Graceful Systems

Examples and principles of desirable, durable systems

The Regret Intent

Systems that offer grace / forgiveness will have to communicate clearly the kinds of correction they will afford, and the depth of those corrections.

How does a system communicate (through its design, its affect, its documentation, etc) where and how these kinds of forgiveness are available?

This post is just a note-to-myself about a possible direction you could go in answering this question. The direction proposed is basically a structured interaction in which the person volunteers “I regret yesterday,” and the system goes from there: “Here are the things I can alter from yesterday. Shall I delete them? Rewrite them to spoofed, characteristic activity instead of specifics? Should I “blur” the records and make them less accurate?”

The goal here is to work towards systems we can trust to accommodate us in this open, accepting, and confidential way; I don't engage here with the kinds of regret or what situation might result in a regret utterance but I am sure you can imagine some of your own.

As a simple example, let's look at the Undo function as a rough shorthand for a personal intent expressed as “I regret my last action in this software context.” Here, the depth-of-correction is the number of separate Undo actions that the system will be able to perform. The breadth-of-correction is the set of verbs that are undo-able.

For a more complex example, think of “I regret hosting Donald yesterday.” Do we erase his IMEI/MAC info from our router's logs? Do we blur or clobber DropCam/Nest/IP_camera records?

I frame this as “regret –> forgiveness” specifically because I don't want a system to take these actions on its own, or to make its own conclusions about the intended depth of a correction – I want people who use the system to be able to trust that they understand which actions are permanent, and which are negotiable.

Notes and briefs re: Graceful Systems

Graceful Systems are designed with hospitality and decency in mind – they are systems that forgive and forget. This site will be where I collect and refine the concept of a graceful system.

The writing will assume you are like me, a person who interacts with a large number of technologically-mediated systems every day, and who thinks about the design intentions behind those everyday systems. The ways by which these everyday systems can be made profitable, efficient, permanent, and indelible are well-studied; they are not of interest here.

Instead, we look to the fundamental experiences that make being a human unique—sharing a joke, ignoring a fart, forgetting a face—these elements of magnanimity and grace that we effortlessly provide for each those we care for. Let's start from there, and see how we can re-think some of the habits we accumulated on the way to the here and now.