Engaging Simplicity in a Complicated Context
Technology is an inherently complex space by the very nature of the amount of knowledge or information one must have to engage in it properly. Ergo, technological simplification or minimalism is inherently complex, as well. You might even say it is more of an art than a science.
I work in technology and manage technology points of service that interact with all levels of experience. Helping people with technology problems requires both a deep understanding of the problem itself and an aptitude in how to communicate the problem in a way that people can understand.
I use the word "technology" generally to reflect the way laypeople might approach it. Based on the specific context, "the amount of knowledge or information one must have to engage in it properly" varies. However, there are generalities that can be approached by anyone and has been quantified to some extent in research.
As a good example, cybersecurity for a layperson could simply mean protecting one's passwords (even if "protecting" means using a combination safe or a locked drawer with a sticky note system), but for a deeper contextual understanding of the ins and outs of cybersecurity, a person must have knowledge, experiential or textual, to provide adequate understanding to engage on the topic with confidence.
As a point of curiosity, I found two pieces that I wrote in 2018 on the phenomenon of technological simplification or minimalism that seemed useful in this context. My perspective is one that is at the intersection of technologist and tech support, so my thoughts are focused on how to simplify technology for support (work-related, to some extent) and how I as a technologist can get away with simplifying my own use of technology (both work and personally relevant).
In the case of email, the normal person uses one app to deal with email; the normal person doesn’t really care about the naming conventions of their email Archive; the normal person doesn’t care how many messages are sitting in their email Archive; (maybe the normal person doesn’t even use the Archive); and the normal person would never think of moving messages between email services or applications.
The key to this whole discussion though is the understanding that I am doing something diametrically opposed to what I am expected to do as a technologist. I am expected to be interested in the new products announced by that major corporation; I am expected to have my finger on the pulse of every startup company in existence; I am expected to spend my nights binge-watching every episode of that streaming TV show. I am expected to always have a screen within arms reach if not already in my hand. If the best camera is the one you have with you, my wife's best camera is often, "can I have your phone for a minute?"
Inevitably, I need to do what I have to do for work, but my personal life can be as simple as I need it to be to retain my individuality and teach my children what should be important, especially when their world is wrapped up in screen time constantly with virtual learning.
This is an introduction to a series of posts about technological simplification broadly writ. I have planned a number of pieces in the series, including discussions of the place of digital media, devices, and the internet in our lives.
In writing this piece, my first draft used digital media as an example. It was both too long and too broad. My hope is that with a focal point in each post in the series, I can deep dive into topics of value to assist others in their technological simplification while keeping the relative length digestible.
I mentioned research on this topic above. Note the following key points from the summary of that research:
The remaining three quarters [of survey participants] were sorted into four levels of proficiency: below level one; level one; level two; and level three. Only 5% of the population reached level three – those most proficient in computer-related activities.
I suggest you read the summary, which is very short and linked twice in this piece. The original research is book-length, but was a great deep dive into the types of people I was supporting at my service desks. If we are to believe that only five percent of people are able to approach technology (writ large) with any level of proficiency or confidence, how can we expect them to approach wrangling said technology for the sake of, for instance, true cybersecurity practices.
The advent of the smartphone in the form of the iPhone back in 2007 marked, for some, the end of the digital divide because the likelihood that someone had a computer, albeit in their pocket, was exponentially raised. However, the digital divide of my lifetime may not have to do with access to a device, instead focusing on understanding the power of those devices. That power includes: that which they have over us in an addictive sense, that which we have with them in an amplified voice sense, and that which others may have over us through them in both a social and security sense.
In order to truly wield these little wonders, one must venture to understand not only how to use them but their potential impacts, both positive and negative.