This morning I needed to respond to an email request for action. It was a simple task.
But the email says I did not respond to a recent voice mail. I search my phone and learn I have had no voice mail messages for days. Now I have a mystery to solve. Does my voice mail work?
The email that asked me to do the task answered one question I had about the task from prior conversations but not another. So I can only do a half-reply with the information I have. Now my history of email messages with this business contact splits into two, as the topic has bifurcated. Twice the complication, thanks to the design limitations of email communications.
I notice the message also asks me to check a calendar date. That means picking up my phone…and noticing I have a text message alert. Do I look? Must be important at this time of day. I resist, but my mind is now spread over the incoming text message curiosity, my missing voice mail mystery, and the task at hand that has now turned one email chain into two or three.
I search my sent emails to remind myself what I asked for, and what I have. I need a file that I can’t find in any direct way, but I figure out a clever way to find a copy.
Wait, wasn’t I checking my calendar? It takes about ten clicks on my phone to close an app, hunt for my calendar app, open it, and navigate to the date in question. By then I have had seven new thoughts and literally do not remember why I opened the calendar in the first place. Ten clicks to do one task is far too many.
At some point in that process it occurred to me that I should document my internal thoughts to show how complicated the world has become. So I am doing that now. And I literally do not recall why I opened my calendar in the first place. That was 25 thoughts ago.
This is why we are all crazy. There is no such thing as a simple task. Every little thing becomes a mental marathon of app-switching, searching for old emails, troubleshooting technology problems, and juggling five questions spread over seven emails.
I blame our many legacy systems for this situation. The idea of an “application” makes no sense in 2015. I should be able to start my task directly and let my software figure out which app to use and how. That part should not be my job.
For example, if want to check my calendar, I should be able to start typing a date in some blank page on my device and have the operating system know I must want to see my calendar, so it pops up. We need to get rid of the step where you have to choose a device and an app before you can do any simple task. The task has to come first, with the choice of app at the end, or automatic. That’s how you will keep your mind straight in complex situations.
And why do messages come to me via text, WhatsApp, Facebook, IMs, and my several email accounts? I don’t want to first pick an app before sending a message. I want to start typing or talking my message and select the app when I am done, or not at all if the software guesses right.
And everything I do on my phone or computer should be grouped by project, not by application. That way the distractions you encounter will all be in the same context at least. That probably helps.
I realize I say things that sound like exaggerations to you. And this is a blog, so you expect that sort of thing. But without exaggeration, I believe our app-first technologies, and the unnecessary complications of daily life, are literally driving normal folks insane. And in this context I mean an adult will seek mind-altering prescription meds just to keep the gun out of his mouth.
Marriage and family life has the same legacy problem. I’ll get to that in another post.
One of the great strengths of America, being a youngish country, is that we sometimes don’t mind tossing tradition out the window in the name of efficiency. I think we need to get a lot more aggressive about that now for mental health reasons.
I would start by designing from scratch the following legacy systems:
1. Marriage and child-rearing (Doesn’t work in the smartphone era)
2. Education (We teach the wrong topics in the wrong way.)
3. App-centric operating systems (Drives us crazy, literally)
4. Government (Poorly designed for 2015)
5. Taxes. (Should be automatic.)
Are there any other legacy systems you would overhaul?
If you want to make an author smile, try leaving this sort of book review on Amazon.
This review was for God’s Debris, written in 2001. The book is experiencing a sales resurgence for some reason. It might be because the sequel, The Religion War, predicts the rise of ISIS (Caliphate) and predicts that terrorists will start using hobby-sized drones for attacks in other countries.
Or maybe it was this video of a teen who put a gun on a drone and fired it at targets in the woods. That should be the last time a president appears outdoors in public.