What happens when creating things becomes very easy? People will create things just for the sake of creating something without careful consideration. The best example I could see is the mobile phone app stores, within a few hours we could create an application and that made people flood the app stores with lots and lots of spammy products. Google had no other option than to intervene and remove ‘Low quality’ apps from Google play to tackle this. Still the number of apps available on the app store is so huge (600,000+ ) that it is not at all meaningful to go through lists and choose what suits us.
Alan Kay talks about Inverse Vandalism in the The early history of smalltalk. Here is the excerpt
A twentieth century problem is that technology has become too “easy”. When it was hard to do anything whether good or bad, enough time was taken so that the result was usually good. Now we can make things almost trivially, especially in software, but most of the designs are trivial as well. This is inverse vandalism: the making of things because you can. Couple this to even less sophisticated buyers and you have generated an exploitation marketplace similar to that set up for teenagers. A counter to this is to generate enormous disatisfaction with one’s designs using the entire history of human art as a standard and goal. Then the trick is to decouple the disatisfaction from self worth–otherwise it is either too depressing or one stops too soon with trivial results.
This is not just applicable to creating software programs, it is applicable in places where automation and mass production is present in any form. We as consumers also tend to buy more of the same product once it becomes cheaper than buying something else with the saved money. This is illustrated by Jevons Paradox, technological progress that increases the efficiency with which a resource is used tends to increase (rather than decrease) the rate of consumption of that resource.
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Random thoughts comes to us when we free up our head from the day to day jugglery. The usual time of the day those thoughts peak up are shower, traffic signal lights, elevator, waiting at a restaurant but rarely at the work table. Our sub-conscious mind will continue to work on a problem to find a solution and pop it up at times when our conscious mind has taken a rest. It is at those times that I felt the need to capture the thought as it was too difficult to recollect just moments later. The sad part is that some of the ideas we get that time used to be great, seeing it die is painful.
How do we capture ideas as soon as when we get them? The only way is to have paper and pen to write on or note it down electronically. I tried using my mobile phone to capture notes but nothing was close to a physical notebook in terms of comfort and ease of use. The drawback of carrying a notebook was the size, even the hardbound pocket sized notebooks were difficult to carry around. Pocketmod came to my rescue, it allowed me to print a booklet in a style I would like and did it in just one A4 sheet of paper.
Carrying a pen and paper with me, helped to concentrate at the task at hand and not wander off while in meetings. The moment I capture my thoughts, my mind becomes free to get back to the task at hand in full swing.
Lots of success stories show us that the early adopters of new techniques and methods are able to stay ahead of the competition and the rest plays a catch up game. There are many companies and individuals today who consistently assess, try and adopt new technologies. There is also a significant effort involved to be on the cutting edge. The adoption is a time consuming process and the adopters are at the mercy of the fallibility of the new technologies or process. During the format wars of VHS and BetaMax, BetaMax adopters had to suffer the failure of that format. A stand-up comedian Steven Wright pointed out that “The second mouse gets the cheese”, making fun of expensive early adoption.
De Havilland decided to make commercial jet aircrafts with many firsts like comfortable seating, large windows, pressurized cabins. They came up with a great plane “Comet”, the world’s first commercial jetliner. It also flew very high which was also one among the firsts but metal fatigue caused the planes to crash. Crashing due to metal fatigue was one of the firsts as well, the other companies like Boeing got the lessons from Comet’s failure and produced better designs. After the failure De Havilland struggled to catch up and eventually became defunct in just 12 years after its state of the art jetliner made its first commercial flight.
The story about Comet is not that early adopters fail, we should always back early adoption with enough financial/human resources, tolerate risks & fail safe; above all a strong need with significant business gains. Businesses backed with strong research departments; the culture of trying, assessing & using new techniques & methods; a good vision about the future will continue to make early adoption look easy. We should be careful enough not to be on the bleeding edge as it looks like an easy job from the success stories on the other side.