Technology that remains in the background until needed and thus enables a person to interact with it in a calm, engaged manner.
Mark Weiser, a researcher in the Computer Science Lab at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center, first put forward the notion of ubiquitous computing in 1988, as information technology's next wave after the mainframe and PC. In this new world, what Weiser called "calm technology" will reside around us, interacting with users in natural ways to anticipate their needs.
Rick Merritt, "Ubiquitous computing: slow going," Electronic Engineering Times, March 31, 2003
Computers...should give us more information, but in ways that are helpful, not intrusive and irritating. [Mark Weiser] calls this idea "calm technology."
The idea seems contradictory, even nonsensical, he admits. But consider how much technology is involved in making a fine writing pen or a comfortable pair of shoes, or in delivering a newspaper to your door. Why are such things comfortable, while the computer is so irritating?
"We believe the difference is in how they engage our attention," Weiser and Brown wrote.
When we drive a car, for example, we focus on the road or the radio. Engine noise is at the periphery of our attention until it changes suddenly, and then we're instantly attuned to it.
"Calm" or "encalming" computers would deliver information in the same way, they suggest. The information would be present in the background until needed, move to center stage when needed, then fade to the background again something like having the television on with the sound turned down until a "news alert" is broadcast.
Warren Wilson, "When computers are everywhere...," Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 15, 1998
It seems contradictory to say, in the face of frequent complaints about information overload, that more information could be encalming. It seems almost nonsensical to say that the way to become attuned to more information is to attend to it less. It is these apparently bizarre features that may account for why so few designs properly take into account center and periphery to achieve an increased sense of locatedness. But such designs are crucial as we move into the era of ubiquitous computing. As we learn to design calm technology, we will enrich not only our space of artifacts, but also our opportunities for being with other people. When our world is filled with interconnected, imbedded computers, calm technology will play a central role in a more humanly empowered twenty-first century.
Mark Weiser and John Seely Brown, "The Coming Age of Calm Technology," Xerox PARC, October 5, 1996