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Pulse: An Analog Ticker For Anything On Your Cell Phone

A quest to see information without all of the hyperactive glowing screens.

The first thing many of us do in the morning isn’t hug our spouse, stretch, or even go to the bathroom. We grab our cell phones and squint into the LCD, catching up on all the information generated during our sleep.

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Pulse, by students Christian Ferrara and Jon McTaggart, is an analog reaction to this digital information overload, but it’s every bit as cloud-connected as your average app. The device is ostensibly a piece of cable with six points. In reality, it’s a USB-powered, mechanically armed line graph, sucking in web information and using mathematical models to convey it. Turn the device 90 degrees, and it hops from one web API to another, meaning it can go from the weather to stocks to your Facebook timeline with nothing more than a quick spin.

“There is something about having an object you can touch and feel tell you something. The information that you receive is somehow more meaningful, or maybe its just less temporary as screens tend to be,” explains Ferrara. “There is something soothing about the slow gliding of the arms of a clock in comparison to the flashing instantaneous shifting of an LCD display. This is what we were trying to achieve with Pulse. Information that is poetic and sculptural as much as it is informative.”

Ferrara’s argument is interesting, even if it sounds a bit like technological romanticism. For however much some may demonize screens–claiming that a book is fundamentally worse when it doesn’t smell like paper, for instance–we can’t deny their elasticity, or pretend that such elasticity affects their meaning. Horrible news is no less devastating on an LCD than paper.

Pulse in clock configuration.

Yet he does have a point, and it’s the fundamental reason why Pulse is so enticing in its stubborn antiquity: Our phones aren’t necessarily “temporary,” but they sure are quick to lead us down rabbit holes, with every link serving as a tempting gateway dish to the all-you-can-read informational buffet of the Internet. Checking weather leads to Facebook. Facebook leads to news. News leads to research on the political history of Middle Eastern countries. And, wait, do I need to wear short sleeves or what then?

At its core, Pulse is designed to be an attenuating halfway point between the analog world and the digital one. It’s inherently limited to conveying just a few categories of information with no more trails to follow. You can’t read about the science behind high and low pressure systems, you just see that it’s going to rain in a few hours. You can’t let a co-worker’s rude email ruin your night, you just see that no one in your family has emailed this evening.

And if you happen to have white walls and a fire-engine-red cable, it just looks pretty cool, too.

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[Hat tip: Core77]

About the author

Mark Wilson is a senior writer at Fast Company. He started Philanthroper.com, a simple way to give back every day.

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