There is a disturbingly increasing number of early adopters who tell me they are fed up with their jobs. Those same people who were creating homepages with 28k modems back in the 90s are now closing their blogs, snubbing Facebook, moving around with no computer or iPhone, wishing aloud they had less commitments and more money to open a restaurant, a store, or engage in a life involving more down to earth activities. It could be anodyne – and probably is in some ways as we all tend to always want the opposite of what we have – but I feel there is something interesting here. Let’s review some of the arguments involved:
• The web industry got boring, at least if you like adventure. I already wrote on this last year and it is truer than ever. Changing the world got complex after a rare period where you could wake up in the morning, fire your computer, and write a piece of code that would change everybody’s life. Now launching a website requires 12 months of work, a team of 10, and whatever you want to do has already been done. Boring.
• Humans need to have something to show for their work. Websites are not the most tangible achievements there is, and for example half of what I have ever done in my life is now gone (like frequence-laser.ch, the Financial Tracking System whose has been updated a long time ago, Bernard Nicod’s 1996 website). The other half is made of services, events, advices, discussions, reports, many things that do not really materialize. I think that, over a long period of time, this has an impact on people. Human beings need to touch, feel, show, share, and new technologies tend to cut them from such fundamental needs. It finally made an impact, and this is probably one of the main reasons behind the tiredness and rejection of technology you start to get from early adopters.
The Beatles: early among the early adopters
• Another factor is the partiality of online interactions. Many early adopters ended up with rich and intense careers involving heavy usage of computers. When you have done that for many years you get hundreds of emails per day – most of them from people you care about, but that you have only seen once or twice. Once again it feels a bit like trying to trick a fundamental truth, forcing our sensitive (in the sense: that needs to feel and touch) nature to rely only on incomplete interactions to survive and maintain a high level of socialization.
• Tools are limiting. Why is it so hard to maintain a network (i.e.: have accounts on 20 websites), read emails without feeling overwhelmed, work on a laptop more than three hours while on the move, connect to the internet anywhere? Why don’t we (I’ll put myself in it for this one) have a really good solution to handle tasks that have become so recurrent and crucial? Even the most basic and simple need of all has no good technological solution. How to manage your todo list on anything else than paper? Tools are taking their toll on productivity and creating frustration, and are one of the most cited factor of tiredness. Computers are making shovels and hammers appealing again, don’t tell me you saw this one coming :D
It will be interesting to see if what happens these days is a fundamental shift, or just a temporary crisis worsened by hard economical conditions. Can the people who built new technologies really reject it?