As families and friends gathered across our great country yesterday, we were celebrating the merits of low tech. I think it should teach us something about how we conceive, build, and deliver any tech.Football TV packages aside, everything about today's Thanksgiving would be mostly familiar to someone celebrating it 50, even 100 years ago. We cook turkeys for many hours in aptly-named "conventional" ovens; the best stuffing is handmade in a home kitchen; rolls need to be baked, or at least toasted; even the meal I/O requires tables, chairs, plates, utensils, and a host of otherwise low tech tools.
You'd think We of the Future would live differently. Pop-up meals, ready made and better than fresh. Perhaps a turkey pill, or plug-in device that gave us the satisfaction of a great meal without the effort or caloric consumption. Time-saving tools that shaved hours off of time spent cooking. You know what I'm talking about: a Jetsons-like thing, with a little Futurama thrown in for fun.
Most of it is possible, I'm sure. It's just that we don't want it.
Technology is inexorably related to purpose and intertwined with the context of experience. Functional benefits, however obvious, need to be understood in terms of the how and why people might benefit from said functions. Technology has no inherent value, but rather derives it from experience. This sort of makes the imprecise distinctions between "high" and "low" tech seem almost superfluous. What matters is what matters, and what doesn't, doesn't.
You wouldn't know it from how most technology brands are marketed. Needs are met with solutions that aren't really needed. Efficiencies are provided when nobody felt what they did was inefficient. Market "opportunities" are identified on spreadsheets and in slide presentations, only consumers don't live in those neat columns or boxes.
Instead, we hang out in kitchens, dining rooms, and family rooms for many hours like we did yesterday, enjoying the merits of technology that subjectively enhances our lives instead of claiming to objectively improve them. We happily gave the turkey the time it needed, and we celebrated perhaps unconsciously the functional superiority of the knife, fork, and spoon.
Upon reflection, it should be obvious to us that there's a lot of technology behind the prep and experience of our Thanksgiving dinners, even though it's not really obvious at all. And that's the ultimate distinction between tech that succeeds, and tech that fails.
Maybe giving thanks for low tech might change the way you approach that next invention or enhancement you're considering for your customers?