To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.

-Bill Evans-

Design implies intent. However, when we are missing the holistic perspective, intentional solutions at a micro-level create unintentional consequences to the larger system. A shadow Design emerges, circumventing the Design process at the system-level and leaving us with a systemic solution that only vaguely touches on the fundamental problems that the system must solve.

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Issue 4. January 2017

design & convenience

“Convenience!” is humankind’s resonating call, a projection of entitlement that carries brazenly through our environment & drives technology bucking headlong. It is the value for which our systems are optimized.

The results are profound. The world’s knowledge at our fingertips. Packages tracked to your doorstep. Morning breakfast in 60 seconds. All the news you might care about in one, continuous stream.

It is a world in which the promise of technology is being fulfilled. It is, indeed, making our lives easier, allowing us to do more with less individual effort; to have more with less toil. And, given our current course, this is only the beginning.

But, what does it mean for humanity when a life-of-ease is our ultimate goal, our defining value? Are we any more fulfilled than the generations before? Is the world closer to what they had dreamed it would be for our children?

A hesitation.

In the inevitable rush forward, it is the external force of our driving values that give this inertia its direction. Convenience, in economic terms, is about reducing cost. When work becomes more convenient, what we once did in a week, now takes two hours. A tremendous benefit for sure. But, it is critical to remember that to reduce cost is to also reduce value. In this way, the benefit is exploited. The savings in work is lost to the expectation of increased production and we become slaves to our own convenience.

A vast technology has been developed to prevent, reduce, or terminate exhausting labor and physical damage. It is now dedicated to the production of the most trivial conveniences and comfort… Moreover, because the technology cannot be made available to everyone, our trivial gains mean costly losses for others.

- B.F Skinner, Reflections on Behaviorism and Society, 1978


Video: Chris McMullen’s Modern Convenience

Chris McMullen's Modern Convenience

‘We have our beliefs, our morals, our instincts. We have our dislike of douche bags, our mistrust of bad behavior. We have all that. But in the end it turns out that if something’s 10% cheaper and 5% faster, we’ll give it all up quicker than we can order a sandwich.’ Convenience, in other words, makes hypocrites of us all.

Convenience Makes Hypocrites of Us All, UXMatters, 2015

  • “It’s not convenient to make an exceptional product or art. It’s not convenient to be a good friend, parent or lover that takes the time to listen. It’s not convenient at all to make a difference.”

    The Problem With Convenience, a Medium post by Kiran Umapathy

  • “It is evident… that society tolerates, indeed, encourages a wide variety of practices that trade well-being, and quite-often, life itself, for convenience.”

    Laura Purdy, Abortion & The Argument from Convenience, 1996

  • “I worry that we're training children to be distracted, to confuse getting access to information with intelligence.There seems to be a redefinition of our idea of intelligence itself that is emerging. The emphasis is on how quickly you can find information, rather than what you do with it, how deeply you think about it, and how you weave it into the knowledge you already have.”

    Nicholas Carr on the 'Superficial' Webby Mind, The Atlantic, 2010

  • “It’s easier to make a phone call than to make the effort to see someone in person. Leaving a message on someone’s machine is easier than having a phone conversation – you can say what you need to say without a response; it’s easier to check in without becoming entangled. So we began calling when we knew no one would pick up. Shooting off an email is easier still, because one can further hide behind the absence of vocal inflection, and of course there’s no chance of accidentally catching someone. With texting, the expectation for articulateness is further reduced, and another shell is offered to hide in. Each step “forward” has made it easier – just a little – to avoid the emotional work of being present, to convey information rather than humanity.

    Jonathan Safran Foer, Technology is Diminishing Us, The Guardian, 2016

system goals.

We were not made in its image
but from the beginning we believed in it
not for the pure appeasement of hunger
but for its availability

From Convenience, W.S Merwin, 2012

The customers want convenience and value for their money. They want ease of use, emotional appeal. But the computer companies are all teenagers, resisting the pressures to grow up. Too bad. The customer is not well served.

Donald A Norman, reacting to the state of tech design in 1998

  • “It may be counterintuitive, but in some contexts, convenience means more work for the user, which can translate to reduced service cost for the company.”

    Ari Weissman for UX Magazine, 2012

  • “Information overflow wound up depreciating the value of each piece of news or opinion. There was simply too much misinformation and junk data floating around for users to take at face value. All we want from this dizzying forum is truth in a convenient form of simplified reality—in a context that won’t upset us. The role of creating that context falls to social media, news aggregators and search engines. These functions are programmed to give us the information we want to see to affirm our opinions.”

    Confirmation Bias on the Internet: You Are Deceiving Yourself, Philip Kim for Columbia University’s The Odyssey

  • “Nor should we neglect that promise first made to all Americans in the nineteen-thirties: freedom from a life of drudgery to focus on what we really care about. Life is hard enough; do we need to be churning our own butter? Convenience technologies promised more space in our lives for other things, like thought, reflection, and leisure.”

    The Problem with Easy Technology by Tim Wu for The New Yorker, 2014

  • “Our studies suggest that current Web writing often does not support users in achieving their main goal: to find useful information as quickly as possible.”

    Jakob Nielsen and John Morkes’ influential 1997 design recommendations

systemic failure.

we are sure that it is saving something
we consider it our personal savior
all we have to pay for it is ourselves

From Convenience, W.S Merwin, 2012

Alessandra Sica's information design project about the dark side to the convenience of processed foods.

  • “Online petitioning is very different than other, more traditional forms of activism because it is too convenient. This kind of ad hoc political expression is being used as a substitute for more effective political action. Activism is supposed to be hard-work. The energy you put forward for a cause is a direct result of how serious and passionate you are about it.”

    Online Petitions: Slacktivism at its Best, Justine Gonzalez for, 2011

  • “Perhaps the core concern with regards to the use of armed drones is the ‘Playstation mentality’ whereby the geographical and psychological distance between the drone operator and the target lowers the threshold in regard to launching an attack and makes it more likely that weapons will be launched. Operators, rather than seeing human beings, perceive mere blips on a screen. The potential for this to lead to a culture of convenient killing may well be reason to consider banning this new type of lethal technology.”

    Convenient Killing: Armed Drones and the ‘Playstation’ Mentality (PDF), 2011

  • “An ironic and unintended consequence of college admissions on the internet: The seeming efficiency of online applications means less efficiency overall.”

    How the Internet Wrecked College Admissions, The Atlantic, 2016

  • “What this suggests is a pandemic of cognitive dissonance. The real reason so many people hate Uber is that ‘because whatever we do, we can’t stop ourselves from making it bigger and more successful and more terrifying and more necessary. Uber makes everything so easy, which means it shows us who, and what, we really are. It shows us how, whatever objections we might say we hold, we don’t actually care very much at all.”

    John Naughton muses on “our regrettable need for instant gratification” for The Guardian, 2014

  • “Our growing need for convenience makes us accept clever shortcuts in exchange for security, shortcuts that in some cases may cost us money or, in extreme cases, our lives.”

    When Gadgets Betray Us: The Dark Side of Convenience, The Atlantic, 2011

  • “And because the K-Cup is made of that plastic integrated with a filter, grounds, and plastic foil top, there is no easy way to separate the components for recycling. A Venn diagram would likely have little overlap between people who pay for the ultra-convenience of K-Cups and people who care enough to painstakingly disassemble said cups after use.”

    James Hamblin’s article on the environmental disaster of Keurig K-Cups, The Atlantic, 2015


  • “The positive results that go hand-in-hand with providing customers unsurpassed convenience simply can’t be ignored. According to the Adobe Digital Index (ADI), conversion rates afforded by today’s smartphones skyrocket when retailers offer their customers digital wallet payment options, as opposed to limiting them to credit and debit card transactions.”

    How to Improve Customer Convenience in the New Economy by Marcel Boucher for the Adobe Digital Marketing Blog, 2015

  • “I hope that my generational peers and I can continue to be self-critical, reconsider these tendencies [towards convenience] and, as we grow in age and ascend to the ranks that the boomer generation is beginning to relinquish, make thoughtful choices that will create a more just America and, one day, help us to ‘teach (our) children well.’”

    Grant Wycliff in dialog with his father in pages of The Chicago Tribune, with optimistic outlook on overcoming the drive for convenience, 2014

  • “So I say, slacktivist schmacktivist! If I’ve learned one thing in my journey as a young feminist so far, it’s that feminism is full of passionate individuals and the internet is only another tool we can use to smash the patriarchy.”

    Emily Butler for Feminist Campus, Cyberfeminism: Activism or Slacktivism?, 2013

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Our world is designed through our actions and inactions, ignorance and enlightenment. With this newsletter, we strive to provide some of the context necessary to understand the largest problems facing the world today. We are all implicit in this mess.

There is absolutely no inevitability as long as there is a willingness to contemplate what is happening.

Marshall McLuhan, The Medium is the Massage


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