This browser is not a browser: Re-imagining our window to the Web

Nothing is open on my laptop but my browser. This might be how you work every day, but my norm is to have an insane number of apps open: Chrome, Firefox, Word, Powerpoint, SnapZ Pro, and more.

I’ve spent much of the past day trying to imagine what a browser could be, so I shut everything else down.

Imagining the future of anything is so difficult because everyone generally thinks in terms of what seems practical. When you ask people what a browser could be, many says things like faster, more secure, or more reliable.

(P.S. Chrome constantly crashes on one of my laptops; I hope Google reads this and calls me.)

But a browser could be almost anything: a teleportation device, a mind-reading tool, a weekly jam-session, or even a personal coach. To help you imagine what you could do with a browser, let me ask you a few questions…

What’s the difference between watching something happen and making it happen?

If you click over to Chrome Experiments, you can find over 500 visions of what a browser could do. The first time I visited, Plink sucked me in.

Plink is somewhere between a race and a jam session. My normally static browser turned into a dynamic flood of notes and rhythms as I played music with one to three others. There’s no time to question who are these folks, what should we play, how does it work? You just start experimenting, and the result can be mesmerizing. 

The Web can feel like a fairly passive experience through a browser. You read Web pages, watch videos, write updates or emails. But Plink is something different. It’s a simple example of what could be a powerful shift: We do stuff together, in a way that is even more powerful than if we were in the same room together. 

How might you see the world differently?

As the author Anaïs Nin said, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Humans have limited senses; we see a certain spectrum of light, hear a certain (narrow) slice of audio, and can’t readily comprehend the very little or the very large.

Browsers can broaden our senses. Pixelate Yourself takes over your webcam and transforms your movements into pixelated versions that are reminiscent of the first monochrome monitors – all green. It’s one of about 200 experiments that leverage Web GL technology, which “brings hardware-accelerated 3D graphics to the browser without installing additional software.”

Why couldn’t you use your browser as a microscope? Grab a flower from outside, place it in front of your camera, then pump up the magnification. Your browser could help you see what we can’t see, and hear what we can’t hear.

These possibilities will expand exponentially when browsers and smart glasses meet.

Do you have an artist inside you?

In college, an evil art teacher once used me as an example of a person who just didn’t have much of an ability to draw. That’s one of the reasons I never became an architect, but we can talk about that some night over a beer.

Truth is, many of us have artistic ambitions and insights, but we lack one or more traditional artistic abilities. That’s why the notion of tech-assisted art is so exciting. 

Radiolaria lets you use biologically-inspired principles to create spectacular designs, any of which you can then buy in the form of jewelry or a piece of art. As with many of the other experiments, you just start experimenting, clicking here to split cells or morph them, clicking there to change the shape or material.

The interface does most of the work; you get to be the creative visionary.

What’s the missing element that stands in the way of your success?

Not to get too ambitious, but there’s plenty of room to use the Radiolaria tech-assisted approach to transform your browser into the best crutch ever invented.

Are you a genius at coding, but an idiot when it comes to communicating with clients? Your browser could transform your crude attempts to communicate into polite sentences, complete with a positive introduction and a cheerful sign off.

Are you decent at writing, but bad at coming up with ideas? Your browser could suggest millions of ideas, any of which you can morph simply by playing with a few dials or sliders.

What is a browser?

In my mind, a browser isn’t a certain technology. It’s not what we use to explore the Web. It’s simply the most flexible, all-purpose tool for exploring the world.

When you think of it that way, you begin to see that we have barely begun to see what a browser could be.

Bruce Kasanoff is co-author of Smart Customers, Stupid Companies. He helps companies spot new business opportunities through his Race to Make Everything Smart workshop.

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