Technology should be aspirational not confrontational

Nov 4, 2009
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Technology should be aspirational not confrontational

I had lunch recently with someone who was a recent transplant to NY from Silicon Valley. They commented on what a great thing it was to finally ditch their car for getting around as it's a bit of a hindrance to own a car in Manhattan. I thought about this for a while afterward, mostly remembering the few years I lived in NY when I owned a car and kept it in NY. I never drove it anywhere for fear of losing the most sacred of things in NY, my parking space. As a result, it mostly sat unused except to move it from one side of the street to the other, twice a week. (I initially had dreamed of just garaging it until I discovered that for the same money, I could have gotten it three bedrooms and a 2 baths in a nice area in NJ). The key was, I had the potential of using it anytime I wanted to. Today, I live in the NJ suburbs, no more than 15 minutes from Manhattan without traffic. Ask me why, and I'll tell you it's to have the advantages of the suburbs but still be close to the great museums, theater and culture of NY. Of course you might want to ask me when the last time I went to one of the great museums or saw a show on Broadway. There's an aspirational theme associated with all this. It's not what I do. Rather what I could do.

And that brings me to the point of today's post. Technology should be aspirational, because the ability to aspire is what causes consumers to spend. Nike understands this. It's not a subtle message, the only thing separating you from Michael Jordan and his ability is a pair of Nike shoes.

In days gone by, PCs were sold with a programming language, the notion being you could use this tool to create great things. Later, it was HyperCard with Macintosh that took the creative paradigm one step further. Apple's CEO at the time, John Sculley, was reported to have said when he saw HyperCard for the first time, "at last, I can program". Programming computers might not be what most aspire for these days.

Today, the most that many folks aspire to is to create playlists of their favorite songs or lightly edit a photo. It's good to see both Microsoft and Apple extending their platforms with tools that can do more. There's a reason that Apple ships iLife with all of their Macs (Hypercard itself is alas, no more) and Microsoft offers Windows Live Essentials. It's to help create the inspirational environment.

I've often argued that consumers consume content and don't create it, that's why they're called consumers. It's true, but that doesn't mean that the industry shouldn't strive to create products that fire the imagination and further spark creativity. Many may never care, others may aspire to the goal and in the end, never take advantage of the power to create and others may come up with the next big idea. Aspiration is good even if potential is never totally unleashed and frankly, I'd rather see more about companies telling me why their stuff is good and what it enables me to do as opposed to why their competition is bad or overpriced or hurts puppies and kittens.

As the poet Robert Browning said, "A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or else what's a heaven for?" Let's think the same way about consumer tech. So tell me, what do you aspire to?


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