Scrabble, Magic Tables and Human Connection

Image: John Kestner’s amazing Tableau

This past holiday my mom, a big Scrabble fan, became fascinated with playing her favorite game on my favorite Apple device, and found herself wanting an iPad for herself (it could be that it’s the endlessly-willing game-partner that my dad isn’t.) While not that tech-savvy she loves and uses an iMac to keep up on news from her native Japan, to email her friends around the world, and thanks to my photographer-brother Andrew, she can now upload, edit and send photos to all of us.  However, from all that mousing she has developed carpal-tunnel in her wrist and now limits her computing time. This has also slowed down something she is widely appreciated for: her wonderful thoughtful cards and letters with her lovely penmanship developed as schoolgirl in pre-WWII Sydney, Australia.

The shift from 75 plus years of hand-writing to five years of mousing took its toll, a metaphor for what can be lost as we transition to an entirely wired and continuously connected world. It also underscores the gap I feel between technological reach and human touch. While I fully enjoy the advances that allow us to seemingly do anything, from anywhere, I wish there was a more human touch and quality to the interactions. I’ve written about many examples that combine the traditional or nostalgic with new technology giving the interaction more meaning, or at least more fun.


Enter this wonderful concept, the Tableau, created by John Kestner, a MIT Media Lab graduate and designer of “supermechanical objects that connect us.” This small end table, immediately familiar as a fixture in any living or family room, invisibly combines technology and social networking with simple everyday interaction. The table, connected to a Twitter account, signals you to open its drawer when someone has sent a tweet. Upon opening the drawer you find photos or messages printed for you. You can also send an image of anything to the account simply by placing it in the drawer. Pretty cool. As John describes on his site, the Tableau enables “connections among humans, objects and spaces.” I believe we will see more of this type of thinking in design in the near future.

As we await the unveiling of all this year’s amazing gadgets from CES, I will sort through all the techno, just-because-we-can, even-more-features-than-last-year products to see if any serve to create stronger connection between technology and living our lives. Ideally, allowing us to live our lives more simply so that we can spend more time on real connection and interaction with each other.

For me, I still love to play Scrabble with my mom. In person.

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