that framework. These axes have been quite varied, most are just fun little ideas I've been wanting to play around with as a experiment, but one I’ve been using recently has proved to be both a valid and useful metric to judge life decisions against — its the envisioning of my own last rites.

Historically in Christianity, the ritual of last rites was meant to prep the soul of the dying person for their inevitable departure from the earth. It’s the occasion for them to confess their sins, seek forgiveness, and attain spiritual peace through the guidance of a holy man, often a priest. The loose ends of their life, that which plagues the last moments of existence, are soothed by this priest so that they may travel to the flip side free of earthly worries and regrets.

I really vibed with the concept and wanted to understand how it might manifest in my own personal life, as an agnostic theist.

As a result, I decided to try to insert that idea into my decision-making framework and envision the future form of myself in the minutes leading up to my death. Those are the moments when a devout christian would generally be given their last rites and I wanted to use my self-constructed ideal of those moments as a point to consider when assessing the opportunity sets that arise in day-to-day life.

In those future moments:

  • What thoughts do I want to run through my head?
  • What are the circumstances leading up to my death?
  • How would I want my friends and family to feel?
  • What are the last things in the world that I would want to sense?

Initially, this idea didn’t appear to me as anything more than the classic questions of “Where will you be in 5 years?” or “ How do you want people to remember you by?” — basic interview questions. The nuance here though is the idea of finality. There’s no going forward — its the final moments of my life and my feelings, reflections, and thoughts in those moments are the last ones that I will ever make.

This nuance is what allows for the exercise to output significantly deviant ideas from the ones that are normally engaged with, turning it into a methodology for surfacing values that one holds dear and putting them into a concrete context.

The ideal then becomes the manifestation of a set of abstract principles in a discrete set in the time, allowing for the succinct comprehension and tangible application of those values into a day-to-day decision-making framework.

It makes that decision-making process a bit more fun as a bonus.

I really wanted to write a bit about how I envisioned my own ideal last rites but this post has started to get a bit long. I’ve found that around 500 words is about how much I can write comfortably without feeling the urge to proofread excessively and would like to stay at that level for the sake of brevity in creation and consumption — hopefully this keeps the content fresh and engaging for y'all as well.

Until next time.

Rest well ✌🏽

Fog and Murmurs

I’ve been dreaming a lot recently.

One dream has been appearing over and over again — one of fog and murmurs. Lost in a world of infinity with all sights and sounds alike, the axes collude and intertwine.

When the daybreaks™️, my senses become overwhelmed with the auras of the world — an 180° deviation from my dream state. It’s a fearful experience. I just want to close my eyes again.

Lately, I’ve been trying to be less aware of the world. The idea of conscious ignorance has been at the back of mind for much of the past few weeks. There is so much in the world, and the vast majority of it are extraordinarily weak signals. I’m hoping to block those out and allow only the strong ones through. Those are the ones that invigorate and depress, renew and destroy. In a normal distribution, it’s the tails of the 95.

Through simple existence, our senses have developed filtering mechanisms to parse out the noise of the world. With an infinite number of stimuli and a limited amount of cognitive ability, our bodies have built for us a natural defense mechanism for making sure we aren’t constantly bombarded with information.

It works well.

I think we can do better though — creating an internal world of fog and murmurs, where only the strongest lights and sounds reach us, each one with the ability to shake our world away from the steady state and impart upon us, the utmost extremities of emotions.

The goal is the ocean. Infinity of mice and men, a world of fog and murmurs only broken by the greatest of stimuli. Inconsequential to the world — the rustling of the wind-blown bush — but of consequence to us. It need not matter what breaks us from free from our idyllic harmony, only that it impacts and that we meditate upon it. For only the strongest of substances should be the ones that reach out hearts and remind us — hey, we’re still alive.

On the Future of Gesture

Working in AR has led me to spend an unhealthy amount of time recently thinking about the new interaction paradigms that may arise alongside this new technology. One of the most compelling ones for me is gesture-based interactions.

Looking at the current major interaction paradigms, we can abstract two major commonalities from them that are crucial for their continued existence: 1) they are agnostic across most population demographics — age, language, and major factors native to the human condition and 2) they require relatively similar levels of effort in the general case and a distinctly lower level of effort in their specific niche cases.

The traditional notions of gesture-based interactions, as exampled by Microsoft Kinect and the cult-classic: Minority Report, are antithetical to both of these commonalities.

  1. Present gestural language is segmented across demographics. Like memes, gestures are created by the collective consciousness of a group and are only used + understood within the group. Those outside the group lack the context and mental models to interpret gestures of other groups. Demographical divides create the most obvious groups - splintering populations across age, race, and culture.
  2. Present gestural language also contains multiple instances of complex movements that are exhausting at scale. i.e. pointing with the finger to select objects or placing a finger to the lips. Generally, all full-arm movements require a level of effort an order of magnitude above wrist-only movements (writing) and finger-only movements (tapping).

My personal belief here is that for a gesture-based interaction paradigm to evolve beyond being just a gimmick, the interaction has to be comprised of a set of primitives in which people can put together (with context) to form the command they want AND it has to be a non-trivial improvement above existing paradigms in non-niche scenarios.

A few months ago, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to further develop this thesis by joining the team at Pison Technologies as their first interaction designer focused on gestures. Our research surrounds decoding our body's nerve and muscle signals — coupling these signals with an IMU, we can understand a broad range of finger, wrist, and arm movements that were made by a user.

Unlike traditional notions of gestural interfaces that are translated by cameras using computer vision, Pison gestures are translated by a small wearable wristband, allowing for commands to be sent discreetly and effortlessly from spatially-agnostic locations — commands as simple as a flick of a finger.

I’m excited to see what we create.