It’s 2014 and Everything is Terrible
6:30am. Wake up, thanks to the alarm on my iPhone. Check various inboxes, spread across Gmail and iCloud. Read Twitter. Say hello to the people I love half way across the world on Facebook.
Check Google calendar and iCloud calendar with Fantastical. Find out if I need a jacket with iOS. Walk to work.
Write my blog posts in Editorially. Work with coworkers on Google Docs. Spend time designing documents in Pages. Spend more time exporting all those words to PDF and Word documents.
Walk home. Turn on the telly. Watch something on Netflix, via the Apple TV. Buy a movie on iTunes. Wait 4 hours for it to start streaming. Buy a movie on Google Play. Start watching it in Chrome, then send it to Chromecast.
Timeout error. Could not update. Sync failed. Weep softly.
The Difficult Disconnect of the Digital Age is a first world problem if there ever was one. But let’s not let that stop us from talking about it, because it’s important. It’s how we make progress.
This, being a design problem at heart, intrigues me. It’s actually quite a good thing that no single company or service has pulled The Solution™ out of the hat; it leaves room—and quite a lot of it, too—for innovation and competition. It’s healthy. But it’s also damn frustrating.
What this really comes down to is a classification of edge cases. I’m sure Johnny Appleseed—with his reliable, 100mb/s fibre optic broadband, bottomless bank account, and freshly-ground coffee—gets on just fine with his life, without a single second of technological frustration. He wakes up, thanks to his iPhone, with his events perfectly synced with his colleagues (who just happens to be using Microsoft Outlook 365 XP Platinum Edition Calendar to schedule and manage his events), walks to work, jamming to “Whatever-Song-He-Wants” on iTunes Radio, works collaboratively with iCloud documents, gets home, and puts on Disney’s timeless classic, “A Movie”, on iTunes via his Apple TV.
But Sally Reality is having a harder day. Her patchy internet connection means her events didn’t sync properly, but her phone didn’t let her know. She’s on her way to work before she realises “Whatever-Song-She-Wants” isn’t on iTunes. Her Editor is working in Google Docs, but she wrote everything in ByWord; yet her Publisher needs PDFs. Frustrated, she gets home, buys a movie, and waits for it to be ready to watch. The following evening.
In the eyes of Apple, Microsoft, or many other industry giants, Sally is having a really hard day. Unfortunately, they’re looking through rose-tinted Google Glass. Sally isn’t an edge case. She’s a typical case.
This is why we design. For you and me and Sally and Johnny. To make our lives, and the lives of the people we love, hate, and those in desperate need easier.
I don’t expect the great disconnect to get any better any time soon. It will take years of cooperation across the disparate companies and services, or companies that strive—and succeed—to be the very best at something, and do it really bloody well. Consistently, too. (Hint; I can think of at least one company in this category.)
Until then, let’s all keep working, sighing, and submitting to the gadget overlords in our homes and pockets.