Friday, October 12, 2007

Easy ain't Good!

Just last week, I managed to finally put down Donald A Norman's Design of Everyday Things (DOET)- a fascinating read about the little frustrations of everyday life inflicted on us by impatient capitalists and disconnected designers (or any combination thereof!). However, as I was reading the last chapter, the case study entitled How Writing Method affects Style got me thinking about how we tend to ignore the flip side to advances in technology in favour of immediate benefits.

A little background- Donald Norman's case study describes an accelerated timeline of writing techniques from the quill-and-ink up to voice-recognition. He observes that with advances in technology making it easy to...

  • write almost as fast as you think; and
  • correct mistakes
... our writing has become more colloquial and unstructured. [However, he does go on to say that newer tools such as voice-based word processors help maintain structure; but the colloquial nature still remains]

To study a more concrete subset, parallel observations can be drawn from the advances in written communication, as opposed to just writing techniques.

We have come a long way from traditional letter writing to recent voice-based solutions. The pen-and-paper letters were well structured. They would be drafted and then... re-drafted! Sentences would be rephrased and reworded to present the most content using the least amount of text. A lot of thought went into such communication, because you knew this wasn't a dialogue and you wouldn't have a chance to explain any misunderstandings, atleast not very soon.

Then, somewhere along the way, we invented the Memo. In our effort to be short & pithy we (mostly) ended up vague & ambiguous. Soon, computers brought us email, letters in binary; and it was good for some time. That is, till IRC invaded the web. Slowly email turned into a sort of e-Memo and chat took communication by storm. Now people consider it normal to be bombarded with a string of 'electronic communique's. The fact that the line between chat and email is growing thin is proven by people who choose to carry on lengthy one-line-conversation chains over email.

To consider similar progression in an alternative technology, how about publishing and retrieval of online content? Online search and indexing services such as Yahoo and Google proved to be a boon. They helped us sift through the glut of information dumped onto the web as a result of years of indiscriminate publishing by people who finally found a medium to vent their 'creative' outbursts! Somehow, I always thought that search engines were invented out of the necessity to find signal in existing noise. However, they ended up becoming invitations to generate EVEN MORE noise. Armed with the knowledge that some web crawler will eventually index their site/blog/micro-app, the Web 2.0 community got busy building more-and-more 'information' into the web in the form of opinions, reviews, cross-blogs and flame wars!

As if that wasn't enough, Google gave us GMail! A direct invitation to actually CREATE a greater waste of resources. Just think of the volume of useless email still sitting around in your GMail account, just because Google gives you 2 GB of storage space. In this day and age of environmental preservation, I shudder as the sheer waste of resources- mail storage space, connected storage media, CPU cycles, electrical power, heat emanated by these devices, energy wasted on resulting cooling... and Google itself isn't far behind in the waste with it's ultimate redundancy matrix!

The following line pretty much sums it up.
Ease can also lead to callousness.

Seems like every day we're making it easier to waste some more.

Update 24-October-2007: Great! Another invitation to create greater waste!