The Next Next Big Thing

Today we will be introduced to the next big thing–the next next big thing, that is. This afternoon, in one of Apple’s much ballyhooed events, they will take the wraps off what most expect to be the iPad Mini, a scaled-down version of the iPad. The iPad Mini will be smaller and less expensive than its older sibling which will allow far more people access to a device that, to this point, may have been out of reach. It will open up a whole new market for Apple, thus generating even more revenue. Or such is the hope.

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Whenever the next great device is unveiled it comes with promises that it will bring with it a higher quality of life. It will bring greater satisfaction and greater contentment. It will increase efficiency and double productivity. Whatever it brings will be good. It has to be this way, right? Why else would we allow it into our lives?

Our gadgets reflect our priorities. Apple’s job–and Microsoft’s and Google’s and every other company’s–is to just give us what we want. They feed us these devices and convince us that our lives will immediately be that much better. But is this actually the case? Do they really make us more productive? Do they really help us accomplish more?

Though I wrote about this a little bit in The Next Story, I really like how Jay Pathak and Dave Runyon put it in their book The Art of Neighboring (which, I just realized, is free on Kindle today). Here is what they say:

Think about it. Even fifteen years ago, you’d never have dreamed that in the near future you’d be able to:

  • Make phone calls while riding in your car.
  • Send mail electronically while riding in your own car, while you are making phone calls.
  • Own a machine that allows you to record your favorite TV shows so you can watch them whenever it’s convenient for you–and you can even fast-forward through the commercials.
  • Turn on your computer and be able to see on the screen the people you’re talking to. There’s no longer a need to travel for meetings.

Your reaction most likely would have been, “Wow! What am I going to do with all of my free time?” Maybe you would have started dreaming about a four-hour workweek. You’d be planning for all those extra tee times on the golf course. You’d be dreaming about spending time with your family or simply lying on a hammock in your backyard.

The fact is that’s what technology could have enabled us to do. But instead of having more free time, we’ve added more things into our already crammed lives. Even though we get more and more done, we still pile up the tasks. Our calendars continuously stay full, no matter how many time-saving devices are invented.

The fact is that our devices do not just bring new abilities, but also new demands and expectations. Until the cell phone existed, we didn’t expect that we should be able to get ahold of one another any time of day or night. Now that the cell phone does exist, and now that we all have one, we just assume that we ought to be able to contact one another any time.

Whether we are considering the iPad Mini (or whatever else is unveiled today) or any other gadget, device or invention, this is always the case. There is always a hidden cost to the things we allow into our lives. As these things bring us new ways to get things done, they also bring us more things that we need to do. Even as they claim to be able to help us get organized in life, to get more efficient in life, they also raise the expectations and raise the pace of life. With every great benefit, there is always at least one great drawback. Such is life, and such is technology, on this side of the Fall.