Future Shock And Wanting My Knobs Back

I received many great comments on the post I Want My Knobs Back where I opined on how overly complex things are getting – particularly copy machines. 

Astute reader Elaine, who correctly points out that I am a technology guy at heart, said, “First, in a strange way, it is ironic that a ‘technology guy’ like yourself is having difficulty with ‘technology’.”  Can you imagine what little old ladies are experiencing?  

I agree with both points.  It is ironic, and I have actually been known to say, “Gee, if I can’t figure this out, how can a little old lady begin to deal with it?” 

To the first point, Elaine actually comes up with the same answer I do when she says, “In my mind, this whole thing started with the word processing programs.  When all we wanted to do was edit and print documents, we got features we didn’t need.  Now what we continue to get is every function imaginable.  If you can dream it up, will never use it or maybe use it once in a lifetime, you’ll have it in the next version – guaranteed.” 

I couldn’t have said it better myself. 

So all I can add is that Alvin Toffler, the futurist and author of Future Shock, wrote about this very thing in 1970.  I was a young man then and his book made a major dent in my brain which remains today (along with other accumulated dents – chuckle).  He made a number of important points about too much change in our lives, and the increasing speed of change as we move into the future. 

But to Elaine’s point, he also talked about a concept of “overchoice,” that we would face so many choices that some of us would virtually go into “future shock.” 

He illustrated this by describing the huge shelf space reserved for toothpaste in grocery stores, and how we are faced with so many choices over a basic item.  We spend confusing minutes trying to decide which to buy – and it’s just a simple, basic item.  This is eerily familiar to Elaine’s comments 40 years later (or maybe not, after all, he was a futurist).

Alvin said “[Overchoice takes place when] the advantages of diversity and individualization are canceled by the complexity of buyer’s decision-making process.”

Elaine thinks the advantages of all these software features are canceled by the complexity they introduce.  I agree and feel the same way about the 10,000 features on the copy machine.

Alvin drove his point home by publishing his book in many different colored covers.  So when I went to buy my copy, there was Future Shock in a blue cover, yellow cover, green cover and red cover.  So, of course, it took me a few minutes to decide which color of his book I wanted to buy (I think he was a bit of a comedian as well). 

So Elaine was spot on with her comments, and I thank her for sharing my “overchoice” pain. 

Which is why, in a complicated world, with too much change, and technological, meaningless overchoice, it’s nice to get back to nature, and contemplate the friendly basics.  Like trees for example. 

Some of us are so “overchoiced” we even draw cartoons about them. 

Have a simple day – J. Daniel

P.S. Important point here – I chose the red cover. 

P.P.S. The following links are interesting if you want to learn more about overchoice and Future Shock. 



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