Zynga is closing down some of its games today. One of the games is Petville – where you have virtual pets you take care of and buy things for. The comments from people whose ‘virtual’ pets are being killed off are a reminder that people and people’s feelings are far more important than software and hardware.
Technology only holds value/meaning if it creates an impact in people’s lives. If it makes people FEEL things.
We tend to forget that devices and technology are meaningless in themselves. It is how devices affect people and the feelings they create that give them meaning.
Would a tree falling in the forest make a sound if there was no one to hear it?
It (the notion that devices in themselves are nothing) might sound like heresy to people working in technology who think the software they make, the devices they manufacture, the cars they build, and the planes they construct are masterpieces. That it doesn’t matter how they impact people or their lives or their feelings. Just the existence of the technology is beautiful in itself.
Actually, it’s not (except to the creators). The existence of technology means nothing until it reaches people.
A hammer by itself is powerless. A hammer used to build a house that people will live in and cherish is something beautiful.
Twin Traps of Technology Fetishism and Fashion Obsession
We’ve fallen into two very interesting traps –
- The first trap is that technical specifications of devices have meaning. That having a quad core processor is somehow twice as good as having a two core processor – even if there is no difference in the end user experience.
- The second trap is that the device and its beauty is the center of the universe. That it’s not the person who gives the device meaning, but the opposite.
They are both traps. The first gleefully endorsed by the technologically savvy and the second spread by the aesthetically adept (or obsessed or addicted).
A device that has impressive specifications but doesn’t create some great value for the device owner is just a technology fetish. A device that looks beautiful but doesn’t provide great value is just a fashion accessory.
Devices are defined by how People use them
A device gains relevance when people start using it and it starts impacting their lives. When people feel something about it.
There are different things different companies go after –
- One device manufacturer says – Let’s put in 57 different shiny new technologies. The user will be so happy to have access to these new technologies that it doesn’t matter what using the device is actually like.
- A second device manufacturer says – Let’s polish and pretty up the device so that it sparkles. The user will be so busy showing off that she won’t care if some things don’t feel right.
- Somewhere, hidden away in the Arctic perhaps, is a device manufacturer who thinks only in terms of the core. Not the extrinsics like fashion or technology fetishism or price or addictions. Just the core – What does the device do? How does it make the user feel? How can we perfect that?
Subjugating a device’s core purpose to extrinsic things – closed ecosystems, fashion and trends, technology, business priorities. That’s just a corruption of the core ideal. All of it just gets in the way of the device doing justice to its core functionality.
People want to feel good about their devices
Yes, this is in both extrinisc and intrinsic ways. Extrinsically,
- People want devices that make them feel they got good value for money OR that they got the chance to show they have disposable income OR that they are most certainly not willing to waste money on expensive things.
- People want devices that are pretty and make them look cool and sophisticated.
- Some people prefer devices that make them look smart and knowledgable.
- Often people want devices that convey a philosophy or an idea.
- People want devices that have extrinisic qualities with in turn help people get extrinisic things (coolness, popularity, confidence, contentment, congruence with an idea they hold dear).
Intrinsically, however, is where it gets really interesting. People, sooner or later, run into the core uses of a device i.e.
- People end up using the device for what it’s meant for.
- This either works great and people feel satisfied and great about themselves and in control.
- Or it doesn’t work and people feel stupid and that they don’t control things and realize that the device made them feel bad.
This intrinsic part, in my opinion, is ten times more important than anything extrinsic.
The device must do its core function so well, and with such ease of use, that users LOVE it and Feel good about it, and about themselves. Regardless of the extrinsics.
Devices & People & Feelings
A great many people who make devices and technologies suffer from one of two fatal flaws (sometimes both) –
- They don’t realize (or perhaps don’t give importance to) the fact that a device or technology they are making has the power to make people feel things. That their creations can make a person’s day (and life) better or worse. Not just at the ‘getting things done’ level, but also at the ‘how I feel’ level.
- They can’t, or don’t want to, step into the common users’ shoes and view the device as the common user will see it. The common user will see the device as ‘providing something’. Not as a combination of a four core processor and a NFC chip and a Wireless card. For the user, the device is a living, breathing thing that the user interacts with and which affects the user’s life and emotions and ability to get things done.
So we end up with devices built for robots and non-thinking non-feeling automatons when we need devices built for human beings.
The average user is wary of technology. Simply because she has been trained that interacting with technology is usually painful and frustrating. Simply because she feels good before dealing with technology but bad afterwards.
It’s time for device makers to change that. So that people look forward to using new technologies.
Device makers think of making devices as fitting a brick into a wall. It is actually more like counting stars. It’s not about the dimensions and the fit and the numbers – it’s about the experience and the joy.