My new TV is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s 75 inches of 8 million pixels serving me 16.7 million colors in the background behind the videos I’m watching on my smartphone.
My TV is connected to likely every film ever made. It’s piping more than 1,000 channels at vast cost to me, covering prime live sporting events, vital world news and world-class productions with sound fed through my seven-speaker Sonos sound system. Except I’m watching a bee pull a nail out of a wall, with no sound, covering less than five inches of my mobile device.
We are all getting lazy and spoiled. We’re not choosing simple over better, but easy over passably good. We’re self-sabotaging ourselves because effort is a price too great to pay for anything.
In a world of endless free ways to communicate, we’re making very dumb decisions about how to. We have at our fingertips at any moment in time the richness of full video chat, free of charge. We can speak on the phone to anyone in the world, in real time, for as long as we want. For free. Yet we’re tapping away, expressing ourselves to our most intimate friends … with emojis.
By any measure, emojis are one of the worst ways ever to communicate. They impart very little meaning, have no context, no subtlety, they take a long time to find and understand and even on a good day they are frequently misunderstood. The hieroglyphs of 5,000 years ago fell out of fashion because we invented far richer, far more specific, ways to record data. Yet we’re using emojis because they are easy.
Even finding the love of our lives is too much effort to do properly. Apps like Tinder or Bumble in urban areas offer such an overwhelming abundance of people and so little information or search, that we navigate the world literally entirely by how people look before we get to really know someone — with a brief exchange of emojis. It’s a system to which we’re totally addicted, yet is totally flawed. It’s crap, but easy.
At what point do we notice that it’s the friction in life that enables us to feel something?
The hottest people get swamped and can’t deal with it, the less desirable get ignored. But most profoundly of all we’ve created a dating culture of superficiality, the endless need to upgrade partners and either abundant empty dates with people we’ve nothing in common or empty calendars and crushed egos. We’re wasting our time and missing real opportunities because we’d rather use an easy dating app than something far more useful that requires more than a nonchalant swipe.
iPhone docks litter retail outlets today. We’ve gone from an era of stereo sound — CD players offering far more sonic data and large speaker cones offering deep bass — to an era where we’re paying more money for a single speaker offering tinny sound because it’s easier to plonk a phone on something that works with our decor than it is to care.
Not that it matters that much, because the music is awful. We’re listening to bland mass market tripe auto-selected by algorithms forcing tastes to converge. The Bieber- and Swift-ridden charts become the default selection because curating a playlist of tunes you actually love is too much like hard work. We used to enjoy weekly trips to the record store to peruse the coming week’s tunes; now we outsource it to software. It’s a crap way to do it, but it’s easy.
From Twitter for customer service, a way to very quickly be totally unhelpful to people, to Amazon, the world’s easiest way to not necessarily pay the best price, we’re taking average-quality pictures on phones, but it’s better than having to think — and a filter will probably make it good. We’re consistently choosing sites, apps and experiences that are just about good enough, but totally easy.
It’s not totally new. We’ve done it for years with fast food, the easy but poor choice for decades. IKEA made billions on the back of “it will do,” but what was once exceptional moments become the general pillar for life. Rather than looking at the channel guide or recording a show, or asking a friend, we’re watching the cute rabbit clip, the man falling down a hole or how did that not break her legs fed to us without a click by Facebook, YouTube or Snapchat.
We’ve become passive, our lives endless easy “meh” punctuated by a rare snap of a highly Instagram-able cool thing at an art show or the sunset from the rooftop bar.
Where does it end? Will self-driving cars mean we no longer care about car performance? Will we be so transfixed by our phones that we don’t need to choose the posh hotel, or maybe even bother to fly somewhere? Will our lives become products we subscribe to on Amazon so we don’t need to think, music fed to us by software and shows that autostart?
We have so many options we are paralyzed by choice.
Perhaps this is all a reaction to a world of abundance. We have so many options we are paralyzed by choice. When we gave the world a microphone and told them they can sing, when we put a professional-grade camera in everyone’s phone, when we supported film making with Kickstarter, when we can see seemingly everything ever made in the world on Etsy or Alibaba, when we can flick nonchalantly on Tinder for hours without end, perhaps not caring is the obvious remedy. When Kayak celebrates millions of hotels, maybe I just want the false limits of a crap way of choosing.
I’d love to see easier but better, to see companies designed around the idea of making less stuff but making it easy. Casper offers one mattress — the best one they could find. Apple propelled to greatness by offering a small number of things that just work. Please, can companies work against reducing cognitive burden?
At what point do we rebel? At what point do we notice that it’s the friction in life that enables us to feel something? That “difficult” is where satisfaction comes from, that the search is part of the destination, that life is for living and living is about experiences — and that involves thought and effort and the satisfaction of amazing and the risk of awful.