03.31.22
Liz Danzio + Lee Moreau | Audio

The Futures Archive S2E2: The Dongle


What does our need for dongles say about the sustainability, or obsolescence, of the electronics we are designing and consuming? On this episode of The Futures Archive Lee Moreau and Liz Danzico discuss dongles and how we might find a more sustainable way forward.

With additional insights from Jason Scott, Susan Strasser, Kem Laurin, and Nathan Proctor.

Liz told Lee about first hearing about dongles and her association with them:
I remember hearing the word. I don't remember the exact instance, but I remember learning about the word and really thinking: Are we really saying that? Is that really a word for this thing? But I do remember that it was around the time that you started bringing your laptop to present. That's that's where the dongle really came to be because you would have incompatible systems.

And the dongle word is often followed by someone running. Often in an auditorium or a large room where someone's about to speak. And then you realize they don't have the thing, and so it's like this moment of panic....
Lee Moreau is President of Other Tomorrows, a design and innovation consultancy based in Boston, and a Professor of Practice in Design at Northeastern University.

Liz Danzico is part designer, part educator, and full-time dog owner.

Jason Scott is a free range archivist and historian of technology for the Internet Archive.

Susan Strasser is an award-winning historian and a Distinguished Lecturer for the Organization of American Historians. Her books include Guaranteed: The Making of the American Mass Market, and Waste and Want: A Social History of Trash.

Kem Laurin is a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Waterloo, where she focuses on AI models used in apps deployed in civic spaces specifically the judiciary, healthcare and education spaces and the author of User Experience in the Age of Sustainability.

Nathan Proctor leads U.S. PIRG’s Right to Repair campaign, working to pass legislation that will prevent companies from blocking consumers’ ability to fix their own electronics.


Subscribe to The Futures Archive on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app. And you can browse the show archive.

Kathleen Fu created the illustrations for each episode.

A big thanks to this season’s sponsor, Automattic.



Transcript

Lee Moreau
Welcome to The Futures Archive, a show about human centered design, where this season, we'll take an object, look for the human at the center and keep asking questions. I'm Lee Moreau...

Liz Danizco
...and I'm Liz Danzico.

Lee Moreau
On each episode, we're going to start with an object with power. Today, that object is the dongle. We'll look at the history of that object from our perspective as designers who've done work in human centered design— and not just how it looks and feels, but also the relationship between that object and the people it was designed for...

Liz Danizco
...and with other humans too, no matter how many cables they have, dongles they own, or other useful or useless objects they may have lying around. We'll find out.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic. Later on, we'll hear from design director Matt Miklic.

Lee Moreau
Liz, it's so great to see you. Thank you for joining us.

Liz Danizco
Great to see you, too. I'm glad to be back.

Lee Moreau
It's been a while since we talked, last year we were talking about the pet, the episode of the pet in season one and your dog Harriet made an appearance. But this season, we're going to change things up and we're going to take on the topic of communication.

Liz Danizco
I'm excited. It's important this year and many years, so I'm ready.

Lee Moreau
This particular episode is about the dongle, what's what's up with the word dongle? I hear this word all the time, but what does it make you think of?

Liz Danizco
Good question. It makes me think of— makes me feel bad about myself. I want to be honest.

Lee Moreau
Okay. Sorry about that.

Liz Danizco
I know it's supposed to be a piece that helps us connect things in our life. But the dongle always makes me feel inadequate. And so it always makes me feel like something is not connecting or I don't have the right, the right dongle. In preparation for us talking about the dongle, I brought my bag of dongles.

Lee Moreau
Oh, nice. OK, open that up. Let's see what you've got in there.

Liz Danizco
Yeah. I have— and here's- here's an example. This one I can use, I believe USB-C. I can use this with my my current laptop. This one I carry around with me however, I don't even own the computer that this belongs to anymore.

Lee Moreau
I have one, too just like it.

Liz Danizco
Look at that! So it's it was used when we had things called projectors that we might connect our laptops to in, say, a conference room or a classroom when we were giving presentations. And if you were such a person with the honor of doing such a thing, it would be courteous to show up with this particular dongle that would connect to the projector. This was before, you know, kind of networked presentations and things like that, which we might do these days. But it's so ingrained in me to bring this as a sign of being courteous that I still carry it,

Lee Moreau
m-hm

Liz Danizco
Even though I don't even know where I would use this today. Maybe someone would need it. And that has happened. I've been in a room where someone else has needed it, as like a sign of generosity. So to answer your question— the word dongle. Something about it always makes me feel,it's a silly kind of a silly word, but somehow always makes me feel like slightly inadequate, like something has been missing. Yeah. How does how does it make you feel?

Lee Moreau
Well, no I can imagine, and I've been in the scenario where you show up someplace and you don't have the right dongle and then you feel like you've done something wrong because somehow you can't interface with these people and the things around them that you need to interact with.

Liz Danizco
And the dongle word is often followed by someone running. Right?

Lee Moreau
Yes, right.

Liz Danizco
It's like the word dongle is spoken and then someone is often rushing around to find it's like followed by a moment of panic.

Lee Moreau
Well, I'm glad we're talking about it because I think there's a much larger story about dongles that I'd like to share with you and with our listeners. And so the way to kind of get there is we're going to hear from some historians and designers who can help us make sense of the dongle, and this is what we've heard so far.

Jason Scott
The variations are truly bonkers. There are ones that plug into serial ports, parallel ports. There are ones that have to be put inside of the computer.

Lee Moreau
Jason Scott is a free range archivist, yes, that's his actual title free range archivist at the Internet Archive, which is a nonprofit library in California.

Jason Scott
The sky's the limit is completely unregulated, and these hardware dongles for the purposes of computers date to the late 1970s. So that's 40 plus years of computer history and growing.

Lee Moreau
Jason at the Internet Archive has been collecting all kinds of dongles, and a lot of those dongles used to be sort of hardware keys that you'd use for different software packages to sort of enable a piece of software to work while you are, you're using it. I remember using, I think, a dongle to use Photoshop and even think AutoCAD or something a long time ago. But now we know dongles as much more ubiquitous, and we're using that word for many different things. What was the first time you ever remember encountering a dongle? Because I can go back a couple of decades, at least.

Liz Danizco
No, I remember— I remember hearing the word. I don't remember the exact instance, but I remember learning about the word and really thinking: Are we really saying that? Is that really a word for this thing? But I do remember that it was around the time that you started bringing your laptop to present. That's that's where the dongle really came to be because you would have incompatible systems.

Lee Moreau
Earlier, you had said the word dongle is often followed by someone running. And as you were saying it, I- like, in my mind, I literally saw someone furiously running around trying to find something like that is the kind of action that it evokes.

Liz Danizco
Yeah. Often in an auditorium or a large room where someone's about to speak. And then you realize they don't have the thing it right, and so it's it's like this moment of panic. Someone in the audience is like, I have one...

Lee Moreau
And then applause will happen. People will clap for that person. Like— Yes, you save the day.

Liz Danizco
Yeah, that's how I remember it. That's what I think of it.

Lee Moreau
Well, what's interesting about what Jason is doing at the Internet Archive is he's collecting all of these old software dongles that basically other people would have already thrown away. Like he knows that they're going to be gone and if they're not already trash, they're going to be. And so he's aware of this like transition of that dongle from 15 years ago that's now no longer useful. It doesn't connect to anything, but he sees an importance in kind of creating an archive of that material culture in the in his domain.

Jason Scott
They were ubiquitous, but they are going to be thrown out because they don't seem important. In each one of them is like a metallic and silicon based work of art. They have chips inside them. They have wiring inside of them, you know, different methods of plugging into ports. They're artifacts. They're interesting.

Lee Moreau
One of the interesting things about dongles is they they're not useful forever. So a dongle that you might have used 10 or 15 years ago is completely useless now. If you were to see it, you might be like, Oh yeah, you'd have some sort of nostalgia that is associated to the things that it would connect to, right?

Liz Danizco
Yes. And. The-the object itself is not useful. Right? So there's not necessarily a nostalgia for the object itself because the dongle doesn't exist on its own. It's an object that needs another object in order to be functional, looking at this older version of the dongle with the projector. And I start to get a little nostalgic, but it really needs the other objects around it in order to be a complete memory. It's interesting, it's an object that doesn't exist on its own.

Susan Strasser
It's not that some things are inherently trash and others are inherently worth saving. It's really a process. You decide this goes here, that goes there.

Lee Moreau
Susan Strasser is a historian and the Richards Professor emerita of American history at the University of Delaware. She's the author of a book called Waste and Want a Social History of Trash

Susan Strasser
As people's choices for what to buy and what to do with things have changed over a long period of time, so has the trash.

Lee Moreau
Something becoming trash is not inevitable. It's actually a category of thing that objects sort of transition into. So this dongle that I'm holding right here, which it's kind of transition from its useful state of being a dongle and a connector and absolutely vital then into being trash. I'm wondering if have you ever found yourself designing something that you've actually witnessed being thrown away or discarded? So it's maybe it's not a product. I know that's not really your kind of area of expertize, but could be a brand or a logo or a website that you saw. You witnessed it going from being used and to being no longer used. And how did that feel?

Liz Danizco
Yeah, I think I mean, I think that, you know, being in product design or digital product design, you kind of intend that the things that you build do get thrown away. You almost like create that as part of your narrative, that it's a good thing that the faster you build it, the faster it will fail and you kind of want it to be thrown away. So, yeah, I think I've seen many things go away, tossed, sunsetted, fallen out of favor. So, so, so many things in product design. But one thing that comes to mind. You mentioned a logo or brand. When we launched the first identity for the Interaction Design Graduate Program at the School of Visual Arts, it was this incredible, wonderful identity that had lots of thinking behind it. And it was about connection, actually. And it was based on both power and electricity, but also connection with people and ideas. And it was based on the sort of architectural system. And after a few years, the program grew such in such a way that we felt like we needed a new identity that could be more readable digitally. And we ended up not using that identity. And so I watched it go the way of all things and be thrown away, I guess, and in such a way. And I was just revisiting that as I do every once in a while. And that, I think, was one thing that I wish we had kept and in which we had sort of thought about a different way to to do that. That was a decision that that I have learned from, but may have regretted.

Lee Moreau
Yeah. And my experiences in this are actually the immediately the ones I think of are in the architecture realm where we sort of designed a building or designed a space, and then either the technology that it was housing or the use that was supposed to be in that space was no longer required. So suddenly you have a space that used to be for IT infrastructure, and now it's just a closet because everythings shrunk or I did some work in the call center space at one point. I would love to see a lot of the call centers and contact centers post-COVID and what those spaces look like. Because as all that production, if you can say that, all about service experience shifted probably to people's homes. Now those call centers are empty, spaces are completely empty, no longer required. And I kind of have this image in my head about the patterns of furniture on top of carpets, when you take all the furniture away, you kind of see the use patterns— and I think there's a lot of I can imagine a lot of scenes like that strewn around the world right now. So this notion of like making- designing something that's either no longer used or sunsetted, as you said, or actually becomes trash, that's one of the things that we're talking about here. Let's hear a little bit more from Susan Strasser.

Susan Strasser
As more and more stuff gets produced and manufacturers are trying to figure out how to keep selling stuff to a population that already has stuff, there starts to be the idea that things that used to be not thought of as fashionable at all would be sold for fashion.

Lee Moreau
I think as designers, you know, it makes us very uncomfortable to think that we're contributing to this kind of flow of our material culture that we're creating from these exciting new things and goods into trash and that we're not actually in control entirely of that transition because partly it's subjective. But I also think we don't spend enough time thinking about the fact that we are contributing to this conversation.

Liz Danizco
I think that that is such an opportunity for designers and design minded makers to realize that they are contributors, that they do have a say that they're not just kind of plugging into one part of the process, but actually they can get insight into the whole system and they do have a choice, whether it's with the materials or the vendors they're working with, you know, where- where the process sort of goes next, which part of the process they have control over. And so I think, you know, just giving voice to this topic and, you know, starting with education, but having it be present, no matter where you are in the design process is so important.

Lee Moreau
You just used the word systems. And, you know, I would argue that this is- this dongle that I'm holding is the almost the physical embodiment of a lack of systems thinking or maybe a shortcoming in systems thinking at the moment where you have to use a tool like this.

Liz Danizco
Yeah, it's interesting. Is it a shortcoming or a shortcut? I wonder.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you by the design team at Automattic, which is building a new web and a new workplace all around the world.

Matt Miklic
My name is Matt Miklic. I'm a design director at Automattic. I live in Atlanta, Georgia, and I lead our mobile apps design team.

Lee Moreau
Matt joined Automattic in 2005.

Matt Miklic
I was the first designer to ever work at Automattic. The things that have stayed the same are sort of a fundamental empathy and kindness both for each other and for the people who use the products that we work on. I joined Automattic before the iPhone was introduced, so learning that I was really passionate about mobile design is something that happened because, you know, at one point I was talking to Matt Mullenweg and he said, I want to have a WordPress mobile app. And I was like: Let's do it, like that sounds great. You know, I was making really early contributions to the mobile apps. I guess that's the really interesting thing about Automattic is that I've been here for almost 17 years, but I've had 10 different jobs in that time, and I've worked on tons of different products and really had to meet lots of different challenges. So in a way that you might change jobs to get a change of pace, I've really been able to do that while staying at Automattic, which is really nice because I love the people here, I'm very comfortable here and working here is very compatible with the life that I like to lead.

Liz Danizco
Designing a better web. Join us at Automattic dot com slash design. That's AUTO-M-A-double T-I-C dot com slash design.

Kem Laurin
Planned obsolescence can be seen as a arbitrary introduction of a expiration date into the products that we use.

Lee Moreau
Kem Laurin is a UX strategist in Canada, completing her Ph.D. in the University of Waterloo. She's the author of User Experience in the Age of Sustainability.

Kem Laurin
One example that sort of inspired the book was that I had gone back to the Caribbean for six weeks, to my family's estate, and I was just walking through the farm and we had a river, and I saw a phone in the river, and I had never seen that in all my years. This is the Highlands, right. You're not supposed to see foreign objects in our waters, and I thought: My country, my island doesn't have the systems to recycle phones. We need to do better than that.

Lee Moreau
The story of finding a phone in the river, triggering a whole kind of rethink about one's-one's role as designer in this production machine. But as designers, how much time do we really think about the end of life when we're thinking about new products and services?

Liz Danizco
It's a good question. If you're- if you're on the design side, if you're making the product, I would hope you think a lot about it. You know, if you're the head of a team who's making the products, you're thinking a lot about it because you have the people on the team building out roadmaps, you know, three months in advance, six months in advance, and you're looking a year in advance and you're thinking about where that where that product is going to go and potentially thinking about end of the product if you're going on to something new. It would be an interesting exercise, though, to think about when something is at its peak—peak audience success and so on to think about its end of life.

Lee Moreau
I think we've become more comfortable thinking about the end of life and things that we consider consumables like, you know, paper products and things like that that we use every day and we tend to throw away. I think there's a kind of sense of, oh, we need to reduce the amount of that material that we use. But then I think there are electronics devices where it's like, if it does some cool new thing and it puts a gaming system on my TV or on my on a console or something, then you actually don't think about it as much. I think that we- I think we trick ourselves into thinking for this particular device. It maybe isn't so important this end of life notion. Let's hear some more from Kem.

Kem Laurin
We don't often think this is a planned date for the end of my phone or my car, right? And part of that to add to the definition of planned obsolescence, it operates in much the same way that ideology or power operates.

Lee Moreau
What she's suggesting here is there's a sort of structural power that's built into these objects, whether intentionally or not. Their ultimate end of life and really transition to trash that we were talking about before, that's all built into a lot of these objects. But then there are some things that are designing a much more mindful way or have the capacity to change. And I- where I'm seeing this. You were talking about platforms really just a second ago, but in services and experiences, they have to be much more adaptable. They can be partly because you can short circuit them with human behavior or a code update or something like that. And you kind of did this work at NPR as it was transitioning into what could have been an end of life for a certain way that we consumed types of content or media.

Liz Danizco
Yeah, this changed from, you know, at one point a decade ago or more where the the digital product was at the center and all the people had to go to the digital products, right, you had a home page, you had an app and you had to get all the people to go to the thing. And somewhere along the way, this changed where the person became at the center. And all the content needed to go to where the person was, and so being there during that change was really fascinating, where you have digital companies everywhere looking to center the human and then build capacities across platforms where you, you know, on every platform are where the person is. You-you sort of want to be anywhere and everywhere the human is. And whether that is your own platform, you know your own- and this case npr.org or the NPR app or multiple apps as the case maybe, or ask for it on a smart speaker or turn on Spotify or look at CarPlay in your car or wherever it is your smart refrigerator, you know, and you want the experience to be consistent anywhere and everywhere a person is. And publishers and media companies and companies everywhere looking to make sure that that was the case of the human is centered and the content, no matter where they are, is sort of coming to them. And I think, you know, we're just about to turn the page into sort of a new chapter and we'll-we'll see what happens then. But but that's that that is absolutely, you know, the radio still is strong and terrestrial radio and broadcast has an incredibly large audience. But along the way, many other platforms kind of grew and thrived as well.

Lee Moreau
That's a success story in some sense, in that there is human centered technology to some degree, right? The adaptation, you know, using human centeredness in the application of technology can lead to good outcomes. I think we also see many examples where technology is deployed in a way that's not human centered, but that is there's a there's a large potential there for that, too. Let's go back to the idea of dongle a bit more with Kem

Kem Laurin
There's so much I can say about dongles. For me, there is a kind of a parallel to the notion of interoperability. So when you come from a legacy system where you're designing software, and the software is so old, many companies, what they do as sort of put lipstick on a pig is that they have sort of all of these interlocking digital dongles that they use— APIs. Fundamentally, the structure of the system is just flawed, right? And it's the same thing for dongles. Basically, they allow adaptation of technology. And the problem with that, and maybe not the problem with that, it's a double edged sword— they meet the goal of us perhaps not investing in something completely new because it allows us to interrupt existing systems in that physical space. But by the same token, you're creating increasing levels of materialization because when this system is now obsolete, so is the dongle associated with it.

Lee Moreau
A system needs a dongle. And then the system no longer works so that the dongles useless. But the dongles are really important idea. You referred to them earlier as as a shortcut as opposed to a shortcoming. And I think she really kind of paints that picture.

Liz Danizco
I like that she's talking about them as APIs, as-as dongles, and there are other kind of digital dongles. If a dongle is a connector, then there are many ways to define what a dongle is. Maybe it's a positive thing and it could be used for good rather than for panic.

Lee Moreau
So in some sense, to this point in our conversation, it's really been about dongle centered design. Right? It's either that the dongle is like an input or an output of the system, and we're really hyper focused on it. But what about the human, like, can we get back to the human at the middle of this?

Liz Danizco
HCD versus DCD?

Lee Moreau
Yeah.

Liz Danizco
Yeah. So if the human is at the center, I mean, in the physical way, a human having a dongle gives the human power to a certain degree because the human can, that person has the ability to connect to any technology. But it also puts the person at a disadvantage. So, you know, a more if there were such a thing and there have been attempts to do this, a universal dongle, right, we tried the universal remote. It's a kind of a failure but that attempt to have the universal dongles and our attempts at that, I think can be successful.

Lee Moreau
You know, I think on the digital side, we're maybe starting to find ways that we can design systems that are much much more robust and have different ways of entry and exit. We don't get into this in the sense of like systems that lock up or become useless over time. But then, of course, on the physical side we're-we're still having to think about these issues and there's a lot of to. About the way that we design things so that people really do have access to them, even in their physical products.

Nathan Proctor
We have a completly unsustainable rate of consumption for these materials. There are a lot of solutions we could explore, but I think the first thing we need to break people out of is this idea that the manufacturers should be able to dictate, like the eternal use of a product by locking it and by denying all re-use.

Lee Moreau
Nathan Proctor is the senior national campaign director for the U.S. PIRG, or Public Interest Research Group's Right to Repair campaign, which advocates for the concept of allowing end users, consumers and businesses to repair electronic devices that they own and have in their pocket, or service them without any manufacturers intervention or technical restrictions. So I think this is a really powerful question right now as we're seeing the fusion of these digital systems that you were just talking about with physical products. So the platforms, the code all coming together in these devices. How open or locked up are they? And-and how do we advocate for ourselves as consumers, but also as designers be mindful of that, that kind of potential openness?

Liz Danizco
I don't know who advocates for the end user once the product exists, it seems like back to the person having the power of the person holding the dongle. We're seeing power shift to each person and over, you know, this shift from Web 2.0 to Web 3, we're really seeing a shift to the individual, not just in the digital sense I think we're going to be seeing that in general as a cultural shift. And and so I'd say the end user the-the person will be advocating for themselves, but I would not be surprised if that is a larger movement. You know, will end users unionize? I don't know, but I see that the power sort of feels like it rests with an individual. The responsibility of the designers seems critical here. It seems very important for designers to create usable and clear pathways for people to understand how to contact companies and organizations, but also to understand, you know what the product's responsibility is, what the sustainability is, what the lifecycle looks like. There's lots of interesting work being done on, you know, nutrition labels for products and these kinds of things to understand, you know, what went into the making of the product.

Liz Danizco
I think this is going to be an increasingly essential part of the job description for designers moving forward, is how do they contribute to this broader conversation? Let's hear some more from Nathan.

Nathan Proctor
I think in the short term. The most important things that we want to see change are that people have agency over the life cycle of their own products.

Liz Danizco
Yes, I think that the designers have a responsibility to help create meaningful and clear pathways for individuals to understand what products they've purchased, what products they own. And so there's two pieces of this here. One— individuals, end users, audience members, are going to have more control or all of the control and the agency over, you know, the products that they own and continue to have and direct lines to companies who give them or sold them, those those products or have service agreements with them, what have you. But second, I think it's increasingly part of the designer's job description responsibility to find new ways to create better experiences between a consumer and a company. And there's lots of interesting ways that that's been happening.

Kem Laurin
I think that is something as designers, we've always been seen as appendages to the software development cycle. And so we need to center ourselves in that process.

Lee Moreau
Kem Laurin again.

Lee Moreau
So 11 years ago, I would say something like, you know, designers are stewards of the planet. I think the way I sort of say this now is that we're co-stewards of the planet. We're not the only ones responsible. However, what we do have is that because we create objects, because we create products, we dictate how people use them. And so I think of the role of the designer is having a voice at the table to course correct what we see as perceived anti-human centered design activities.

Lee Moreau
Liz, I think you were just talking about that a few seconds ago. This kind of expanded responsibility of the role of designer.

Liz Danizco
Yeah. And it's it's sort of like happening naturally, you know, as as this power is shifting to every user, every human. But I think it's going to be in every designer's code of conduct or sense of responsibility to to add that. And then people who are creating teams or managing teams, it's going to be sort of in our responsibility to to sort of help think through that as we build new, new roles, new job descriptions, new teams to help think about how we shape that narrative in that story for what we do as new design teams going forward. Like what is the importance? What are the consequences if we don't do it? And how do we help people see the short term goals, the long term goals? What impact we're going to have? And yeah, I think, as Kem said, you know, how do we recognize anti-human centered design activities, you know, dark patterns, these kinds of things so that we can then course correct and design around and against them.

Lee Moreau
When I say the words human centered design, I think, gosh, that should be able to help us learn more about how we can all come together and agree that this is the right thing to do, right. That we can use or turn our own process on ourselves to some degree, right? But we haven't done that yet. So how will human centered design as a practice help sort of refocus and recenter ourselves in this effort?

Liz Danizco
Yeah, there's always the, you know, the edge case and the exception, and then there's good reason for it not happening, you know. There's-there's good reason for serendipity, organic growth variation and all these things. I think it's going to take human centered design to make the practice of doing it feel meaningful. But I think it's going to take a moment of urgency like particular urgency to make it actually happen because I think to date there hasn't been a moment of urgency and we might be might be coming upon that urgency here. Plastic, you know, take plastic, you know, as we have seen visualization of how much plastic is in the ocean, how much plastic we're wasting you know, so how can we create that urgency, whether it's around climate or, you know, what have you. But I think that human centered design isn't going to create the urgency, but it will help us be able to communicate better with one another, be able to hear and center the right parts of the conversation. And, yeah, to be able to connect with each other.

Lee Moreau
I'm wondering if we can kind of shift the conversation a little bit because I think, you know, admittedly we've really been hammering the dongle, like we've really been, you know, like, I don't know, pushing the dongle under the bus— there's all kinds of like horrible euphemisms I can use, but we haven't been so kind to the dongle in this conversation. I'm wondering if you think we should keep designing dongles? Like, what would the world be like if we didn't have dongles?

Liz Danizco
Well, if we can rethink the definition of the the dongle, then I think we should keep designing them. If they could be universal, if they could be digital, if they didn't need to keep being planned obsolete plastic objects with computer chips inside and I think there definitely is a-is a reason. Because to a certain degree, thought about it in a positive way, this allows me to hold on to my my laptop from X number of years ago and continue to use it. So I don't need to keep buying new, new stuff. And that's very positive, right. So there are positive reasons for these kinds of things. But I think, you know, as we think about what the new definition of dongle is, if we can define it in a universal connector that gives the power to every human to connect something that I have to something that I don't have, right, my system to your system or, you know, something I own to something I don't own or two different systems that don't speak the same language —that is incredibly valuable, if we abstract out the the piece of technology and solve for that. OK, get rid of the plastic, get rid of the obsolete nature of it. But we talk about what it is in theory, two different things speaking different languages that need to be connected. And by the way, we don't want to keep buying new things in order to connect them. Can it live in the digital space? Probably. Can it be designed better? Probably. Can we come up with a human centered name for this thing?

Lee Moreau
So what I'm hearing is like perhaps no to the word dongle, but maybe yes to the dongle as an idea. And yes to connection. Yes to adaptation. And yes to bringing things together.

Liz Danizco
Yeah. And yes to power to the individual.

Lee Moreau
Liz, you'll remember from season one, we had a little assignment that we did at the end of every episode this season, we're changing it up a bit to have it be sort of slightly less structured and more directly inspired by the episode. And I'm wondering if you have any thoughts about what an assignment could be about connection and adaptation and maybe some of the themes that we were talking about?

Liz Danizco
Yeah. Dongle accounting. So how many of them are still do you still need, and do need the bag bucket drawer that are holding your dongles? It's kind of, I don't know. It's kind of fun. I had fun going back and looking at this bag, which I don't look at a lot.

Lee Moreau
So I love this idea for an assignment where, you know, just go look at the- look at the dongles around you like, look, look in your space and see all the things that operate as dongles, whether they're technically dongles like these things, or if there are other things that connect to the stuff that makes it relevant and makes it work. I think you start to see a world in which a lot more things connect together than you thought was actually happening.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is a podcast from Design Observer. To keep up with the show go to TFA dot design observer dot com or subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you listen to podcasts. And if you liked what you heard today, please make sure to rate in reviews and share it with your friends.

Liz Danizco
And if you want to keep up with what I'm doing, you can find me at bobulate dot com. That's the B-O-B-U-L-A-T-E dot com or on social media like Twitter and Instagram at bobulate.

Lee Moreau
The Futures Archive is brought to you this season by Automattic. Thanks again to Jason Scott, Susan Strasser, Kem Laurin, and Nathan Proctor for talking to The Futures Archive. You can find more about them on our show notes at TFA Dot Design Observer dot come, along with a full transcription of our show. Our producer is Adina Karp. Owen Agnew edits the show. Thanks, as always, to Design Observer founder Jessica Helfand and to Design Observer executive producer Betsy Vardell.


Posted in: Product Design, The Futures Archive



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