KBB Collective | The Designers' Corner

Dec 10 2010

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Facebook designs better communities than Architects

Perhaps millions of us are flocking to online communities since the real ones are so lacking.

My Grandfather used to fix and maintain his cars by himself. “Why pay someone to do something I can do?” he used to say, beaming with pride. Oil changes, tune ups, transmission work…he did it all. Today, I fix and maintain my computers. We were both responding to the prevailing technology of our time, but both unaware of how fully it will transform society. My Grandfather, who passed away in the 1960’s, probably never considered how the automobile eventually shaped US cities, culture and economic policy. Can we ever fully understand the impact the current technology will have until it is too late?

(Incidentally, my Grandfather, whose name was Frank, was how I was first told about Frank Lloyd Wright.)

facebookoffice IMAGE: Courtesy of 60 Minutes

This week, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was interviewed on 60 Minutes, discussing the future of his company, which has 500 million of us online an average of 7 hours a month. Zuckerberg presented his new paradigms for social interactivity and how Facebook was helping to facilitate that. The interview also included a tour of the Facebook offices in Palo Alto.

warroom IMAGE: Courtesy of 60 Minutes

But the irony was not lost on the reporters after touring the Facebook offices. The company that has redefined social interaction has none in its own office. Long rows of anonymous desks and computers are manned by people not speaking. The room is nearly silent save the clickety-clack of the fingers on all of those keyboards.

keyboardIMAGE: Courtesy of 60 Minutes

It looks as if it were designed by the computer engineers themselves (which it probably was). Any discussions with others are done through instant messaging, even if the other person is seated right next to them. The line between person and machine gets blurred.

sitslient IMAGE: Courtesy of 60 Minutes

This is a missed design opportunity. As designers, we should be designing spaces for social interaction that complements the types of interactions we find so appealing online. In short, we should be designing reality to be more appealing that virtual reality. Online community is our competition, and we should be rising up to meet the challenge of designing livable, joyful and connected environments.

Perhaps millions of us are flocking to online communities since the real ones are so lacking.

In the 1980s, as computer use began to surge, many raised concerns to the pending isolation in the modern world. Instead, computers connected us together in ways most never imagined while our built communities languished and remained relatively the same for decades.

There is even a new film about this surge in online community. Connected: An Autoblogography about Love, Death & Technology is a new film by filmmaker Tiffany Shlain that explores these ideas.

You can watch the trailer for Connected here:

We cannot fully realize the long-term effects of such digital interconnectedness. Today’s kids will be working in careers that do no yet exist. The top 10 in-demand careers of 2010 did not even exist back in 2004. Which means we are preparing today’s students for careers that do not yet exist and they will probably use technologies that have not yet been invented, in order to solve things we don’t even know are problems yet.

Pathways to Success (PTS) is a career mentoring program in a Southern California desert area called the Coachella Valley. (The Valley is home to the famous Palm Springs.) PTS brings experts into classrooms to connect the kids with the people in whose footsteps they may want to follow. Part mentoring program, part scholarship, PTS has helped thousands of high school students prepare and attend college.

So last week, I was asked to visit a high school in Palm Desert, California for its annual Career Day. On a Saturday morning I spoke with about a hundred students about Sustainability and Design and the potential that awaits them in those areas.

When I polled the room with, “Who is planning on going to college?” everyone in the room raised their hand. I continued, “Who knows what they want to do?” I was shocked to see only five hands remaining. College is now the place you go expecting to find yourself and your dream job (I hope they are not too disappointed).

Many of the students were asking sweetly hopeful questions, such as, “What is the real story with Global Warming? My science teacher says one thing, but my dad said it is a hoax.” (This, by the way, is a typical comment I get from students.) Sadly, none of the news I had for them was good as I explained the bitter reality of pumping 5.8 billion metric tons of carbon into the atmosphere, the 1.1 billion people without access to clean drinking water and how we stalled and dragged our feet for decades over doing something about it.

It was just announced that once again we broke the record and this past 10 years was the warmest decade on record.

Their tiny faces fell as I explained how the construction and operation of buildings was the biggest culprit for this damage. I also encouraged them to view the data for themselves. These students need to get to work on redesigning everything. We need to change our built environments, and we need to do it quickly. If not, perhaps the online communities will be all we have left.

You can watch the 60 Minutes interview here:———————-

Eric Corey Freed is an architect and author of four books, including “Green$ense for the Home”.

This entry was posted on Friday, December 10th, 2010 at 6:00 AM and is filed under Green, Inspiration. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.