virtual-reality-warm-technology-featured

The emergence and importance of warm technology

 

 virtual reality, warm technology

Technology has developed a bit of a bad reputation - and with good reason.

‘Techlash’ has dominated the news agenda, with more and more people finding that they are inundated with gadgets, social media and the constant ‘on’ culture - but this is about to change. First of all, it is important to remember that technology itself was never to blame. The problem lies in the fact that most engineers and designers have been striving to make as much money as possible by making companies and people as efficient as possible. By making technology unforgiving and demanding of its users, these companies inadvertently caused techlash.

If the team is good, then technology does what it is created to do; so, if you make a `social network` where the users are encouraged and helped to reach a lot of people and gain a following, follow others for updates, plan events and get plenty of people to come… Well then, that will be what the users use the network for.

However, if you would rather try to design a platform that encourages long conversations with a select and carefully chosen few, or maybe tried to create an online space that facilitated new, long-lasting, friendships, you might then create something that is truly social. Unfortunately, this kind of platform won’t carry a lot of ad-money, the more people use it to form real relationships, the less time they will eventually spend on it, choosing to socialise in real life instead. The more efficient your idea becomes, the fewer people will need to use it.

So what reason do I have to believe that the emergence of ‘warm technology’ is about to change the game completely? Because people are looking for technology that makes sense for them, and will want to invest in these solutions.

The key principle behind warm technology is that it doesn’t aim to replace our most basic human needs, such as contact with our loved ones, a feeling of belonging and the desire to feel needed. What warm technology does instead, is harness the plethora of technological advancements to meet these needs, solving an emotional and often completely invisible crisis. For example, it is estimated that in the UK, 1 in 20 adults reports feeling lonely often or always (Office for National Statistics 2017). To these adults, the existing technology does not solve an emotional need, it doesn’t enhance their existing relationships. In my company’s bid to eradicate the entire concept of loneliness, we were aware that we couldn’t and shouldn’t, try to replace existing human bonds, which is where other technologies have failed. So instead, we focused on utilising technology to make these needs more prominent and more easily accessible, creating two warm technology products as a result.

Our first product, AV1, was aimed at helping children and young adults suffering from ill-health, remain in contact with friends and continue with their education. Our second, KOMP, was a communication tool designed for the elderly, helping them stay in touch with family. With both of these, we didn’t strive to create technology that would impress. Our focus was to create technology that would only assist, help and solve. While we aren’t at the point where we have solved the loneliness epidemic, we have placed the effected and the vulnerable at the centre of the creation process, giving them a voice. Something that isn’t always factored-in by tech giants looking to create the next ‘it’ thing.

While for us at No Isolation the focus is on loneliness, it isn’t the only crisis that warm technology can and should, solve. Warm technology could be used to help victims of PTSD, it could improve the lives of the homeless, with leaps and bounds being made by companies like Action Hunger. The main element that unites companies and makes their technologies ‘warm’ is their dedication to putting the vulnerable at the heart and soul of each project - from the inception, through to testing, execution and later, improvement. We hope that some of our work serves as an inspiration for technology companies to do more, to move away from chasing the elusive consumer and the next cheque, towards forming a happier society, where no one has to struggle because their voice is ignored.

About the author

Karen Dolva is CEO and co-founder of No Isolation (www.noisolation.com), an Oslo-based start-up founded in October 2015, with the goal of reducing involuntary social solitude. Its first product, a physical avatar called AV1, was designed to help children and young adults, forced by illness to take extended time away from school, to maintain a presence in the classroom, communicate with friends, and socialise.

Before co-founding No Isolation, Karen studied Computer Science and Interaction Design at the University of Oslo, the highest ranked institution for education and research in Norway.

During her studies, Karen began her career at StartupLab Oslo, and went on to co-found UX Lab - a user experience consultancy, created to help companies with user testing and the designing of digital user experiences.

Karen identified the need for No Isolation when she met Anne Fi Troye - a mother who lost her teenage daughter to cancer. Through learning about Anne Fi’s continuous efforts to improve the lives of children in hospital, based on her own child’s experience of social solitude while unwell, Karen was inspired to use her personal knowledge of user experience and computer science to develop a tech-based solution.