The Myth of KISS

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in January of 2009.

Keep It Simple, Someone*! If there ever was a common man’s rallying plea relative to technology, this is the one. How many people do you know who got an iPod for XMas, only to learn that, before they could use it, they would have to learn how to rip their CD collection to disk? And upgrade the hard drive, or buy additional storage? All of which is a piece of cake, when compared to setting up a wireless network or removing persistent spyware. The most frequent request that I get from the people I support as an IT Director? “I just want it to turn on and work!”. I can relate. Which is why I’m here to tell you that keeping it simple can be a questionable goal, at best.

The fact is, it’s not easy to manage even a home computer. It’s gotten better: they’re nice enough to color code the audio ports on a new PC, and put little labels below the connectors, and more and more things connect over USB, making the “where do I plug it in?” question a little easier to answer. And, wow, they even put a few ports on the front now. But we’re a long way from the day when operating a computer is as easy as operating a toaster, and I, for one, question whether that will be a happy day.

My biggest case in point is email. Email is the application that everyone in the family knows and uses. It’s compelling. Even the most technology-averse people can’t escape the argument that communicating with family, friends and associates electronically is inexpensive and convenient. But the problem I see is that, once most people learn email, they don’t want to learn anything else. Want online community? Sign me up for the email mailing list. Want news headlines and informational updates? Send it in the email. The problem with this is that email is an astonishingly useful application, but there’s a point where it breaks down, and that point is when the volume of email becomes greater than the capacity to keep up with it. Email has a huge flaw as an information management tool: important things scroll out of sight. It’s a FIFO medium (First In, First Out), that doesn’t prioritize information for you, so that message from Aunt Irma supercedes the spam from the travel agency which supercedes the alert that your home is in foreclosure which supercedes the announcement that dog food is on sale… you get my point. And managing the email, staying on top of it and storing it in folders is a job.

So I advocate for making an early investment that pays off later — learn a few more applications. Read RSS feeds in an RSS reader; visit your major social networks and online communities at their web sites; eschew the mailing lists — or subscribe using an alternate email account that you follow with another application. Do some research before investing in any application or gadget — there’s a powerful argument that digitizing your music will save you time and effort in the long run, but that’s of little use if, as happened with a friend of mine, you buy the iPod the day before you’re shipped out to an island on military duty, with no chance to get any music on it. Keep It Separated, Sally, and Knowledge Informs Strategy, Sam. Because the idea that funneling all of that information through one conduit is somehow simpler than doing some up front research, management, prioritization and segmentation of information is a self-defeating myth.

* Substitute your favorite subjective noun starting with the letter “S”.

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