Wisdom from screwing around

IDEO virtual crop circles

The pattern you see above is the result of a couple of creative minds — colleagues of mine — screwing around with their GPS-enabled wristwatch while out on a morning run.  They "wrote" a message for the rest of us at the office, and then sent us to this webpage, where via a mashup we could see their graffito.   It's a virtual crop circle, a public digital tattoo, a webified record of a few minutes of personal joy.

It's also the result of many layers of technology working together, from satellites generating the original photographic imagery to other satellites finding the wristwatch to the mind-boggling amount of digital hardware/software integration packaged so tightly into that wristwatch (and don't forget the rechargable batteries and the input/output protocols which allow this GPS data to be brought into Google Maps over the interwebs).  Basically, a ton of stuff in the technology side of the equation had to go right to enable these two guys to create this virtual crop circle.

And it's a lot of technology to grok.  Do you think any of the engineering teams behind each of the technological building blocks involved had any idea that a couple of Silicon Vallely dudes would use the sum total of their efforts toward this purely aesthetic expression of freedom, liberty, and joy?  I doubt it.  Very few "consumer" (I dislike that word, but I have to use it) value propositions involving multiple compex technologies can be created in a top down sense.  Instead, whether like Twitter they spring up while a development team is busy working on something else, or as in the case of this virtual crop circle or mountain bikes or jazz or hot rods or any pursuit born out of the venacular they just "happen", complex value propositions enabled by technology need to grow organically, with serendipity as their fertilizer. 

We can't gain wisdom about the uses of technology unless we allow ourselves time to screw around.