Is that really what the technology is for?

 society, stupidity  Comments Off on Is that really what the technology is for?
Jan 062015
 

New Year’s eve… Like many, many people apparently, the lovely and talented Mrs. G and I skip the parties and go straight to the movie theatre. Often following Chinese buffet dinner, but that’s another matter entirely. There is 30-40 minute opportunity to observe people in action. And what I saw made me sad.

There, four rows ahead of me was a couple that sat down to do the same thing as we were doing. They were (even) older than us. There was 10-minutes before the movie would begin. They sat. Then they each whipped out a smartphone and completely ignored each other.

But this is not the saddening part.

I often sit in in airport lounges and other places where waiting is the order of the day–or at least the hour. I, too, will check email, text messages, look up stuff that’s pressing, and respond to the demanding beeping of the reminder apps. Usually I’m alone not sitting with someone (like my spouse) with whom I could and probably should be communicating.

Even that’s not the saddening part.

I get it. You’ve got things to do. This is as good a time as any to be productive. Go ahead. However… the fellow sitting four rows in front of me, in a movie theatre, on New Year’s even, at 8:55PM, 10-minutes before the movie would start, WITH HIS WIFE was… playing solitaire.

That’s what’s so important? That’s how small life has become? That’s how meaningless direct human interaction has become? Was this the vision of the RIMs and Apples when they developed this technology?

Or then again, maybe they’d just had a fight in the lobby over whether to pay extra for the butter topping…

“User Experience” is nonsense

 Business, Management, organization, stupidity, Uncategorized  Comments Off on “User Experience” is nonsense
Sep 022014
 

God damn Steve Jobs! It’s hard to dredge from memory or history another huckster who left behind such a legacy of dreck. Jobs was a tireless promoter who innovated relentlessly and—as legend would have it—single-handedly changed the face of the consumer world from personal computing to animated movies to music consumption and mobile telephony/computing. Love it or hate it; he did it.

But that’s not what I mean. The detritus in his formidable wake is all of the half-baked nonsense that others less capable have picked up. Where for Jobs the result if it would be a gastronomic delight, in other hands it becomes fast food. Nowhere is this more evident than in the Web world.

You see, Jobs was a man with vision, drive, and—to switch metaphors—the skills of a utility fielder. He was a showman and marketer with a sense for the appealing. He was an evangelist and salesman with a feel for the con. He was an industrialist with a grasp of production. And, allegedly, in his later tenure, became something of a strategist and commanding agent of change. What this adds up to is a well-rounded entrepreneur who knew inherently that even though he was reducing a complex mix of ingredients to a single catchy phrase, there was a lot of magic going on.

Those who worship at the alters of his several business religions are not so well versed. They do not appreciate that, just to hold the mystique for single-minded people like them, Jobs oversimplified and reduced to an aphoristic sound-bite, very complex conditions. They don’t get that Steve Jobs was a sophisticated carney and they are his marks.

Why do I rant? Because I am now fed up by the noxious and excessive blather from all levels of so many organizations about consumer experience or customer experience. Don’t get me wrong: such concern is paramount, or at least it will be until it proves unprofitable and therefore unacceptable to the stock market. To satisfy the customer—to make him or her or it categorically happy with your wares is fundamental to loyalty, repeat business, referrals, buzz, and ultimately revenue if not profit. And there is truth to the causal connection between the visceral experience with a product/service and the good outcomes noted above.

That said, the ham-handed Webheads roll this all up under the aegis of user experience. And then they reduce all of that holistic business complexity to what would properly be limited to user interface. When gullible and complicit executives support the cause user interface gets conflated with customer experience and the absurdities begin.

“So what’s the problem with that Mr. Pedant?” You ask. Not much except for how the UI (user interface) people—interaction designers really—get up on their hind legs and throw their weight around with the support of improbable, linguistic overreach. All of a sudden the interface carries dominion over all other possible aspects of customer experience. For instance:

  • A customer’s preconception of the product, from which his/her experience is anchored, starts with the ads and promotion. Shouldn’t Marketing Communications be in charge?
  • A customer’s sense of proportional value and the resulting positive/negative experiential feeling is critically related to the price paid. Why wouldn’t Pricing get the last word?
  • In the highly probable event of a problem with the product/service/Website, how the various customer service channels respond has enormous impact on customer experience. Why then does Customer Service not hold sway?
  • Let’s not overlook that an offering simply working (or not) has a clearly enhancing or detracting effect on one’s overall impression. So it seems that Operations ought to be the final arbiter of customer experience.
  • All this without even considering that the product group determines market need and value, and orchestrates all the above-noted constituent players and more—including the interface designers—to create and provide an offering to please customers and fill the company coffers.

Let’s agree that customer experience is valuable, but that it is the complex output of many inputs. Even if you make the dubious causal leap that customer experience equals success, it may or may not recognize that ultimately success is profit. And on this it merely muddies the simplicity to note that while touting the experience, Steve Jobs could shave Lincoln’s beard off of a penny. (Maybe that has had a little to do with Apple’s commercial success…)

To blithely dictate that user experience equals customer experience is wrong to begin with. To push that further and allow customer experience, which is actually now equal to user interface, to be the start and end or at least the dominant element of commercial input is simplistic, naïve, and unduly credits user interface (i.e., design) with too much.

Besides, isn’t this kind of hyperbolic overextension what “Marketing” is all about? Does nobody care that now Marketers have no real purpose let alone dominance?

Snakes on a plane (redux)

 society, stupidity, Uncategorized  Comments Off on Snakes on a plane (redux)
Aug 272014
 

I fly fairly consistently though by no means am I row 13 troll racking up 100,000 miles a year or more. That said, I’m on enough to know that airlines squeeze people into too small a space for actual comfort.

More than that, people flying on business tend toward pulling out laptops to make productive use of the time in the air. That laptop has to sit in the already unsuitable space on the meal tray. So when the person immediately in front of the worker exercises his/her right to recline the seat back for greater comfort, it not only invades the already cramped space but makes using the computer all but impossible. I, personally, have had the clamshell lid cracked because it got sandwiched when the seat in front of me was thrust back.

So when two 48-year olds come just short of blows because one guy, sitting in the worst seat (middle) uses a little piece of plastic that costs 14-cents to make but is $22 at retail called the Knee Defender to prevent the seat from coming back, forcing the plane to be diverted from destination, you can do nothing but say, “Yeah, so what?” (See BBC story here)

Have to say that because it’s inevitable and has probably happened without such media fanfare many times. You also have to say it because both of these people were being douche bags (though I sympathize more with the guy using the device than with the gal who wanted to recline). Douche bags they might be, likely very self-righteously protecting their position and logic.

The airline, on the other hand, never mind the regulators, are culpable and should be punished. Here’s why. They create and foster the situation.

They create seat pitch (the gap for knees and breathing space) and squeeze it as tight as they can get away with. They do this because over 30 rows, 1-inch adds up to another row of seats which adds up to more revenue at a solid marginal profit. Notably, this fight broke out in a part of the plane that already had a larger pitch than cattle class.

They install seats that recline. Frankly, I think this whole notion is ridiculous and warrants physiological testing. The amount of recline the seat affords is not enough to be really any more comfortable; only enough to be irritating, imposing, and beyond annoying to the person behind you.

They make (and sell) the space and time on the plane to business travellers as a time to get things done. For crying out loud, they’re installing wifi on-board. Wifi is useless without a device to connect and trying to do real work on a tablet or smart phone is preposterous.

So, it’s the airline that creates the conditions that create the possibility for nobody’s wrong, self-righteousness.

Reclining passenger says, “Hey, the seat reclines and it’s my right to get more comfortable (or at least have the feeling that I’m getting more comfortable) by reclining completely. As far as I’m concerned, given the structure of the seating, that space MUST be mine to recline into.

The passenger being reclined into says, “Whoa, hold on, this space between my nose and your upright seat is inadequate to begin with. As soon as you recline, especially if the person in front of YOU isn’t reclining, you’re getting more space–MY space, which I need to work in. Back off. Reclining is a privilege, not a right.”

At the end of the day, the douche bag who pushes her seat back is probably more in “the right,” but in any case, the airline is in the wrong. And who suffers? The recliner, he being reclined upon, and EVERY OTHER PASSENGER who didn’t get to Denver as promised or has to listen to the kerfuffle.

Nonsense.

Take the train. It’s civilized.

The Safety Dance: one step forward; three steps back

 Canada, ethics, politics, society, stupidity, Uncategorized  Comments Off on The Safety Dance: one step forward; three steps back
Aug 242014
 

Today’s politically correct vogue is to wring one’s hands and fulminate about how dangerous the world is and how dire the need to protect one and all from its perils. Mental health disabilities and concussions are, among other human traumas, serious stuff. But it all seems a little overdone.

While the incidents of mental health claims and sport-related serious injuries are as high as ever in raw volume, a doubter might question its significance. Is there really more? Or are we just searching for, noting, and recording it now? This challenges the premise of greater danger, and the argument applies as readily to mental health injury as to cancer and allergy epidemics. It’s harder, I think, to argue that concussions went unrecognized and so could have been under-reported 30-years ago. That suggests greater danger. It does not mean it’s not ridiculous. Not the injuries; the circus of problem-solving.

The same day newspapers carried the story about Minister Clement’s pronouncement on mental health action, I saw a fellow on a bike wearing what looked like a 40-year old Cooper™ hockey helmet. It wasn’t a zippy cycling helmet, so it caught my attention and took my thoughts to the ongoing, very public finger wagging about concussions in hockey. I recalled that there was a time when that flimsy piece of plastic with an eighth inch of Styrofoam was the only wrapping on kids’ heads. Yet, so many of us live to reminisce about it.

What bothers me most about the well-meaning debates and pronouncements, be it about depression furloughs or kids’ cranial collisions, is that they are just so typically focused wrong. It is, of course, easier and more socially acceptable, never mind profitable, to push protection and palliatives than it is to deal with real problems. We leave uncomfortable stuff alone.

Regarding employee mental health issues untenably impacting labour costs, what we really don’t want to talk about is that we’ve done and keep doing it to ourselves. We avoid how mobile devices and PCs before them inconveniently changed what it means to be working. Not only are we all expected to be available within the hour if not actually responding in the moment, it doesn’t end at 5:00PM or Friday at the pub. That is fact.

Instead of acknowledging and debating the incompatibility of commercial efficiency and human frailty, we are treated to paeans to the “new reality” or some derivative. It’s liberating, they say. Not so much unless fetters factor into your definition of free. But it is an efficiency gainer, so it’s not going anywhere. That leaves the chattering classes to accept the root issue wholesale and babble on about the deleterious effects.

What about the hollowing out of the organization? It’s good for organizations because short-term productivity is high. It’s not good for people, because no machine runs at the yellow line for years on end without burning out. People in “management” are being overworked, the demands on their time extend well beyond what was traditionally work time, and they know that they are always one false move from not having to worry about it at all. Why would anyone be stressed or depressed?

Then there’s this business of sports injuries, with concussion trending right now. Of course being concussed is bad, especially for a brain still being formed. Then again, so is pushing a teenage body to meet the demands of an adult body. Speaking only of hockey, what we don’t want to talk about is that WE are the cause of the problem, one that we’re not eager to cure.

Back to the Cooper™ helmet. Hockey is a pretty rough sport. It was when I played as a kid. But it was rough within limits. Bad helmets and other variants of plastic, felt, and sponge left a lot of opportunity to feel pain, which took some spirit out of the boys. You didn’t try doing too much harm to others because, among other things, it was probably going to hurt you too.

Over the past forty years, we’ve outfitted our little gladiators with Kevlar and ballistic protection that makes them (feel) practically invincible. When over-protected, the most important organ in the body doesn’t work effectively. Because there is no pain escalation to indicate it’s time to back off, one can forget that one is, in fact, going to get hurt. And when it inevitably does happen, it won’t be just a little owey either! Add a persistent hockey season. Unlike the few boys that went to one-week, summer hockey camp in the 1970s, now every child has pre-season training and development prior to the try-outs that precede the season, which gets followed by a post-season work-down, etc… In other words, kids have the protection needed to detach them from the reality of being hurt, plus we train them to be stronger and more aggressive earlier. Never mind the parents who demand that little Mikey behaves like the NHL star that dad wishes he’d been, and then encourage aggression by behaving like lunatics in the stands.
Hockey today isn’t more dangerous, nor is cycling or skiing or any other sport. Work and life is not harder than a century ago. What we’ve done to ourselves in the name of progress, though, is create everything we need to push ourselves and our children up to and past the breaking point physically and mentally. Contrary to my first employer’s view, people are really not machines. You can’t merely grease them and replace worn parts.

They can’t work at their limit all the time. They can’t be expected to always self-heal from the inevitable injuries. But every employer knows that there is plenty of supply. So, ultimately, they can be replaced when worn out. It’s just costly; and not very pleasant salon conversation.

Meantime, we can all talk about how children are being physically injured and adults are being mentally tormented, and about what paternalistic safety equipment and palliative programs we can enforce. It makes us feel like we’re doing something valuable. And that’s good for our mental well-being.

* I wrote this a few months ago and submitted it for op-ed… nothing.

Foretelling decline by observing focus and attention

 Canada, politics, society, stupidity  Comments Off on Foretelling decline by observing focus and attention
Aug 212014
 

The National Post headline says, Canada’s language watchdog probing John Baird’s Twitter account over lack of French posts. Sadly, the headline says it all. There is, of course, a story that challenges the requirements for a “public” account to be in both official language. That is, as opposed to a “personal” account. Implicit, of course, is the recognition that Twitter has a growing and overwhelming institutional side equivalent to broadcast media. After all, that’s what the parallel would be.

That challenges the entire notion of Twitter, a question or dark secret that ought to come out into the open: Twitter has been co-opted by the corporatists (as is everything eventually). All you Libertarian technologists take note.

In any case, isn’t this situation (i.e., a federal government minister, elected in a riding in the nation’s capital, who ought to be communicating with constituents in both official languages as appropriate for this circumstance) something that “the market” should address. And here, of course, “the market” is the electorate which can determine whether he is offside or not. Do we really need a public office to tilt at this windmill?