Complex solutions for simple problems

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I went to the restroom at the Ventura mall on Friday. Never mind that I was in a mall. (You will never find a more wretched hive of greed and superficiality). The point of this story is elsewhere. More specifically, in the restroom. Like many commercial restrooms everything there was automatic–the urinal, the faucet, the soap dispenser, and the towel dispenser. Everything.

The problem was, the faucet and the soap dispenser were broken. I waved my hand like a crazy person in front of the sensors for the faucet and the dispenser. Nothing.

Frustrating, yes. Annoying, yes. Unsanitary, most definitely. Technologically questionable, also yes.

When an older faucet or dispenser broke the fix was mechanical, which meant even I could get it up and working again. A trip to the local hardware store and boom! Sir Fix-a-lot (yours truly) conquers another DIY dragon. With the new hardware the issue is digital, which means that pretty much no one can fix it. Yours truly doesn’t even know where to start.

This issue has several dimensions to me: epistemological (are we designing ourselves into an epistemological corner where a tiny percentage of people will be qualified to repair these items?); ecological (is this a good use of very limited resources—such as rare earth minerals?); complexity theory (as things become more complex do they become more inefficient?); and practical (how do we fix these items in a timely manner?). I can envision a time when people won’t be able to do the easiest of tasks, like changing the spark plugs in their…oh, wait, never mind.

Seriously, why are we spending time and energy making simple things more complex? Unfortunately, it seems more like a fascination with gadgetry than a valuable contribution to our future. That’s my half pence, at least.

Instapaper’s new (again) usefulness

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I’ve discovered another reason to love Instapaper: blog post material. I see some good stuff on Twitter that I capture with Instapaper until such time that I can actually read it without distraction, and when I read without distraction I can usually get the brain gears clunking together well enough to manage a thought or two I want to share. I’ve just realized how useful it is to have a slew of material at my fingertips. Win.

Camera+ and Instagram

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…are two of the best apps I’ve used. To say I’m infatuated with them is probably a fair statement. And it’s not only that they produce quality images: the beauty of the UI, especially with Camera+, is aesthetically fascinating. It’s a pleasure to interact with the individual elements, which are intuitive and amazingly full-featured for a free and a 99¢ app, respectively. One week in and they are already among the few apps I tap on a daily basis, plus I now feel as if I’m using the full capabilities of my camera and I’m seeing the world with the eyes of a photographer again, which is to say that I’m seeing everyday objects through the lens of the new and the different. I love that lens.

The fine art of procrastination

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This is a (very) quick note to say that I realize and recognize and verifize that I am VERY good at procrastinating. Because I should be writing. Right now. But I’ve been checking my email, twittering my workout, cleaning the house, pretty much anything that doesn’t involve working on my story.

New rule! (Thank you, Bill Maher). I’m going to write first. Then, as a reward, I’ll be able to play with my computer.

I’m also going to literally shut off my wi-fi connection. Disconnect. Focus. Achieve.

Or something like that.

Distractions

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Email, twitter, rss feeds, facebook, youtube…the internet is artificially inducing ADD…

…I didn’t use to spend hours flitting from one piece of irrelevant datum to another like a hummingbird looking for its next sugar high…

…a new email. My eyes flit to the growl notification as it ghosts onto the screen, my mind quickly assess whether it’s important or unnecessary. If it’s not, I move back to my original task….

…but I’m already lost. My mind has begun to wander. Perhaps the email reminded me of another task I had planned, or perhaps the title inspired me to twitter something, or perhaps, perhaps…

…and I have work to do. Real work. Things that take time and quiet and a high level of concentration. Things that are meaningful and profound and important…

…yet I stray again, my fingers hit keyboard shortcuts of their own volition, and before I realize it I’m reading the daily email from the NYT, clicking on interesting links, and being enveloped by information, my brain sating itself on the novel, the controversial, the humorous, the grotesque…

…no more! I must reassert control of my attention span; I will not allow my free will to be subverted by the smooth, cool grays and attractive, rounded edges of firefox, netnewswire, or apple mail; I will be master of my day and my destiny.

Starting now.