Designers and entrepreneurs have long imagined a world where everything is digital. Here, lamps, clothes, furniture, and all sorts of accessories of modern life would communicate with their users and with each other, creating a network of smart technology that goes way beyond phones and computers. Examples of this are already cropping up in nascent iterations of the Internet of things, which currently include applications that tell you when you're running out of eggs, etc.
This dream presents a serious question: What's the point? Do "smart" objects have a raison d'être? One obvious answer is that it might be cool if homewares could talk (because who wouldn't want to live in a world like Beauty and the Beast?). Another potential answer: Making everyday objects "smarter" could increase efficiency by streamlining energy use, reducing the number of gadgets necessary in everyday life, and preventing user error in cars and elsewhere.
But a third explanation lurks in the background: Technological progress could create a world that more closely resembles what it "should" be. During a talk at the Aspen Ideas Festival, two graduate students from MIT Media Lab offered interesting versions of what this "should" might look like, painting a remarkably un-techy theory of technology design: In the best world, digital creations would facilitate a "return to nature" and create aesthetically moving experiences. In other words, they believe that the next generation of technology should serve the same purpose as art, at least in part.