Date

Not a pink computer, if that's what you're thinking. That's been done. Rather, a computing experience founded on feminine qualities to greatly expand the value offered to the average person (any person, for that matter).

Clearly I'll have to explain what I mean.

First, I view value as reward divided by risk. Crank up the risk and value goes down; crank up reward and value goes up. And so on. If your sense of risk is distorted, so will be your sense of value. [1]

Limited average value

Computers strike me as almost exclusively masculine: highly structured, logical, precise, carefully bounded, well-defined interfaces, piles of fine detail, and immensely complex. They're founded on mathematics and have stayed the course ever since; softening slightly around the edges over the years, but never becoming less complex as a whole.

If you take the raw potential value of our modern computers (50 years of Moore's Law in billions of mobile devices, desktops, and remote servers all connected by a global network) and compare that to the actual value distributed across the whole population, it's disappointing to say the least.

Power Law Distribution

A power law distribution with a ridiculously long tail: Microsoft, Google, Facebook, and fellow value-extracting friends somewhere on the thick end (with techies nearby), and the remaining billions of people stretching out the thin end to sink the average into insignificance.

Barriers to entry

An unignorable aspect of the value gap is the barriers to entry. Achieving comfort and competence with computers is far from trivial and seems to attract a specific (masculine-thinking) type of person. Long-time techies easily forget how many years or decades of intense focus they've invested, driven by both aptitude and interest, to achieve their abilities. Making new (and appreciated) contributions is a further challenge, and applying creativity toward systemic problems yet another.

It's no wonder that we keep pushing the whole computing ecosystem in the direction it's always gone. And it's also no wonder why the vast majority of people tend to stay on the periphery: massive complexity naturally leads to unease and mistrust, putting the upper shelves of value out of reach.

I want to be clear that there's nothing wrong with the masculine; it's as wonderful as the feminine. Clearly computers don't exist without it, and it's driving my own efforts.

The problem is when feminine qualities are found only at the surface, like lipstick on a pig, rather than as fundamental qualities of the experience. By laying out some of these feminine qualities, I hope to connect broad accessibility with a better balance. Following that I'll put the qualities in context and move toward an actual implementation.

Recovering potential

In my view, the core feminine quality is potential. This potential is then followed by a transition into actual. With high potential, almost anything can happen. The sky is the limit. It represents variance, opportunity, change, simplicity, and no doubt a bit of disorder. It's creativity - developing new connections. The early transition from potential into actual involves support, care, nourishment, and involvement. Also no shortage of fluid intimacy and gentle communication.

Looking at it this way, potential connects the feminine and the masculine. Greater masculinity leads to reduced potential and increased actual, lowering the variance of the types of things that may happen while biasing toward divisions, modifications, and extensions of what already exists. So if you have a problem with how things are, either get on board or strive to regain balance with the feminine.

Here's a typical webpage in a typical web browser, with some annotations:

Windowing Systems

You might not think about such common things, but the layout is much like how a general might arrange his soldiers, or how a corporation might be divided, or how property borders might be drawn. Lots of lines, rows, columns, boundaries, and close-but-not-touching, everything distinct and orderly.

All of which is fine when it's necessary coordinate and control many people, or communicate with a broad audience, but not ideal when your primary concern is your ad hoc daily life, its intermingled problems, and your ability to be creative and achieve your goals. Yet this is how our computer interfaces are designed, meaning they are too masculine (structured and complex) for a personal connection by an average person.

Bridging the gap

For a computer's value to become broadly accessible, it makes sense for the experience - especially the beginning - to be dramatically simplified. We want less actual and more potential; the actual is inevitable, no need to start there. Instead of needing to learn thousands of details for basic use, reduce that to tens. Instead of years of experience to receive personal value, offer that value from the beginning.

I view the modern computing experience as like a wedge whose thickness represents complexity (or distance from the beginning).

Chopped wedge

The problem is that the thin part of this wedge is chopped off, or rather it never existed, forcing everyone to crawl over that wall to begin their computing experience somewhere in the complex middle. Focusing on feminine qualities lets us complete the wedge, eliminating that big initial step and replacing it with a gentle ramp.

Needless to say, this feminine computer is going to look and feel very different.

Simplified

The initial experience may be a single visual cue with only one thing to do - the simplest possible design that still offers value.

Simple beginning

Or perhaps not quite that extreme. Either way, a stark contrast to the hundreds of visual cues and thousands of options we'd normally wade through, making it more like growing a seed than learning to operate a complex machine.

Because this feminine computer is so simple, the beginning is whereever you already are and the direction it grows is based entirely on your input. This computer deals in general patterns and broad strokes rather than specific patterns and fine details. Approximations are perfectly fine; precision a waste of time (to start).

Personal value

The information it handles is all about you, whatever you want it to be, with no concern for the larger world. It can be emotional or highly intimate information; true privacy is key. The initial functionality is just enough to accumulate, organize, and visualize your own information. Later on, anything goes, but early potential is critical.

Visual middle

All in all, it's no longer completely masculine. Instead, a very simple and personal beginning with a path toward the complex middle. You might be surprised by how much value is available when your computer is completely focused on you.

At the very least, a computer system based on a small set of simple fundamentals can be implemented in vastly more secure ways (such as open and standalone), leading to privacy and the trust-based benefits of that, eliminating most of the risk of modern Internet computers. Which on its own dramatically improves the value proposition.

Past that, a system built upon the fundamentals of information, awareness, and creativity allows it to help solve the type of problems and provide the type of experience we don't normally expect from our computers. It fills in many of the long-standing gaps that we've tolerated for too long. This cranks up the reward side of the equation, thus also the value.

I'll go into more detail in another post; until then, poke around and see for yourself.

This isn't just talk, although I'm happy to discuss any of the ideas. My implementation of these ideas is Benome. You've already had a peek.

Footnotes

[1] Perceived value uses perceived risks, while actual value depends on unobscured risk. If risks are obscured due to information asymmetry, then our perception of value becomes distorted and we unwittingly behave self-destructively.