allenc allencheung

The Magic of Communication

My dad just forwarded me the latest family photo email. It’s something that parents like to do.

And as I watch the email crash my phone from sheer payload size, I began to wonder: why not just connect via Facebook? Or link to a private Dropbox, Flickr, or some other account with a stream of updates and cute pictures? The humble email, while perfectly serviceable, is hardly the ideal way to share pictures in 2014.

But putting aside technological snobbery for a second, the joy of seeing pictures is genuine and should not be understated. In fact, for most of the world, the advances in communication afforded by technology is not shifting their behaviors, but rather simply making it easier to do things that they’d already do via some other means. Instead of hand-written letters, we email; instead of mailing developed photos halfway around the world, we post on Facebook; instead of paying for international calls over traditional phone lines, we Skype and FaceTime and Hangout.

What’s interesting about these vehicles of communication is that, despite their ease of use, they have not translated into more frequent usage for all their users. Whereas many services aim for simplicity and UX efficiencies in hopes of more engagement and more usage, a huge group of users are seemingly immune. My parents, even when they’re on Facebook, will happily send pictures via email every single time, every other year.

On the flip side, the infrequency of these events allow of them to inherit that same level of importance and reverence as their pre-internet counterparts. That is, there is still some value derived from scarcity, as opposed to difficulty, and that the technology continues to be endearing and special when it’s not invoked everyday.

As Clarke said, any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Perhaps we should strive to be magicians.

By allen
allenc allencheung

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