The hypocrisy of simplicity

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The commitment to simplicity gets used religiously in the professional world, but those that push it may be living with blinders on. A message should be simple, your daily routines should be simplified to ensure they are the most convenient that they can be, technology should be simple to maximise adoption and usage, and the list goes on. We want to strip down our task to its bare essentials so that the output efficiently serves the user or usage that it was intended for. This is great but I find it funny that the same forces that push this “way of working” are also pushing two other professional favourites-of-the-day that fight simplicity: innovation and consumerism.

The intent of this simplified world is great but it is often at odds with another movement that has consumed the professional landscape: innovation. We need only look at the infographic below on the future of TV. The information and arguments made by Guide (see a video and article related to the infographic here) are very compelling but underscore several problems with innovation. First, with the breadth of things that exist already, we are developing products and services for the most unique, specialised, and random things. They may be highly useful to a specialised audience, yet they just add another “thing” that eats up more of your time, your day. The second innovation pitfall is layering. The TV example below is a case in point: adding multiple products together in one device. Sure it is great to have everything in one place, but it does not get at the root of the problem which is that there is too much stuff to comb through. Sure future generations will be excellent multi-taskers but there is a saturation point where the ingoing utility or true pleasure of products or services get lost. Bottom line, innovation often is not be the simplifying agent that the professional world desires, but instead it is a powerful force that challenges it.

Simplicity is also at odds with another dynamic of culture at large: consumerism. We may be talking about economies in peril and tightening of purse strings, but brands keep pumping out products and services, the media keep speaking about “new stuff”, celebrity culture fuels the “more” mentality, and our values are becoming more materialistic. So we continue to buy: products, apps, tech devices, cars, clothes, accessories, and so on. At some point, there is no more room: be in spacial, mental, or spiritual. Consumerism is creating over-capacity. Simplicity cannot live in this reality because simplicity really means sacrifice which no one wants to make (often because it is viewed as a sign of weakness!).

So will the future really be more simplicity oriented? The answer lies in our (society’s) ability to make sacrifices. Early observations of social media consolidation or consumer platform preferences and app exhaustion would suggest that the hunger for a more analog living is gaining momentum. We crave experiences after all, because they shape our identities and give us meaning, and these require time. The hours in a day aren’t growing so we will have to give up, or not consume certain things. We will see what that looks like.


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