The Problem Is the Solution
By Samuel Greengard
Unfortunately, every technology solution eventually leads to about 10 new problems. In the short run, the new system or device addresses an immediate need and allows people to work faster and better. However, over the long term there is no net gain and the exponential scale accounts for all the complexity in our lives. The system is great for capitalists and those that can consistently stay ahead of the curve. It's not so good for individuals.
E-mail is a perfect example of this mess. In the 1980s, it ushered in a new era of instantaneous communication. Suddenly, it was possible to send messages and documents across the world in seconds. The changes were revolutionary—and almost every industry went underwent radical changes. When the Internet went public in 1990s, there was suddenly a way for anyone to send anyone an electronic message, without concern for proprietary systems.
But, at some point, most of us began receiving way too many messages—and a daily bazooka blast of spam. As our inboxes buckled, we turned to spam filters and other third-party add-ons. We also discovered that it was necessary to use antivirus software to thwart malware. Then we had to learn how to remain vigilant for spoofing and spot phishing tactics. Meanwhile, all these solutions created an array of new problems, including messages that can't get through due to over-aggressive filters.
So, we moved onto instant messaging and social media. For a while, they seem like a breath of fresh air… until the inundation starts all over again. We need new apps to fill the cracks. Then glitches and breakdowns appear so we need tech support. We also need new software that unifies all the messages. When these tools fail to co-exist, it's back to tech support and more fiddling with settings. We need more software, more tools and more browser add-ons. And we wonder why there's no time for anything!
For CIOs, this situation represents enormous challenges… but also a substantial opportunity. The challenge of the next decade will be to design infrastructure, systems and devices that are mindlessly simple to use and easy to manage. There's a reason why the iPhone and iPad are insanely popular. Those who can alter the equation—and reduce the number of problems, steps and fixes each solution generates—will be positioned for success.
The solution is simple. The problem is remarkably complex.