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The Headache of 'Social' Technology

If the measuring criterion is "anything that makes life easier," technology has failed miserably.
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Here's my idea of great technology: anything that makes life easier. Give me the product, the platform, the software, or the app that removes a layer of complexity from my daily routine, and I am a fan for life.

I can't imagine this is news. Think of the relief people must have felt when they realized they'd no longer have to get up in the pre-dawn cold to stoke the fire for breakfast or head down to spend the entire day by the river to beat underclothes clean on a rock. What a luxury all that newfound leisure time must have seemed! More time for family, friends, and the people, hobbies and life you really care about.

But over the last few decades, technology has worked its way from our functional/working lives, and has moved rather aggressively into our social lives. And if the measuring criterion is "anything that makes life easier," this technology has failed miserably. When it comes to online communication and social technology, I feel like Lucy working at the chocolate factory, scrambling to keep up with an ever-faster conveyor belt, desperate to hold everything together but doomed to failure.

I'm up at dawn answering emails from multiple accounts and feel the pull of Facebook to keep up with friends and family and to let them know I'm paying attention and I care. My Twitter and RSS feeds are full of things I should be reading, following, and responding to. I can't keep track of who sent me what, where, and when, or who needs to be contacted when, where, and how. Add to that the fact that every day there's a new technology -- one that I'm supposed to know about, check out, learn about. From where I stand, these aren't "solutions," just more problems. It's maddening, and I'm pretty sure I'm not alone.

Instead of introducing more social technology, I'd like to make a simple proposition: How about instead of more, bigger, newer as the goals, we just aim for better?

Here's what I think real solutions should take on:

Email Overload. Enough. The multiple accounts are a headache. How did I arrive at this insane place with two work accounts, and three social (including the old Yahoo! address that I haven't had the heart to retire)? But the real mess is all the messages. Hours of my day go to sorting, filtering, trashing and only then getting to actually responding. Then I go and complicate things even further by doing something like accidentally emailing a colleague from my personal account (say goodbye to that hour you spend looking for that email you know you sent but just can't find any record of, until you finally realize your own human frailty is to blame. Yeah, Lucy, I feel you...). Rare is the day when I'm not barely holding it all together.

Too Many Platforms With Disconnected Purposes. Yes, there's always an app for that, but then there's a desktop application for that other thing, and social media channel for that one, and... Why does every relationship and way of interacting have to require a completely new solution to do it? Why can't I just communicate with people how I want, in one place?

No Way to Get at Priority Information. "Define priority," you say, right? For work? For family? For my soccer tournament? The very important vacation my friends and I are planning for six months from now? What's most important to me at any given moment is top of my mind right then, and I would love to just be able to get at that. Give me the most important, most recent, most relevant conversation or information without making me sift, sort, or dig.

The Struggle to Keep Track of People. You'd think with all the different platforms and ways of communicating, we'd all know exactly how to get in touch with each other at any time, right? Right. I'd say that at least once a day I search emails, Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter to try to find someone's contact info, and even then, I've been known to come up empty-handed. I can find myself wondering what technology is even for when I try to put together my annual Christmas card mailing list. It makes me nostalgic for the phone book. And that's saying something.

In a nutshell, I don't want to be busier. I know there are people who take some sort of perverse pleasure in saying, I'm so busy. I'm not one of them. I want technology that gives me back my leisure time. The idea is to spend less time with my phone, my computer, my tablet, so that I can sit down to dinner with my family, hear about my kids' day at school, ditch work early for drinks with my girlfriends, take a two-week vacation... you get the idea. But rest assured, I'm making my leisure wish list, and you should be too. The next wave of great technology is going to give us back our time. Facetime!