Leaving Well Enough Alone

Vinnie Krakow was the head of product development at one of the country’s high tech companies.  One of his major responsibilities was to decide on when a technology needed to be upgraded.   As technology evolved, much of the upgrades involved incorporating these new technologies into existing products.  Over time, the products became more and more sophisticated.

Vinnie’s work came to a halt when he learned that his favorite aunt had passed away.  He was the executor of her estate and needed to determine how to work with his siblings and cousins who were equal recipients of her estate.  The task would require all of Vinnie’s diplomatic skill.

Vinnie’s aunt lived on a farm and it became his place of residence for several weeks in August.  The one reward of being an executor was being able to enjoy her garden.  What was especially revealing to him was the taste of tomatoes.  He had never experienced what a real tomato tasted like.

As Vinnie thought about the tomatoes, he began to think about what happened to tomatoes you bought in stores.  His aunt’s neighbor shared an insight that he found intriguing.  “Pretty tomatoes seem to be the focus of agriculture researchers, not taste.  It seems like every time research makes a breakthrough in breeding, we have to use that research.  Looks, weather resistance, pest control, and other areas of focus have dominated the research.  Taste has not.”

As Vinnie reflected on his life without a proper tasting tomato, he began to realize that he was guilty of the same thing as tomato breeders.  Upgrades in technology are rarely done with the user in mind.  Features are added that few people actually use.  Technology becomes needlessly complicated.  And often upgrades don’t give the user the ability of maintaining their current technology.

When is newer better?  Are more capabilities always better?  When do we say stop, let me keep what I have?  The answer to these questions should come from users, not developers.  Were people ever asked:  “If I could give you a tomato without blemishes, but less taste, would that be ok?”  In a similar way, have you ever been asked whether you want a car you don’t have to drive?  Technology for the sake of technology isn’t of value.

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                “User is the word used by the computer professional when they mean idiot.”

                                                                                                – Dave Berry (comedian)

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