Paul May


05 September 2014

It’s been a very busy, and very important few weeks. Last week I had the great honour to watch my brother graduate from University of Chicago with a PhD in Anthropology. I am so proud of him. It takes a lot of hard work to tackle a complex project spanning many years, but he did it.

After the graduation I spent some time in New York, catching up with the team at Sloan Kettering. Our projects have been challenging, and not without some major bumps in the road, but this week things became simpler, and better. The feedback from the eventual users of our work is very positive. We’re definitely on a fruitful path, and we’ve been given permission to make our work as good as it needs to be. It feels like this week marked the crossing of some important threshold.

I also got to spend some time with my New York friends, who I miss quite a bit. It’s so cool to be able to come back, spend time with them, and hear about all their lives and their work. They’re building new devices, designing interfaces, writing software, building automata, writing about technology, and making all sorts of things work a little better. They are all so eager to learn, make, and understand more. I feel really refreshed and inspired, because of them.

Also this week; some perspective.

Throughout the universe, galaxies tend to clump together in massive structures that astronomers call superclusters. According to the new map, Earth’s galaxy lives near the edge of the Laniakea supercluster, which measures 500 million light-years in diameter and includes roughly 100,000 galaxies.

In a few weeks, me and Cliona will introduce a new little person into this sea of infinity. I am excited to meet whomever arrives.

Paul May is a researcher and interaction designer from Dublin, Ireland. Keywords include: triathlon, photography, cooking, technology, health, data, society, media.

Final Year Projects at CIID

16 December 2013

Last week I had the pleasure of attending some of the final student presentations and end-of-year show at the Copenhagen Institute for Interaction Design. Here are some of my favourite projects:

Indie Controls
[Indie Controls]( A novel, open-source, modular games controller by Daniel Lahar.
[Preotype]( A toolkit that supports the design and documentation of physical computing and electronics projects.
[Griphint]( A pen that offers autistic children visual feedback on their pen grip as they learn to write.
[Kwerkies]( Really beautifully designed wooden toys that operate as a network, and react to one another.

I also really liked:

The work from CIID students was, as ever, thorough and thoughtful. It’s a great programme.

Paying for the Web we Need

10 December 2013

I probably reacted to the Edward Snowden revelations in the same way that a lot of people did. Not with surprise that mass surveillance happens, but that it happens so completely and so effectively.

Months later, I’ve factored the revelations into my opinion of how governments tend to behave (slightly more competent, a lot less cautious), but otherwise, my behaviour remains unchanged.

The web that I use, and have helped to build, is one where acceptance of minute surveillance of my activities is a pre-condition for the use of the most basic services.

This web has laid the technical foundations for mass surveillance, but I believe that it has also laid the psychological/ethical groundwork for the acceptance of surveillance as just another facet of my daily life. (Why wouldn’t governments put me under surveillance when I’ve accepted that companies are allowed to, in exchange for keeping track of my friends’ birthdays.)

Technology introduces biases in the types of things it makes more or less easy. Things that are easy become normal. Things that are difficult become other. The Snowden leaks are the clearest demonstration of this at scale. Remaining private is difficult, and so demanding privacy now would disconnect me from the majority.

More importantly maybe, the leaks show me that technology has drastically skewed my sense of what is acceptable. I can’t help but fit the NSA’s activities into the moral framework I’ve built up around targeted advertising. And they are certainly not equivalent.

It’d be impractical, and lonely, to move my online life over to services that aren’t funded via surveillance-marketing, but I can take a small step by paying for more parts of the web that I value in cold hard cash.

I can also try to evaluate things that might be technologically similar, but ethically different, with a much more critical eye.