June 17, 2023

Self-Efficacy in Spatial Computing

There’s this concept of self-efficacy in psychology that really resonates with me. I see a lot of life through this lens. Here’s Wikipedia’s definition:

In psychology, self-efficacy is an individual’s belief in their capacity to act in the ways necessary to reach specific goals. […] A strong sense of self-efficacy promotes human accomplishment and personal well-being. A person with high self-efficacy views challenges as things that are supposed to be mastered rather than threats to avoid.

I believe that you can choose to be self-efficacious and things you do can make you feel self-efficacious. Most people fail to recognize when these moments occur, and even fewer make a conscious effort to intentionally create such moments for themselves.

Changing the physical world does this to humans. That’s one of the reasons so many people daydream about gardening and why pottery feels a bit like therapy. You create something that wasn’t there before. You moved something and it stayed in place. You’ve literally made a teeny-tiny dent in the universe.

You won’t be able to describe to a person who never experienced anything like it, how gardening makes you feel. Starting with nothing, spending hours of work, accepting failures and imperfections to then see a result of something you made, tickles the core of what we are. Sure, you can explain all the steps of the process and tell them you felt “good” doing so but there’s no way to describe the intensity of that feeling.

Turning a rotary dial to call someone, pressing buttons to control a SNES video game character and swiping and tapping on glass to send an email did this to us with ever increasing amounts of directness. Every evolution of digital technology helped us feel more self-efficacy.

For better or worse.

I think AR interfaces are the inevitable next step in computing because they make us feel more self-efficacious. You won’t be able to properly describe how moving digital windows in the physical space of real life made you feel. It’s counter-intuitive to even think that the way you interact with the window your bursting inbox makes a difference, yet it does.

Spatial computing can’t be described. It must be felt to be understood.