Sunday, October 11, 2015

Add Friction

One of my pet peeves is when there is a telephone at a service counter, and the person on the other end of the line takes precedence. The people who have physically come to the place wait as the phone is picked up. 

Given how fast technology moves, it is very easy to start feeling old when you talk of 'what it used to be like'. Yes, there are now adults that don't get references to Pulp Fiction, Trainspotting, Good Will Hunting and Fight Club, but I refuse to admit that I am old. I still reckon if we make it through the next 20 years, we could all end up living a couple of centuries if not more. So they'll have plenty of time to watch the movies. 

Anyway, when I was young people still had to make arrangements to be at the phone. 'I am expecting a call' was a thing. I can understand why culturally, it was a big deal. People had to co-ordinate making sure they were available. Getting a phone call now is no longer a big deal. Sometimes our etiquette takes time to catch up. When cell phones came along, suddenly you could call anyone, anywhere, anytime. The novelty meant people liked being the person who would always pick up. My pet peeve of counter service got extended to almost all interaction. 'I just need to take this call' became a thing.

What made me think of this was seeing a Telephone Chair at a local antique shop. I thought what a good idea it would be if phones were removed from office desks, and people had to arrange to call them, or get up and walk over to them. Things are very seldom genuinely an emergency. We just turn them into emergencies. Many people spend most of their office day responding to email, making phone calls, or going into meetings. This leaves little space to think. To chew. To process. To do things differently. We end up on autopilot.

Seth Godin often talks of the value of adding back some friction. Making things a little harder. Imagine we had to pay to send emails? Imagine you had an inbox where you knew the sender had paid a £1, $1 or R1 to send you the mail, and it was only released to you after a week. Would the quality of communication you got go up?

An example of this for me was leaving living in Cape Town. I was fortunate that I got to go back for work fairly regularly. I ended up seeing my friends who live in Cape Town more regularly than when I lived there. When you live close to someone, like standing in a queue waiting, they are often to easy to see, and you don't see them. When you live in a different city, it is like you are phoning, you get given precedence. It is an occasion. Instead of just a beer, or a meal, perhaps you stay for a few days. You make time for each other.

I am suspicious that the best way to see busy people you care about is to live somewhere else. It adds friction.


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