Technology is only useful when it is boring.

Apologies at the outset for the above quote.  It is not my line but I cannot recall where I read it.  If you know, of if it was you, please introduce yourself and take the credit in the comments below.

I was discussing social media this morning with freelance marketeer Helen Hammond.

For some reason I was in an unusually downbeat mood. I felt that I didn’t want to talk to about social media.  Sure, I love social media.  I have gained a lot of work from social media and it has massively increased my profile both here in the UK and also in America.  The potential for social media to drive business and new opportunities is immense.

But something was irking me.

There remains an obstructive self-consciousness within social media, where the social media activity becomes the thing itself.

It is not.  It is just the tool, or vehicle, that gets us to our destination.

I recall from my student days reading about how the written word, within literary criticism terms, should be transparent so as not to obstruct what was being described, nor draw attention to itself.  I think that was a liberal humanist approach, but I digress.

Likewise, we need to get used to using social media as a conventional mainstream communication function.  At that point, we will not be fascinated so much with the “Hey, I’m using a new Twitter app” or “Have you tried that new social media hub for… whatever…” and instead we will simply be getting on with the business of communicating by diverse means, including social media, on a daily basis.

The technology itself, at that stage, is as boring and as unworthy of commenting upon, as a telephone.

When technology becomes boring in this sense, it will stop getting in the way of the message we are communicating, and therefore carry the message with less distraction for either the sender or recipient.


Filed under General Technology

4 responses to “Technology is only useful when it is boring.

  1. Hey Neil

    I think you’ve got the wrong phrase, but the right direction of travel…

    Transplant “boring” with “invisible” and I’m with you. “Invisible technology”, as the (really excellent..) Tom Standage puts it, goes a little bit like this:

    “..If you look at the telephone we don’t really have either enthusiasm or scepticism for it now, it’s just become invisible and that is the sign of a mature technology: you don’t notice it’s there any more..”

    The problem with “boring” is it implies “not fun”, and you know (as you reach into your pocket for your Android phone, set up the Wii for your kids to play on, fiddle about on the web) that technology can be fun – a lot of fun…

    Here’s two thoughts: first off, I used to spend a lot of time working on information architecture for clients and so on. Now, IA – I absolutely agree with your word – *should* be boring. My analogy then was: “think about your IA as if it’s a map and compass: your users aren’t there to figure out that you’re using some weird compass where North isn’t next to West anymore; they’re there to look at the landscape which is your content. Be really, *really* boring with your IA…”

    Second thought: yes, of course “all of this” stuff is here to further the connections, the links, the people, the content, the friendships. It’s a Maslow thing, in my humble opinion (see my slides here if you’re interested..) – it’s all about keeping the geekery down and the human stuff up.

    Successes happen when humans see the opportunities to connect in easy new ways which call back to something which is far from new. This is what “deep” technology people often miss: it isn’t about functionality or buttons or knobs*. It’s about simplicity, invisibility and design: not just visual design but interface and usability design, too.

    Social Media has come full circle. Like any hype, it’s hit the peak, travelled through the trough, and now slowly moves itself into a place where it’s just _part of what we do_. And the more invisible (not boring!) it is, the more we can just get on with the human bit.

    [ * hey, I called IT “rubbish” there. But I’ve mellowed a bit since then 😉 ]

  2. What has always intrigued me about technology is the way it has more or less done the things we do day in and day out, but made them better, eg planes trains and automobiles.

    I am the lucky fella who is at the coal face of technology development. It’s funny how things I was working on 6 months ago now look “so last year.” I can’t imagine what such tech will look like next year (well I do, sort of, in my market but not unequivocally) …but I am excited to find out.

    Technology is a wonderful indictment of the human capability…to always strive for improvement, full of the desire for perfection even though the reality is we will never find it…but the pursuit can be very rewarding.

    Even now I tweet messages to people rather than go through the (now) laborious process of drafting an email. In my own company we use Skype messaging internally far more than email because all we want to do is say what we want to say rather than go all formal.

    As with all things we will as individuals find our appropriate tool to use for the appropriate situation.

    But what intrigued me most about this post was the realisation that the tool of engagement has the current headlines but ultimately and always it will boil down to what you say being relevant and how you say it being engaging. And they are hard core human ‘things’ that no technology will ever replace. Why? Because humans are gifted with the eloquent, individual, magnificent and beautiful power of language.

  3. Blimey. My blog just grew up into some awesome tech-metaphysical discussion.

    Thanks Mike and Jon for contributing with such thoughtful contributions.

    I can see how boring and invisibility have some cross-over, as in the literary criticism example I provided. I’m not disagreeing with the invisibility at all but I’m going to cling on to my “boring” for a little while longer, for precisely the reasons Mike argues.

    I love my android Hero, and now that it has upgraded to the shiny 2.1 it is even more irresistable and fun. But that is the barrier. It’s easy to get distracted. Once it becomes uninteresting, or boring, then I will have neither enthusiasm nor scepticism and I can just get on with doing what I was doing.

    I love the comment about keeping the geekery down and the humanity up.

    I also love the way that Jon echoes that humanity point. – Mike, by the way Jon is the chap I was going to cajole into doing BathCamp.

    So here’s to what we say being relevant and how we say it being engaging. here’s to eloquence, expression of the individual and the magnificent and beautiful power of language, as you say, Jon.

    One other quote from my literature degree nearly 20 years ago suggested that the point of the written word was “To make the stone stoney”, ie to describe and reveal the subject matter in a way that was vivid and real.

    Curious then how communications technology can, and should, enable us to reveal the humanity in the human subject.

  4. BTW Neil, no need to cajole!!

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