Andrew has been writing Anti Buzz for 4 years resulting in almost 200 articles. For the next several weeks we will revisit some of these just in case you missed it.
When was the last time somebody called your office and asked for directions? When was the last time a patient showed up late, (or not at all), because they got lost? Not everyone has a smart phone or GPS and, (somehow), not everyone can look up directions from home, but by and large, these scenarios seem like an absurdity. Not that it proves anything, but when I Google “asking for directions” I get a bunch of pages trying to teach you English; I count this as evidence that asking for directions is a fading institution.
Getting where you want to go has a lot less friction than it used to, and that benefits everyone. It used to be that if you were running errands and you wanted to tack on an extra stop to a new place you had never been to, that this was potentially a huge hassle. How do you get to this new place? You could hope somebody else knew the directions, or if you had the address you could look it up on a map, (a real map – the kind that doesn’t know where you are or plot your course for you). And if you had neither of those things? You could call the new place and ask. But how do you call them? You hope your first errand stop would let you use the phone. And you’d hope they had a phone book too. Or you’d find a pay phone. And even then you might still end up having to orient yourself with a map. Or you’d just give up and go home.
The people who put effort in improving telecommunications weren’t trying to make it easier for you to run errands, but they did. And every business that might have lost a customer to the uncertainties of the above process no longer does. The improvements in communications technology were also not intended to help drive customers into stores, but they did. The true impact of technology is often corollary to the original goal.
Ideally, your patients only visit you twice per year, so you benefit from this “never lost” effect less than others, but even so you are spending less energy offering directions and phone lines, (and phone books), to lost patients than you used to.
The lesson is that the benefits of technology are not always straightforward. This is why it can be problematic to look at something new and demand to know how it benefits you. Social media, as usual, is the go-to example here; trying to anticipate its impact is just as tricky as anticipating anything else in the past 30 years would have been. The last three decades have been full of the unintended benefits of frictionless computation and communication. Even the visionaries didn’t completely see what was coming.
There is an element to modern media that do their best to punditize technology, to throw around news and tech predictions with some amount of swagger. It is the same swagger that fills any pre-game show. It is the same swagger that elements of the media had back when “computers” and “fad” could be uttered in the same sentence. It is the swagger of false expertise, of understanding the status quo and trying to extrapolate from it. For my very small part, I am a part of this media too. I do my best to talk about popular technology in an intelligent way, but when it comes down to it, I’m merely guessing, just like the rest of us.
There is the very old saying that necessity is the mother of invention. If you were uncareful, you might think the last 30 years runs counter to this. Who “needed” Youtube anyway, right? But consider the add-an-extra-errand debacle described earlier. Nobody in that situation assumed there was a solution to the problem. More accurately, nobody in that situation assumed there was a problem at all. It was just the way things were. But as soon as that process began to lose friction, people latched on. There was a need driving the innovation, it just wasn’t obvious. And that’s the real lesson and the real source of innovation. Do not look at something new, tap your foot impatiently, and ask what it does for you. Instead, find more problems. Look at your processes and policies and ask where they can be better. What is your least favorite part of your week? Can you make that better? Solve the problems you didn’t know you had and, perhaps corollary to solving them, you will discover the benefits of a new technology.