The Desire for Simplicity

You’d never know it from the technology press, but with some listening to other people, and some introspection, I’ve noticed a ferocious desire for the simple, the familiar. Yes, we love our smart phones, google searches, and digital music collections. But behind that there’s a realization that solving one problem introduces another.

Listening to the long standing technology podcast Linux Action Show I listened as the host Chris discussed his new found love of “wearables” specifically the Pebble watch. What was great about Pebble, he said, was how he didn’t have to constantly check his smart phone for updates and communication. He could send the really important messages to his watch. I’ve greatly enjoyed the Linux Action Show, but I kind of want to tell him, “Dude, three years, five years from now your watch is going to feel like the same burden.”

He has an excellent show that he works really hard at, and gets a lot done. But the problem he describes, being bombarded with information from eighty million sources, just isn’t a technical one. It’s a problem older than humans themselves. Prioritizing. It’s particularly hard to do these days, and probably more important than ever.

I remember once sitting in a pledge drive for my community radio station, with someone about ten years younger than me. He seemed to possess an endless fascination with useless information. I forget almost everything of what he showed me. That is, other than a graph where it was compared, in all fifty states, the relative frequency of the search term “Christianity” and “free gay porn”. The highest searches for both terms? The deep South. An easy explanation presents itself. The South is religiously conservative (religion) and because of this, the best place to get pornography for its citizens is the Internet, which they can access through the privacy of their homes. Why did I need to know this useless fact? It was apparently “interesting”.

Not that trivia itself is particularly new. The board game Trivial Pursuit is an easy example of a previous iteration. But unlike trivial pursuit, you can just put the box away. Eventually, eventually, you run out of cards. So what happens? People who can’t prioritize their time are given endless means by which to avoid doing anything. People get tired of learning endless new things just to get simple things done. And since this is an age where a new technology can be invented to solve every problem, well, there are plenty of technical innovations. Examples:

  1. Libreoffice / Open Office. The open source competitor to Microsoft Word. For those of you that don’t remember the 1997-2003 versions of MS Office, the Libreoffice document suite is quite similar. Libreoffice is quite an innovative product these days. Offer a similar product to one that was produced twelve years ago that everyone liked and charge no money for it.
  2. The previously mentioned Pebble watch.
  3. The e-reader. Yes the technological upgrade from books. Books are awesome because I can’t click on hyperlinks. That allows me to focus on a complex issue without being distracted. Likewise, the e-reader can organize all your books in one place so you don’t even need to be connected to enjoy it. I in fact don’t have an e-reader. I just go to the library.
  4. Meetup.com. Yes, a social network specifically for organizing meetings. Why not use facebook? It’s too complex and infinitely distracting. I want to meet people in the real world! There’s still no substitute.

I could come up with examples all day. If you look at things from a different angle, time and again you see digital platforms arise to make things simpler than the platforms that exist today. People who think that tools, digital or no, are a means to an end, and when the tool requires more work than the problem it attempts to solve, you should put it back in the box. People who just want to live.

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