Offline A pause in navigation

Squeezed bread and toasted lemon

July , 1999

disponibile anche in Italiano

  Giancarlo Livraghi
For other comments on internet marketing
see the Netmarketing online newsletter




I have no plans to buy another video recorder, but I was interested in an ad for a new one that works with a single button. I hope it's true, because that would mean that someone is putting a little common sense into technology. I read that several large companies, under a deluge of protest for those obnoxious "press one, press two" automatic systems, are hiring dozens of people to answer the phone properly. So, here and there, there are glimpses of reason...

But the main stream is still running in the wrong direction. I've read several books written by people who are definitely not "technophobes": they work full time on technology. But even they are having a hard time with the multiple functions in all sorts of devices from tape recorders to car alarms to phone answering systems. One of them (Michael Dertzous) tells us how he had to cancel a trip because a forced download of a "friendly" software in Prodigy's online booking system made him miss the flight.

This is not just a matter of fatware, now so desperately overweight that it can hardly move, and obviously in need of a drastic slimming treatment. There's also a disease called "convergence": when everybody (and everything) tries to do too many things, nothing gets done properly.

Online services are busy merging and buying each other (see, for instance, The War of the Portals) so that soon, with everyone doing everything, we won't be able to understand who does what; while the greatest value on the net is diversity and specialization.

If I bought a toaster that also squeezes lemons I could easily find myself with toasted lemons and squeezed bread; while the machine (before I could stop it) would call my cousin to tell her that the lemon is toasted, switch of the refrigerator, put on the light in the cellar and call a bar to order sixteen juices and twentyfour sandwiches. Ridiculous? Yes. But that's what's happening with the messy software that we are forced to use.

A recent article in The Economist indicated that not only Compaq, but the entire PC market is in trouble in the US. People and companies are unwilling to replace the computers they bought three or four years ago; if and when they buy a new one they don't want to pay too much. Prices are expected to decrease to $ 300 - or lower. Companies with websites or other online activities are advised to keep them simple and avoid forcing people to upgrade their equipment for the sake of getting in touch with them.

It has been obvious for a long time that the trend needed to be reversed. I was not the only one to point this out three years ago (see The Hermes Pendulum and the Art of Lightness – October 1996) or earlier. We need better computers (that means simpler and more reliable) with better software (that means simpler, easier and more compatible) and both should cost much less. That's the answer to many problems, including those reported recently by the United Nations (it took them a very long time to understand the problem of the "information havenots" and they seem to have very confused ideas on what to do about it).

Home Page Gandalf