A Digital Myth: Technology Doesn't Make Life Easier

It Simplifies Tasks but Complicates Lives

By Published on .

Judy Shapiro
Judy Shapiro
In the past several days, I have seen nearly a dozen dreamily written articles espousing the virtues of the still-rumored new iPhone that can, in one mighty device, make video recording, editing and uploading easy (this TechCrunch article gives a good summary of the play).

Nor could one ignore that this media deluge seemed well-coordinated with a very cool, very prominent iPhone TV campaign called "There's an app for that" that touts the amazing things one can do with an iPhone. The spot shows someone effortlessly whizzing through three or four screens of what seems like an endless array of apps to "make your life easier."

Again way cool -- or "sick," as my teenage son would say. All this technology lets us rise above the mundane and do things more easily. So this new iPhone is another innovation in a long line of "time saving" technologies that included going from rocks to washing machines or replacing POTS (plain old telephone service) with real-time video chat.

It's easy to see why this myth is very seductive even if it is, well, plainly wrong.

The truth is simply this: Technology makes tasks easier, but it does not make our lives easier. Whether we are talking about replacing rocks with washing machines or rotary telephones with mobile video-chat devices, technology, in fact, makes our lives more complicated.

Now before I hear all of you saying I am techno-phobic marketing type, let me note that I have over 15 years in the technology space alone, so I eat, live and breathe this stuff. But I also put it in perspective. Technology simply shifts where we invest our efforts -- and by looking at the example of the rock vs. the washing machine, you'll see what I mean.

While tedious, the amount of effort required to wash clothes via our reliable rock was predictable, the materials were readily available and the results, while not brilliant, were adequate. Rocks don't break, and rivers don't (usually) go away.

Now let's compare that to the washing machine. The actual task of washing is infinitely easier and the results better. But that's where the washing machine's advantage ends. To get it to work requires a huge aquatic infrastructure, and the physical machine can be pricey and dicey. Let's not forget the expense in time and money to maintain or repair the machine. Wait -- it doesn't end there. Now with our new, increased capacity to wash clothes, we need dryers to process all those wet clothes, which creates a whole other set of expensive, time-consuming tasks. I hope one enterprising young MBA out there takes me up on the challenge to calculate the total ROI of washing machine vs. rock. I bet I know what wins.

Which brings me back to the iPhone. As I watched the spot of all those apps going by, my initial thought was, "How the heck do you sort through all the apps to find the ones I want?" Then I thought, "I wonder how long or how many times I would actually use any of these apps?" Then I started to wonder, "Where will I store all those easily snapped videos since I won't want to upload all of them to YouTube?"

And this is the heart of the matter. The seduction of new technology belies the reality that technology is often neither a time saver nor even more efficient. Yet sometimes when I read the press covering a new gadget, it seems blinded by the brilliance of the technology to be objective. All I ask is that we play it straight with people: Technology is cool and helps simplify some aspects of our lives. But the myth that technology makes our lives easier deserves to die.

So while the iPhone can let me get a mailing label done easier, I may just pull out my pen. After all, my pen does not run out of juice too often.

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Judy Shapiro is senior VP at Paltalk and has held senior marketing positions at Comodo, Computer Associates, Lucent Technologies, AT&T and Bell Labs. Her blog, Trench Wars, provides insights on how to create business value on the internet.

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