Simple Machines for the Digital Age

Isn't it time we aspired to a different set of values?

Taking the approach of objects as interactive essay, Simple Machines for the Digital Age is a project that acknowledges, magnifies, and comments on the negative side effects of technology on our everyday lives. It is comprised of three domestic contraptions that are designed to be used in the home, alongside our other noisier devices.

Each object has 3 layers of function:

1. Presence
The physical everyday presence of these machines acknowledges the new behaviors and compulsions we’ve developed over time which are otherwise too easily overlooked.

2. Interaction
The exaggerated interactions required to operate each machine challenges the qualities of our current interactions and technologies  – always-on, frictionless-ness, infinite.

3. Effect
The positive feelings the machines bring about are meant to question the psychological effects our other devices are designed to leave us with.

A website with kits for sale is currently in the works. It is meant to add a participatory element to the project by allowing people to incorporate a little piece of the project in their daily life.

This project came about due to a frustration with my own unhealthy compulsions around technology, and somehow also served as my way to explore the qualities of the kind of work I hope to do.


Present Shock, Douglas Rushkoff
Program or be Programmed, Douglas Rushkoff
In Praise of Slow, Carl Honore
Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi
Flow, Interaction Design, and Contemporary Boredom, Nicolas Makelberge


Machine #1: Slow Messaging System (SMS) My partner and I are often so absorbed in our computers that we find it more convenient to instant message each other, even though we’re in the same room. The Slow Messaging System is a sneaky and humorous way to communicate. A perfect way to catch the attention of someone busily chatting away on their computer and start a real conversation.

Machine #2: Wall Flower When you’re feeling stumped, seek out the shy Wall Flower and press your ear next to it to hear its once-a-day message of inspiration. It is a comfortingly measured alternative to the rabbit hole that is the internet.

Machine #3: Dome of Silence Pop your head into the Dome of Silence and experience calm and focus away from the barrage and stimulation of technology. A remedy for the constant sources of distraction I find online.


Two recent events made me question my relationship with technology.

The first is related to my volunteer work at a senior home tutoring seniors about computers and the internet. Recently, I started teaching my 86-year-old student how to message their granddaughter on their iPad. What followed was five minutes of frustration — much of which was not her fault. She finally gave up and asked me to take over. I couldn’t help but feel responsible for this because I’m part of this generation that makes these things. I volunteer because I wanted to show how wonderful technology and the internet can be for everyone. But this incident made me wonder whether our fast, tech-focused lives have become our blinders, narrowing our perspective so much that we forget about the people whose lives don’t revolve around technology.

The second event is related to the power and cell outage during the 2012 hurricane. I am typically a late sleeper and late riser. But during that week, I had no choice but to lay down when the sun set, and rise when the sun rose, as it was our only source of light. It fascinated me to feel that dependent on nature. But it also made me realize why we don’t feel as connected anymore now that we all have our own personal suns. The entire experience demonstrated to me the fundamental ways technology changes us.

In summary, as I was trying to augment my older student’s life with technology, I realized during the hurricane that I had too much of it for my own good. I love technology, but I believe that it should always be in the service of our well-being. I made Simple Machines as an outlet for my frustrations, to serve as a reminder for myself, and as a way to gain back the control I felt I’d lost.


See more process photos on Flickr.