A while ago I made a smart mirror for my bathroom. Maybe you’ve seen it. It started with a particular image in my mind. I wanted to build a piece of technology for the home that feels new and futuristic, yet simple and clean. The mirror blends in seamlessly with its environment and doesn’t aggressively compete for my attention. I wrote about how it works and the parts I used, source code included.
Screens live a double life. They serve us dense information in bright colors, only to transform back into black mirrors. We have gotten used to it, but it doesn’t have to be this way.
As more and more connected devices arrive in our homes, it’s a good time to remember the principles of Calm Technology, first formulated at Xerox PARC in 1995. They talk about how technology should respect our attention and remain in the background most of the time, how relevant information should be presented calmly and make use of the periphery.
Sometime late last year I realized that I wanted my ordinary bathroom mirror to be more like the future we were promised in the movies.
There doesn’t seem to be anyone selling the product I was looking for. The individual parts, however, were fairly easy to get. A number of people have done similar custom builds recently, but I had something different in mind.
There’s something special about the layout of a print-edition newspaper. A news website has infinite vertical scrolling space, but a printed front page is fixed to the same size every day. This constraint creates a very particular aesthetic and — if done well — a sense of typographic balance.
I wanted to preserve this analog feeling and infuse it with the possibilities of smart home technology. That’s why I made Paper, a radically simple prototype that does exactly one thing: show today’s front page on a large e-paper display.
At first, I wondered briefly if the popping sounds we heard outside were fireworks. K, my boyfriend, looked over at me. It wasn’t late — maybe 9 or 10 o’clock on a Saturday night in February. Our one-year-old was asleep upstairs, and we were standing in the hallway, getting ready to retreat to different rooms. The latest episode of Grey’s Anatomy was waiting for me on Hulu; he had video games to play in his man cave.
“Did you hear that?” he asked.
Before I could respond, we heard people screaming. For a moment, we didn’t move, and then K…