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Bell’s Intel

Intel’s resident anthropologist sees the future in being present, reports Natasha Singer in The New York Times (2/16/14). "What would it be like to have technology that celebrated presence, not absence, that grounded you in being in that place, not being somewhere else?" says Genevieve Bell, director of user experience research at Intel Labs. The idea is "to encourage real-time communication between people who are in the same place at the same time, offering a physical complement to virtual networks like Facebook and Twitter."

The corresponding technology is a laptop with two screens — one facing the user and the other facing the public. Users can "post photos and text messages of up to 140 characters on the exterior laptop screens." Intel has tested this "in cafes in and around Portland and Seattle," and at first people "would glance quickly at the screens, then look away. But if researchers posted a question — like … ‘Do you think Nordstrom has good customer service?’ — strangers would start talking to one another."

"We keep talking about how technology is destroying social activity," says Genevieve. "It was reassuring that, when you give people technology that reinforces presentness, they embrace it." Such insight is at the center of Genevieve’s charge at Intel, which is to transition the company from "turning out increasingly efficient technology for industrial customers" to focusing on "consumer happiness as a starting point of product development." "I am firmly in the present," says Genevieve. "But sometimes I want to drag the future here and see if we want it."