Ways of doing things

Posted on 09/03/2011

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To do list (It’s difficult enough finding new ways of dealing with life. So why does technology make it even more complex?) We spend most of our lives finding ways of doing things. Or at least I do. Sometimes life just seems like a huge series of puzzles. As a baby, I first had to get to grips with speech and was still struggling with this for much of my adolescence. Then along came university, most people’s first experience of the “real world”. For the first time I had to balance work and living (washing clothes, food shopping, binge drinking). Without any parents as guides / law enforcement, I had to work out how to do all of this and still get the best possible outcome. Life is made up of thousands of these little learning points; just when you think you’ve got it sussed, life spin-bowls you another puzzle and the whole thing starts again. This means that each time we have to work out a new way of doing things. Technology (especially the web), is the biggest culprit of this. It’s not enough that it’s everywhere; it’s also getting more and more complex. I think society’s getting more and more used to technology over time. Luddites might have smashed a few mills a while back, but by and large we recognise it’s important. At the very least it tries to make our lives easier. Slowly, we’re accepting it into our lives. But here’s the thing: humans and technology don’t mix very well. Thousands of years of evolution and we’re still no closer to mastering ourselves or our bodily instincts. And this is a bit of apparatus we’re been playing with for millennia. So how the hell can we expect to live harmoniously with our latest blackberry handset before the next model comes out? Technology makes life more complex in two ways: 1) how it works, and 2) how we use it. We can get over the first one by simplifying systems, cutting down on the operating languages and constructing devices and programs in similar logical ways. What I’m talking about are technology standards that give anyone with some experience a basic understanding of how the thing works. Thank god most people (aside from my mum, bless her!) know what a play symbol looks like; without this we’d still be using vinyl records and typewriters. The second issue is a *bit* more tricky. We can’t standardise people. This means one man’s PDA is another man’s laptop, which is another man’s tablet. And another man’s tablet is someone else’s TV. People use technology in thousands of different ways. Even though we’re all doing different things, we’re still herd animals. If one cow strays off into a field by itself, the rest don’t care. It only starts to matter when a few more enter the field, because then more will follow and that probably means we will too. This happens time and time again. Take the history of letter writing. Business and personal letter-writing developed set conventions over hundreds of years, first using a quill and parchment, then ink pen, the typewriter and eventually the computer. Over this period conventions were invented, tested and made, so with the birth of email we naturally followed the same rules. But email is an easier, less sincere and less formal technology. Eventually we realised there was no point wasting time with” yours sincerely” and the like and kept things shorter and less formal. Now with social networks, we’ve given ourselves another new technology to learn. Even a formal piece of communication like a press release has to be rewritten for press, online, and 140 character tweets.

Everything new we develop goes through a process of:

  • adoption (some are quicker than others to get into new things)
  • acceptance (even when you buy a new phone it takes a few weeks to get use to it)
  • And redevelopment (either we discover a new way to apply the technology or version 2.0 comes out)

From cookers to TVs, cars to iPads, we’re constantly making up new social practices around technology. Every time our social practices change, we give ourselves another thing to learn. I love technology for all the opportunities it creates, and I hate it for making me spend more time finding ways of doing things. Also: CX Partners have made a great presentation about computer technology and how the iPad is changing this. If nothing else, this also shows how quickly we have to adapt to new ways of doing things.

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