What we really want is just stuff that works

The eagle eyed readers amongst you may have picked up that the website has a tagline. Admittedly it gets a bit lost in the formatting but that’s WordPress for you…the quote in full is as follows:

‘We are stuck with technology when what we really want is just stuff that works’ – Douglas Adams

A quick background on the author. He’s most famous for writing ‘The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’. In addition to being a bit of an activist, he was also a big advocate for technology and a massive Apple fanboy (allegedly he was the first person who bought a Mac in Europe back in the early eighties…). The quote itself is from a posthumous work ‘The Salmon of Doubt’ (Adams died in 2001 aged 49). The book also contains an essay ‘How to Stop Worrying and Learn to Love the Internet’ (originally published in 1999) that included a ‘set of rules’ which described our relationship with technology. I’ve listed them below:

  • Anything that is in the world when you’re born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works.
  • Anything that’s invented between when you’re fifteen and thirty-five is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it.
  • Anything invented after you’re thirty-five is against the natural order of things.
  • Apply this list to movies, rock music, word processors and mobile phones to work out how old you are.

Given the timing of when Adams wrote the above, I’d say there is a lot of damn fine insights that are applicable in 2016. Let’s break it all down.

First up, why it piqued my interest. As puls8.io is primiarily focused on ‘making great products’, the quote is pretty spot on in how I want to drive an idea through the whole innovation cycle. But alas it’s not that easy to make something simple. I reckon one reason why Adams was drawn to Apple was because of how Apple managed to balance tech vs ‘things just working’. But remember, Adams didn’t live to see Apple’s remarkable rise to domination and how they managed to take mobile phones to America in a way Nokia never could. But clearly he felt their philosophy was still ahead of the competition.

It also rings true that we are indeed stuck with technology. It is not going away and will be something that continues to evolve in ways we may not quite foresee. The question is how tolerant are we in being testers of new stuff? Especially as the end user/consumer, we are impatient. We enjoy consuming and we enjoy it happening with minimal fuss. This is especially true in the digital age and the world of social media. We just want stuff that works! This is going a little off topic, but I really suggest you read this article by the 1843 Economist magazine. Their discussion looks into how we should not be worried about AI. The engineering and addiction to apps (clickbait anyone?) is the real concern in controlling our behaviour.

Speaking of social media, it’s a good place to start in applying Adams’ 4 rules above. The generation born in the last 10 years are born with Facebook as a norm in their lives (I remember back at uni in the day thinking what the heck is this). They will harness Facebook and the likes in a way we can only imagine going forward. What is the implication of this? If you were over 35, ten years ago it must have seemed quite unnatural, but have you adapted? Also if we are living longer, does it mean we spend more than half our lives rejecting and believing the natural order of things is being perpetually ruined?

How do we tackle this as wannabe leaders of innovation. Here we go back to Adams’ quote – stuff that works. Simplicity to transcend different generations and genuinely disrupt and allow a paradigm shift.

I reckon the last big technology disruption wasn’t social media per say, but smartphones – putting the power of computers in your hand. They have become part of our lives in ways we could not imagine 10 years ago. Why? Because of the simplicity of use (we should credit Apple for leading that). And everybody is using one. Kids see them and become instantly attracted to them, the baby boomers are using them and so is everyone in between. A more relevant question may be is who isn’t using one?

We can theorise on what the future may hold in disruptive technology and we’ll begin that discussion next time. For now I’d really like to hear what you think has been disruptive because of the simplicity of it’s use.


4 thoughts on “What we really want is just stuff that works

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