Northpaw: Giving people a sixth sense4

But not the sixth sense you’re thinking of. Instead, the Northpaw gives people a natural sense of which direction is north at any given time - and from there gives them knowledge of all the compass directions.

I never gave much thought to compass directions for navigating anywhere other than the middle of a forest, until I met a few people in Ottawa who navigate by cardinal directions. I’m so used to GPS directions, as a driver, that I just give directions like that. “Turn left on Main Street, go past three sets of lights, turn right on Water Street,” etc. They want me to say “go east on Main Street, go past three sets of lights, then go south on Water Street” or something like that. Unfortunately for them, this doesn’t make any sense to me and I really can’t understand directions like that - much less give them. So from that perspective, I find the Northpaw pretty interesting.

But what really makes me interested is how the principle could be extended. What kind of information could you convey to people in a tactile way? The first thing that comes to mind is the passing of time. I have a pretty bad sense of time, so when I was working on papers near the end of the semester last spring, I tried the Pomodoro technique (aided by Workrave, actually). After a few days, I started wanting to take breaks every hour, even getting a bit antsy a few minutes before the hour. It turned into a natural rhythm, but it didn’t really stick after I turned off the timer. So I’m wondering, if you had something like the Northpaw that buzzed strongly on the hour and weakly on the half hour (possibly a faint buzz for quarters of an hour?) - would you develop a natural sense of time? I think so.

You could probably implement this on your phone (Tasker seems like the obvious choice on Android) I guess, but I often miss slight vibrations from my phone, and it needs to reliable. On the other hand, modern cell phones aren’t huge and bulky like the Northpaw is (though I do understand their design, I imagine it would be noticeable through your clothes).

I’m having a really hard time thinking of what kind of information would be useful to have on a constant basis, aside from time passing or compass directions. Most information along the lines of, say, getting a new e-mail can’t really be improved above what smartphones already do. The important idea here is that the information is constantly available and eventually becomes second-nature, just like your other kinesthetic senses. But if you’ve got any brilliant ideas, let me know so I can steal them! Just kidding, I don’t have time to implement my own idea, much less yours.


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