Unplug Thoreau-Style: how technology helps us simplify

Posted on Aug 13, 2013 in consumer insights, experience design, technology


I loved the article Simply Your Tech Life, Thoreau-Style in last weekend’s WSJ. The author draws parallels between the 20-something Thoreau who was living with his parents and took a few months “off the grid” to reflect on modern society and write. From this experience, we got Walden, filled with “19th-century transcendentalist” musings that the author proposes are applicable to contemporary life. Contrary to popular belief, Thoreau was not a luddite, or anti technology, but he used the experience of living more simply as a lens through which to view technology once he got back to civilization.┬áThe article concludes by listing several technologies that have been developed to help you unplug, manage and simplify your technological relationships, perhaps in hopes to use them more effectively by using them simply.

While many of the technologies try to anticipate your needs and wants and filter/edit your experiences accordingly (e.g. Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm), many of the solutions are plug-ins or apps, non-native add-ons to your technologies. It suggests that the fault is not the technology, but our ability to discipline ourselves appropriately. There’s plenty of help out there for those who just can’t resist grabbing their phones at the ping of a text while driving, but it’s up to us to install the safeguards and adjust our own behavior.

Relegating much of the behavior modification and efficiency augmenters to the app world allows the technology to remain pure, specific in its function and concentrate on performance. It’s great when a phone has built-in share tools for photos, texts, videos, but it can’t possibly anticipate all the possible methods and tools that its users will employ to do those tasks. Designing for flexibility, modularity and customization makes great sense.