Boredom, simplicity and social utility

June 30, 2009 § Leave a comment


Over at brand new, I caught this tremendously insightful video of a TED talk given by Clay Shirky.  In the world of advertising, we tend to have terribly limiting perspectives on social media as communications channels.  Shirky puts things in perspective by discussing how mobile socnets have the power to change history (just look at the use of Twitter in the recent Iranian election protests).  While this insight isn’t particularly new, Shirky makes a brilliant point worth remembering when we become enamored with the shiny new tech object of the day:

These tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring. It isn’t when the shining new tools show up that their uses start permeating society…it’s when everybody is able to take them for granted.”

Couple this thought with Donald Norman’s thesis in The Invisible Computer: “The personal computer is perhaps the most frustrating technology ever.  It should be quiet, invisible, unobtrusive.”

This suggests that simplicity (or in its most extreme, “invisibility”) is directly proportional to personal utility while social utility is indirectly proportional to newness of technology.


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