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Wednesday, September 5, 2012

What the iPhone Design Says About Our Culture

Hysteresis - From Wikipedia
So last night I had, of all things, a dream about what the design of iPhone's say about us and our culture.

Now this might seem silly but actually its not.

So let's think about the design.

For one, there's basically no really simple "off" switch.  Yes it can be turned off but that takes a while and its a pain.

So its basically built to be "on" all the time.


But connected to what?  Well, WiFi, cell towers (so the FBI can track us apparently), other iPhones, the cloud, your friends and social circle.

Now, being old I already have only a couple of friends.  I have email, I have a cell phone, I even have an iPhone.

And, more importantly I am also "connected" to these same social things.

The difference is I am not connected in "realtime."  So, for example, if I am in the can and I am bored I choose not to text my pals to tell them this.  I don't post to Facebook about pooping, either (and yes, people do post this sort of thing).

My connection to others via a smartphone has a much higher level of hysteresis.  Things have to be "more socially important" than, say, pooping or boredom, to warrant a Facebook post (I do post links blog entries).  If the event is not so important I choose not to post about it.

Basically other than this blog I rarely post anything on Facebook (perhaps that's why the stock is in the tank - people are figuring out that Facebook has little value to anyone other than generating "social noise.")

So the iPhone will alert me to activity on Facebook with a "Notification."

Great... someone is pooping.

Basically this seems to me to be really about having a "zero-length" attention span.  Something is always welcome to interrupt the otherwise unbroken silence.

Except I don't live in silence...

Another iPhone thing is the constant noise, tweeting or chirping related to notifications, texting and the like.

Sounds like a fan is broken, a dog is ill, a robot has constipation.

Now there is a volume knob and you can turn the sound all the way "off" but then you can't tell much and its hard to associate with specific notifications though I think it still vibrates for a cell call.

Now most people I run across with an iPhone have the ringer set to something LOUD.  Though the phone will play any sound as a ring you can only really hear it in a noisy place (bar, street, construction site, car) if you use something like the "old fashioned phone ringer from the 1950's."

Gee, I wonder why the old phones were designed with that particular ring?

I suppose that this is because the iPhone designers spend a lot of time in isolation from others.  No noise save for their phones.  I guess alone and unconnected save for the social connectivity the phone offers.

This tells me the designers are introverted, young and not rock'n'roll musicians because their hearing is still good.

There is also a sort of implied functionality meaning that when social interaction presents itself I must want to partake right then and there, immediately.

"Oh, you're pooping - while I'll drop everything so I can follow your twitter feed."

No one designed in a GTFA button (Go the F*** Away) into this thing.  No, I must always want to hear about all this shit (no pun intended) on a moments notice.

A GTFA button would disconnect me totally from my social network.  I suppose it should have a bypass list for things like a wife or a boss - or maybe a doctor - if I set that up.  But that would be it.  No more bullshit notifications.

Otherwise GTFA.

So one imagines the iPhone designers could not imagine a state of affairs where I wouldn't want to be interrupted...

(I wonder what their love lives are like...?)

No one added a STFU button either (Shut the F*** Up).

I don't need to hear a constant barrage of tweeting, farting and snorting from my iPhone if there is a message or text or email for me (I have dogs to make those noises for me).

Pressing STFU would simply silence all the current annoyances.  Basically acknowledging that I know they are there but I will deal with them later.

So because there is no STFU button on the iPhone I have to believe that the designers are really, really interrupt driven folks.  Dealing with their lives one cell phone interruption by one - in the order they arrive.

"Oh no! Suzy is pooping..." so we drop everything so we can follow along.

Personally once this stream of shit (again, no pun intended) arrives on my phone and I see that its there I don't need a constant barrage of chirping and noise to remind me.

So what does this all mean?

I think it means that by and large the iPhone was designed by self centered childish folks who have little to do other than diddle around with their gadgets.  They must have basically empty lives where this little gadget fills them up with the joy that others are whiling away their lives with unimportant nonsense they fell compelled to share willy-nilly.

And that's fine...

But when you sell tens of millions of these things and I think this starts to significantly influence the buyers to behave in the way the phone wants them to act.

It creates a self fulfilling cultural destiny that mimics the iPhone's design.

So the phone "invites" activity and users oblige - texting while driving, interrupting their love lives, and all the rest.

The iPhone only has one "volume control" but many times I'd like that to apply to a specific thing - but with notifications spewing out everywhere there's no easy way to deal with that.

I'd like it to understand that its not the only thing in at least my life so often it should remain quiet and leave me to my work so I can afford to own it.

I already have to sit at Sunday dinner and watch legions of folks play "Temple Run" instead of having meaning social interaction with anyone including their own children.

Tell me why this is good...?

I think the iPhone would behave a lot differently if real adults with actual things to do had designed it.


  1. There is a STFU button. it is in parameters.
    your argument is based on ignorance.
    well done


  2. Well, if its in parameters its not doing me much good when I need it, is it?