Semantic Compression – Efficiency improvements in a Mental chore

When I first got this (image besides) apparatus to medicate a child, I thought – OMG. It’s formidable looking, and feels like you are carrying a homing missile when you take the apparatus home from a local pharmacy.


I’m kind of both amazed and yet, endlessly curious and just thinking to myself:

  • is this the (right) direction?
  • Could we do better? How?
  • What relation does this blog have to do with geeks, developers, and usability?!

Hold on – it’ll all come to you. Promise. Keep reading – these might be the droids you are looking for.

I’ll get back to those questions in the bottom. So: pretext, shall we.

I once wrote a piece of blog called ‘The Present History of Man‘. The idea in that text is the notion of us truly living in what will be perceived as history – the old ways. This is naturally true by the very definition of time, causality and so on. There’s no escaping the fact that what is right now “now”, will be “history” tomorrow.

But there’s one thing we definitely CAN choose: the direction of change.

The Inhaler – from 1630 words down to: “Press and inhale”

Getting back to the inhaler device; it’s just a convenience, an aide to help give a child the medication. For adults, we can inhale the medicine directly from a small tank.

What is the “payload” in the whole thing, is of course the medicine (substance) inside the tank. This inhaler helps vaporize and get all of the vapor inside the lungs of the patient.

The inhaler comes with a printed instructions leaflet, worth about 1630 words and a few illustrations (images). The reason for having explicit instructions is that medical industry is regulated heavily, and there are standards for documenting medicine and any apparatus involved with the application of the medicine.

The 1630 words come down to: push a button once, place the mask around your mouth, and inhale 5-6 times. But before you can “compress” this knowledge into a actionable and easy-to-remember internal representation, you do have to spend some time both reading, understanding and practising.

What started to interest me, is how are we doing in the digital sphere of things?

When we speak of “hail a cab”, for example, what exactly goes on to do that? How complicated is it for the first time? And how much faster we can do the same thing, once we are accustomed to the app?

Digital services have the potential to help us a lot in everyday life. This is in fact the single most motivating thing why I tend to revolve around mobile apps and technology. I want to explore the possibilities to make life better. Simple as that.

The Questions answered

  1. “Is this a good direction for technology and humankind”.
    My Answer: No comment. I only believe that this has been, and will be, the general route of human advancement: technological means change during time. Medicine has changed a lot, and will keep changing. The ways to administer chemical medicines keeps evolving, as will also the knowledge about root causes of ailments – and the general treatments as well.
  2. “Could we do better?” and (3) “How [can we do better]?”
    My Answer: We already are improving. And we will keep improving the methods, apparatures. Most likely nanotechnology, materials science, AI and electronics can improve the physical form factors of many medical applications; things get “under the skin”, less pervasive, more tacit and generally the applications feel better and more natural. There are some examples in treatment of eg. diabetes (via automated subcutaneous insulin pumps) and in Parkinson’s disease there are applications called ‘brain pacemaker‘ (CNBC news article) which is essentially a electronics gadget that applies small electric current to a specific part in the brain, alleviating the symptoms of Parkinson’s – namely tremors (shaking).
  3. – (I probably could tweak the automatic numbering. Sorry)
  4. How does this relate to geeks, developers and usability?
    My Answer: I believe that digitality and UX (user experience) are analogous to the real-world counterparts. In many apps we might be initially dumbfounded by the apparent complexity, but how it then sorts out and starts to feel uncanny natural is a very curious effect – however, there is a kind of mental unlearning process, IF you decide to jump to another wagon. More about this to come… Stay tuned.

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