Because this is the week set aside for celebrating our independence, I want to declare my freedom to write about two seemingly unrelated topics. Of course, in the wonderful world of pop culture, everything is ultimately interrelated and connected in often surprising and sometimes bizarre ways. So, here goes.
Last week’s online edition of fastcodsign.com featured a column by Mark Wilson that informed his readers that they should be able to read it in two minutes. Do we really need this information? Should I include a little message box that tells my readers (including you) how long I estimate it will take to read what I have to say? In any event, after he addressed the time-to-read issue, Wilson got down to business by telling us about dogs and emotions. “A good dog just knows. When you’re sad, she’ll sleep in your bed. When you’re overwhelmed, she’ll keep her distance. And when you want to play? A dog is always ready to play.” But his column isn’t about dogs. It’s about drones–drones that can fill in when your pet isn’t around.
Wilson introduces us to Eirini Malliaraki, a Royal College of Art student who is fond of programming drones to act like dogs. According to Wilson, Eirini “modified a drone to analyze human facial expressions and detect five emotions–fear, joy, surprise, anger, and sadness. In response, the device changes its movements to subtly communicate with the user.” You know, like a dog.
The inevitable YouTube video accompanies Wilson’s column, and we can see for ourselves how a drone can be made to resemble an airborne Man’s Best Friend. After telling us about people who treat their drones like surrogate pets, he goes on to declare that “society seems destined to deal with drones on a daily basis very soon.” Who knows? Maybe we will be able to purchase our future drones at stores that are set up to resemble high tech Petsmarts. Unlike the nightmarish visions that are often conjured up by those who are less than enthusiastic about the arrival of drones, Wilson offers us a vision of suburban backyards filled with joy and laughter. And, just think, drones don’t have to be housetrained. Not yet, that is. Wilson’s sanguine account of drones-as-pets reminds me of Sherry Turkle’s groundbreaking 1984 book THE SECOND SELF: COMPUTERS AND THE HUMAN SPIRIT that demonstrated how children were coming to make little or no distinctions between their video games and their human friends.
While I have very little interest in adopting a pet drone, I do have a keen interest in purchasing Elretron Inc.’s new wireless bluetooth typewriter keyboard. Now taking orders on its crowd-funded website, these new retro typewriter keyboards are being marketed under the Penna name, and are available in two basic models–a vintage typewriter with “retro chrome keycaps” and a more recent, yet still vintage model with “diamond shape keycaps.” In a true marriage of old school and new school, these keyboards look and feel like the real (old) things, while at the same time staying connected to modern mobile devices. And, yes, their keys sound like those found on vintage typewriters, something that might make them a little distracting in some environments. Although I tend to think that all the ambient noise present in places like Starbucks will drown out the clackety-clack sounds made by the chrome or diamond keys. And just think how impressive you will look amid all the other pretentious people with their laptops, tablets, and phones. I actually had the audacity a couple of weeks ago to show up with nothing but pen and paper. It’s a thousand wonders I wasn’t banned from the establishment.
Check out Elretron’s Penna website for some very classy videos showing their “typewriters” in action. I have a suspicion that this product’s most enthusiastic customers will be those who have never touched the keyboard of a manual or electric typewriter. You know, the same people who are buying turntables designed to play vinyl records they have never touched or listened to until now. Although I didn’t like vinyl back in the day and still don’t like it now, I have a fondness for retro typewriters. That’s why one of my favorite apps is Hanx Writer, named after Tom Hanks and designed to transform your tablet or smartphone into a Royal, Smith-Corona, or IBM Selectric typewriter (and, yes, the transformation comes complete with the clackety-clack sounds that can be muted if you so desire). I love to take notes in meetings with this app while watching the reactions of those sitting near me.
I will leave you to figure out why drones and typewriters find themselves side-by-side in this week’s column. Stranger things of course have happened in the twenty-eight-year history of this column.
See you next week with another surprising visit to “Kelly’s Place.” In the meantime, adopt a drone and/or write something on a manual or electric typewriter.