Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Digital Tables Everywhere

At nsquared we have a mission - to put digital tables everywhere. Everywhere there is a table there is an opportunity to enhance the experience at that table with digital content.

First and foremost a table is a gathering place for people to meet and to share ideas and experiences. By adding digital content directly to the surface of the table we are creating a space that enhances and enriches human contact because it responds easily and naturally to the physical interaction of many users, simultaneously. It’s social, and encourages people to engage. 

Three people standing around a digital table interacting with content on the table.
  A table is a place of social gathering 
Most computer interfaces are designed for individual use. We even call them personal
computers. The large vertical screens that most of us are familiar with (TVs and Cinema screens) have been places of social gathering for friends and family for some time. Yet the vertical screen experience is not socially engaging in the same way as sitting around a campfire or a dinner table. The dynamics of sitting in a circle or around a table facing other people is very different to the dynamics that exist when we all sit facing in the same direction. In fact we are taught at an early age not to talk (or socialize) when we’re all sitting and facing the same way (otherwise the teacher gets very annoyed). 

The rise of blogs, Twitter and most noticeably Facebook has shown us that people really love to connect and share their experiences with each other. Human beings are social animals. Most people share what seems to be a primal need to gather in groups to play, work and relax.

This brings us back to the objective of enhancing the socialization that occurs as we sit facing each other. By enabling digital content (which is a big part of many of our lives) to be rendered directly onto the table we can enrich the conversations and therefore the experiences of the people gathered around the table. Adding the ability for the people around the table to interact with the content at the same time creates an even more memorable and emotionally attached result. 

There are educational, business and recreational benefits to digital tables.

A group of school children standing around a digital table learning chemistry
Students learn better in groups 
Creating an environment where students can collaborate to create content or compete with each other while learning has demonstrated positive educational benefits. Students are drawn to digital
tables and subsequently and almost seamlessly into an environment that, with the right software, enhances their enjoyment of learning, encourages social interaction and creates an emotional attachment to the content. Think about the times that you have read something and then forgotten it a few days later, and then compare that with how well you
remember things when they are part of a conversation you’ve had with other people. Often you will remember the people involved and their expressions as much as the lesson learned or topic discussed. 

Three people sitting around a digital table exploring documents.
Meetings can be enhanced with a digital table 
The same rules apply to business conversations. If you are really trying to encourage a group of people to brainstorm, plan, collaborate, sell, and share then you want them facing each other and talking. People need to be looking at each other’s faces, reading body language, and listening. This is why we sit around a meeting room table when we want to find a solution to a problem, determine an action plan for a project, or make a sales pitch to a client. Current widespread behavior of bringing laptops to the meeting table and using them during the meeting (often for checking emails, sending instant messages and checking Facebook) defeats the purpose of sitting around a table to solve a problem and share ideas. Not only are the people at the meeting disengaged from each other, the
open laptop screens provide physical barriers to the conversation. 

A table that enables the display and creation of digital content is an open space that encourages people to connect socially and engage in the conversation.

Two tourists explore content while sitting at a digital table.
Digital tables create places for people to interact 
In recreational environments where searching for places of interest, building itineraries, and game playing are common activities, we can improve the experience by presenting the information in digital form on the tabletop. 

By enabling people to bring their own content and take value away from the table on their own devices, the digital table can start to provide seamless integration with familiar mobile technology and then extend the experience and engagement.

We are sure that the future for all of us will include more digital tables and a better use of technology for face-to-face social interactions. At nsquared we are proud to be pioneers of this exciting opportunity and look forward to making this dream become reality.