Web Complexity Necessitates Tools That Simplify

If you've been reading my column recently, you'll know that life is pretty turbulent around here. On Twitter, it's being described as "death by a thousand cuts," and from where I sit that sums it up pretty accurately. Everything is just a bit more complicated, takes a bit more time, and requires a bit more effort and brainpower than it normally would. By global standards we may still be exceptionally well off, but our nerves are frayed, our personal resources are at a low ebb, and our collective sleep deprivation is taking its toll.

So it should come as no surprise that I am incapable of reading anything intellectual at the moment. My normal daily activities require so much effort that I have no brainpower left to process anything beyond the absolutely critical. So, instead of books like the fantastically educational and engaging "Nudge" by Sunstein and Thaler, I am reduced to Lee Child : cotton candy for the mind.



Obviously, our particular circumstances are extreme, but entropy of this sort is not in any way unusual. Around the world, our lives are getting more complicated. Our information overload is getting worse, and, as the possibilities before us grow infinite thanks to the ready availability of ever-more-powerful technological tools, the need to focus, to pare down, and to exercise discernment becomes more than desirable; it becomes essential.

We've seen this before; it is the contractive phase of the innovation cycle, the counterpoint to the expansive phase that allows greater access to or generation of content. Printing press arises, allowing the masses to write books; editors and publishers arise, helping consumers identify the worthwhile reads. Internet arises, allowing anyone to create a website; directories and search engines arise, helping navigate the sea of information. When anyone can code an app, we need an Apple to rely on for quality and simplicity.

And now we are overwhelmed by the mass proliferation of our own user-generated content; we are drowning in our status updates, our tweets, our social graph, and our photos. The inevitable and necessary contractive phase calls for services, innovations, and technologies that centralize and simplify the way we navigate these technologies.

This is the backdrop against which a service like PhotoRocket, which launched at DEMO at the beginning of the month, gets serious attention. PhotoRocket is a service that makes it easier to use your other photo services. Install the app and suddenly you can right-click (if you're a non-designery PC user like myself) on a pic to share it on Twitter, Flickr, Facebook, and email in a single move. A new Flickr or Picasa would simply add to the noise; a tool that makes it easier to engage in your existing photo-sharing activities becomes a maintainer of sanity.

And, on a more serious note, it's the same backdrop against which a site like CrowdVoice, which collates and organizes voices of dissent in places like Yemen, Tunisia, and Egypt, becomes essential and lifesaving. Esra'a Al Shafei, the founder of CrowdVoice, spoke at TED; we were advised that taking her photo would put her life in danger. For activists like her, people who are literally putting their lives on the line to stand up for what they believe is right, the spare time to peruse Twitter and Facebook and forums and blogs is a luxury they cannot afford. They are running their revolutions, and concise, well-organized access to essential information, public sentiment, and breaking news can literally represent the difference between life and death.

Are you suffering from information overload? The easiest way to share your favorite make-your-life-simpler tools is on Twitter or in the comments.

2 comments about "Web Complexity Necessitates Tools That Simplify".
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  1. Richard Monihan, March 29, 2011 at 11:03 a.m.

    The expansive phase is, in economic terms, when optimism is high and risks are taken - often outlandish risks. The contractive phase is when profits are made, and risks are sorted out more carefully on the basis of recent historical context, and information is shared widely.
    We are in the expansive phase of information overload. The contractive phase of technological advance has led to the expansive phase of information. It's always the manner in which it occurs. Consider Gutenberg - his advance in technology hadn't changed dramatically by the 1700's, but the information which was already spreading was considered "a threat" by those who previously had almost complete control over education and information. It was considered to be information overload, news getting to people who didn't need it or know what to do with it.
    This single invention, the printing press, was the greatest of all time because it improved living standards dramatically. In 500 years since its invention, mankind has risen further than in thousands of years prior. This improvement is entirely due to the expansion of knowledge and information.
    The same thing is happening today. But with a big difference - the information we're getting is often minutiae, of little value. Sorting out the nuggets from the fool's gold is the problem, and while the technology assists in this process, it's not always the best solution. In the end, it's got to be a process of personal decision.
    Are Charlie Sheen's tweets, or Ashton Kutcher's, of more value to us than paying attention to the world around us? Is a tool like Facebook or Twitter really useful for a CEO/politician/activist, or just an interesting means of sharing our lives and interests with those we care for? There is never a one size fits all answer. It is the personal decision, the desire for useful (to the individual in question) information sharing or collecting, which is important.
    I've heard quite a bit about the celebrities who tweet/facebook, etc. But to be honest haven't followed any of them. I've also heard how the Egyptian Revolution was run via these tools. But I never subscribed . Instead, I still got that information from the usual suspects (TV, Newspapers).
    We've grown up believing "the medium is the message", assuming the tool is primary, or part of, the message. This is no longer true. The message is now more important than the tools that help to put them forth. Why? In an age of mass media, where information flows to many from few sources, the medium is an important consideration. But in an age where the mass media collects individual stories, but those stories don’t have to go through the singular filter of mass media – then the marketplace of ideas has done its job and we are no longer reliant on a medium itself. The message is now message because the media allows it to be so. How we get that message – the tools we use – become a personal choice.

  2. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, April 27, 2011 at 7:57 p.m.

    Noise is noise and without filters, nothing gets through. We all may have better quality lives without the twits and sharing shoe tying.

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