Good Tech, Bad Tech

The more I have time to think about it, the more I know I that I prefer to work in customer-facing roles.  Maybe it’s a hero complex.  Or, maybe it’s all that empathy I inherited from my mother.  That is, I really do like to make people’s lives with computers better… and I like to see the results of my work… and not just vicariously through my boss but face to face with the client who will be using it.

Given that I’m not a huge fan of all the time computers have wasted in my life, perhaps this need to help others is just my way of paying penance for all that waste — a chance to take some of those skills absorbed during that wasted time and use them to reduce the bad effects of computing and technology on other people’s time.

We are swimming in a world of design dichotomy.  Good design is becoming increasingly exclusive to the rich, and bad design is getting worse and spreading like the plague among products marketed to both the middle class and the poor.  And what are us middle-class geniuses doing about it?  Nothing, for the most part, else bad design would not be spreading like melted peanut butter on burnt toast.  Look at all the disposable junk we buy!  From the dollar store, to Ikea, none of it is sturdy like grandpa’s old rocking chair is, let alone, repairable, or even worth repairing.

Why should software be any different than hardware?  It isn’t.  Too much of it gets the same “it works doesn’t it?” treatment.  Fortunately, re-engineering of the more popular software is relatively cheap and generally heads in the right direction.  Thus, most of what the public sees is pretty good… at least, on the outside.  Still, too many internal tools and too many external innovation attempts fail to provide the level of happiness they had hoped for, I am sure, due to bad design.  There are some solid and smart tools out there that struggle on the edge of obscurity because they have an interface that only a dedicated geek could love.  Then there are very “pretty” tools out there that are either: (1) pretty at first glance but are as confusing as a tangled Slinky, or (2) pretty but empty-headed and don’t work well.  Many of these pretty-but-pretty-useless tools linger on — probably because of our silly human hope that pretty things will somehow lead to happiness.  I find anything to be well built and fully functional to be beautiful.  Sure, some beauty tends to rate better than other beauty but, to me, it is still beautiful once you reach a certain threshold of build and design.

I, for one, am long sick of all the naive greed of the general public.  All the shiny, new, plastic-coated techno-turds we buy is appalling.  I work with the poor and it is shocking to see, first hand, how most of them spend way WAY more on gadgets than I do.  Buy the latest or most available shiny thing — play with it like a cat does with a dead mouse for bit — repeat.  The sense of entitlement for quick pleasure over hard work, among the poor, is thick in today’s America.  As bad as that is, the middle class is even worse… they just hide it better with bigger houses, credit cards, and too many parents working too many hours instead of investing in family values.  (If this were a political blog, I might now rant about us trading family values for a flood of college grads and middle-class workers and, thus, driving up supply and driving down salaries — meaning, the rich-to-middle and middle-to-poor wage gaps are our own dumb fault.)  What ever happened to shopping habits like: (1) think about it a while, (2) buy something you believe will last forever, and then (3) take care of it like you just spent your hard-earned money on it?  I won’t buy a dining chair unless it looks like I can kick it a hundred times and still not break it.  Which, usually means, if I want a dining chair, I need to save up for it and shop around for something sturdy and somewhat affordable.

Please excuse the above tangents to the introduced topic but they serve to make a point.  This type of criticality for the “why bother” of design goes into every purchase I make as well as everything else I do.  Therefore, would it be all that surprising then that I really do care about all aspects of the software tools and apps I build for other people?  That I really do try my best to put my own wants aside to build something of quality that all people will like?  I am neither my code… nor my favorite design style.  I will rebuild myself, if necessary, to get a smile because I am made from the smiles I bring into this world.  What more could possibly be worth living for?  How else can I possibly hope to change the world?

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