By Tom Goodwin
Technology is unleashing itself on every aspect of our lives, progressing relentlessly to bring about more profound changes, more quickly than ever before. Ironically, as is does so, the only thing developing faster than technology is our expectations of it.
The younger we are, the worse it is. Toddlers look aghast that the TV isn’t touch-enabled, Millennials are exasperated that angry tweets are not replied to within minutes. And the impatience is spreading. How is it that I can’t see real-time in-store inventory online? Why can’t I see where the Fedex van is in real time, when Uber Rush shows me? In the words of Louis C.K., commenting on WiFi on planes: “How quickly is it that the world owes us something we didn’t know existed only five seconds ago?”
Moore’s Law continues to hold true: We see computing power grow exponentially. Our ability to process data has never improved more rapidly, and sensors become cheaper and more abundant. The costs for sharing and storing data plummet, while simultaneously speeds and capacity accelerates. We’re on the edge of an interconnected world, a world of the Internet of things, with big data and powerful computing that aid our lives in ways we’ve never imagined.
When these empowering elements meet the changing business world, a culture of entrepreneurialism, readily available cash and lower barriers to entry feels equivalent to the moments before the big bang, and this time we have a ringside seat.
We now live in a world of multitouch smart phones that tell us when it’s about to rain, of ever larger LED screens that adorn our shopping malls, where we have access to WiFi and the en-tire world’s information at 30,000 ft., where we can drive electric cars that break speed limits and can travel further than ever predicted. In a world where our fridge can order milk for us, we all must be blown away.
But look around: We’ve already embraced the new, and expect more. We’re looking not at what’s leading the edge of progress but what’s lagging behind. We’re shocked that we still learn about medical appointments via mail, and we act bewildered when after two hours browsing, three hours of video watching, four phone calls, and 25 photos taken, our phone’s battery is looking low.
While the future is here, it’s less evenly distributed than ever before. There is incredible lag between the early adopters and the laggards, sometimes spanning entire generations of electronics. Some people may be using cassette players in cars, while others are streaming Spotify. Some urban dwellers embrace cord-cutting, while rural others are praying for cord to be laid.
The New York Subway can’t tell me where its trains are, but Google Maps can show me current traffic conditions in real time in Mongolia.
Retargeted ads can note exactly what I am interested in, attach cookies to my behavior, and create custom-built ad units within milliseconds — but only to show me the item I’ve just bought or decided against buying.
Virgin Atlantic is testing iBeacons and Google Glass, but half of its website was built in 2007 — and the only way to book the Upper-Class lounge’s spa is still over the phone.
These are tough times for companies. In high-touchpoint businesses there are no little mistakes, and in a high-technology world we expect more. A lost booking on a computer screen is no longer acceptable — even waiting two minutes for them to find it is a drag. In the technology arms race, we’ve almost reached the point of mutually assured destruction.
We’ve gone about technology the wrong way. We’ve embraced the latest technology to show the public what’s possible, stealing headlines with gimmicky strategies.
The technology that works best is about simplicity. What makes Hotel Tonight, Uber, Beautified, Handy, Kayak, Airbnb, Amazon and a hundred other successful companies succeed is that they make life easier, more spontaneous and free of thought. They remove friction in a world where our expectations are high and our attention spans miniscule.
Let’s use iBeacons not to give me an in-store shopping experience, but to check me into my flight automatically, allow me to upgrade my flight with a swipe, or offer to check me out of my hotel when I leave.
Let’s use TouchID to store every personal detail and give us the ability to buy anything online with just the press of a finger. Let’s make every ticket to every event something that can be stored on my phone. I don’t want to print anything in 2015.
Let’s make products that are simple. Nest and Sonos are superb products, but don’t need to be uniquely so. We can all do great design and simplicity. If your hardware needs a manual, you’ve failed.
While it creates fewer headlines and seems less exciting, a more effective long-term strategy is to focus on building a sustainable, positive experience and reducing issues, rather than aiming for the peak of what is possible. We can’t fight the monsters we’ve become — but we can hope to assuage our frustrations, not feed more.