The world is at our fingertips, 24/7, but how do we manage our relationship with ubiquitous consumer electronics devices?
A lot of gadgets flooded our world at Consumer Electronics Show this week. A lot of them. The noise is incredible, and I wasn't even there this year (though a crack team from EE Times, EDN and DesignNews was).
It's noisy and confusing. There was Dell talking about getting into the tablet market. Isn't that what the failed Dell Streak was? There was 3D TV. Mobile machinations. The PC wasn't dead. But then there were the ultrabooks. Robots. Exercise enhancers. There was more talk of the "Internet of things." You name it.
Here's the deal: We've won. We can go home now. Electronics has gotten to the point -- in the consumer space -- where the only innovations are the mundane, the enhancements, the extensions. (Of course anyone who makes this type of statement is immediately proved wrong, but hang with me for a sec).
We have devices that do pretty much everything we used to do, only in new ways. A computing device today, whether a tablet, a phone or a PC can do what telephony, typewriters, pen and ink, film (motion and still), cameras, television, radio -- basically all major mediums--did a generation ago.
SoÖ great! We win! (As the comedian Louis C.K. points out, it was just a generation ago that we had to stand in a room with a rotary-dial phone and "make sparks" to talk to someone).
And yet... And yet we still innovate. We still build. We still buy. I switched, after decades of loyalty, from PC - Blackberry land last year to Apple (MacBook and iPhone). It was a practical decision. I needed a laptop and a phone that could handle multimedia quickly and easily on the run for our Drive for Innovation. It's done that and more.
At Christmas, I got an iPad. So now I have three similar products all made by the same company. None completely replaces the other, although they come close. This use case often seems nearly insane to me, but I love the devices. They're amazing feats of ingenuity and user interface design. (They also make me way more productive than I've ever been).
Trouble in paradise
But this is a problem. I have one of these devices on and with me (sometimes three at the same time) from the moment I wake up (alarm clock with music, quick weather check) to the moment I fall asleep (book reader).
They're so easy to use, so connected that the minute any thought comes into your head, you're spurred to some action, a search, a synch, a message, a photo, a voice memo. What's on NPR? How's the market performing? Importantly, they're also an extension of our intellect: answers to any question, direction, guidance is a few taps away. I work faster because I can, but I fear my increased productivity may be illusory.
The devices in one sense feed the worst part of a personality: compulsiveness. And they suppress one of the most important aspects of a healthy work or personal environment: Pause and reflection. I wrote about the importance of pausing and finding creative muses on Drive for Innovation this week as it affects creativity and innovation.
These devices interrupt a conversation you're constantly having in your head as thoughts come in and bang around like bumper cars. You meditate every so briefly on each: Is it important? Does it demand action? If so, what? Does it require more reflection? If so, what?
Before the connected world, we were better self-editors I suspect. More important concepts we vetted and raised up on our priority list. We reflected better. Or at least I think I did. We've lost discipline, perhaps.
The connected world
In the end it's not the devices themselves that are the problem but the connectedness and usefulness of the devices. It's a way of living we each have to come to grips with.
As our physical and emotional world become more bound to the digital:
- How do you manage it?
- How do you managed your devices and the flood of amazing information at your fingertips?