I recently bought myself a winter hack. A (very) cheap car for the really nasty days when riding my motorbike to work stops being fun or easy – which isn’t very often. Usually, this means something spartan and tedious to drive. Usually, it means finding an old car that isn’t on its last legs or horribly thrashed, so choice is limited. Something from the late nineties maybe. A little BMW in fact.
I’m not joking about the ‘little’ either – in comparison to the current 3 Series it’s positively tiny. It’s extraordinary how much bigger and heavier cars have become – partly due to safety gains but also the demand for more. We consumers demand more space, more technology, more flexibility, just more please.
The original advertising for iPod, whilst not introducing unique technology, made us realise we could carry around all our music with us all the time. That seemed really cool and convenient.
Only most of us don’t listen to all of our music all the time. In reality, keeping on top of 10,000 plus songs and managing your iTunes and synchronising between devices…is just a bit…annoying. Stressful and unsatisfying. More technology than ever before and yet somehow it’s not making life easier or better.
My old BMW has a radio cassette player. Not CD, cassette. It’s so long since I’ve had one in a car I was hunting down old cassettes to play just for the fun of it. The sheer novelty value of the clunking mechanism and listening to an entire album without ‘shuffling’. It’s fun. Of course a teenager might think otherwise. Yet vinyl sales are rocketing and turntables became the number one home audio seller on Amazon this Christmas.
So what’s going on? Well there’s certainly not a wholesale rejection of technology – far from it. Personally, I think it’s about easiness. We like easy. We like simple. No matter how hi-tech or low-tech, we tend to gravitate towards the easy option that works for us. If it makes things easy, then we’ll probably use it more often.
My favourite example is a story from the Space Race in the 1960s. NASA had spent lots of time and money trying to develop a pen that would work in zero gravity. Lots of very bright scientists struggled to crack the problem of getting the ink to flow. The Russians used a different approach. They used a pencil.
So before employing new technology or even sticking with the old, it’s always worth asking “does it make things easier?”