“It is not so important to be serious as it is to be serious about the important things. The monkey wears an expression of seriousness which would do credit to any college student, but the monkey is serious because he itches." -- Robert M. Hutchins
It's our technical life and times.
A surfeit of goods.
An embarrassment of riches. And apps.
Where have we seen that before? I am about to suggest some good old-fashioned heresy here.
Technical columnists—those who are well-funded and spend their lives playing with gadgets—spend way more time than the average person with gadgets. Every day is a wonderland.
In stark contrast, for many people of any age and geography, life is generally about getting something practical done. It's what one could call a few-on-few affair. Whether it's a small engineering team, a local charity, Habitat for Humanity members building a home for a family, or a clinic with doctors and nurses attending to the ill, for most people, life consists of getting something done with a few other people. Even though a company may have tens of thousands of employees, most work is done in reasonably-sized teams.
And then, when time allows, or when there's a stellar solution, mobile devices like iPads and iPhones are used for entertainment, communication and information access and management. It explains why some customers need some helpful tips from time to time, and the writers who author those tips were just born knowing everything. They really were because they live that life. Me included.
The Idle Rich
I think there's a basic human need to reach out and work with people. We are social animals after all. Yet, modern authors tend to work alone, often in home offices, in virtual companies. So their social interaction, instead of being few-on-few is, instead, one-on-many. Something has to fill the natural void. Boundless authoritativeness and opinion based on expertise emerges. After all, everyone wants to be needed.
An isolated life with an abundance of toys is very much like the life of the very wealthy. When one is rich, one can only have so many paintings, so many cars, so many ivory and onyx chess sets, so many $400 tennis rackets. Regrettably, for some, it's all too easy to fall into the idea that moving from a Porsche to a Lamborghini will bring fundamental happiness. But, as we know, it doesn't work that way. One gets listless, bored, irritated and hungry for...
are you ready?
...the Next Big Thing.
The question changes from: what can I do with what I have in a few-on-few relationship to how can the one-on-many relationships I have bring me something new and exciting?
To put it more bluntly, writers who become easily agitated and needle Apple because it hasn't suitably stimulated them are like a spoiled teenager looking for the next thrill.
It's all too similar with some writers. There are 800,000+ iOS apps. 800,000 Android apps. Hundreds of smartphones. Dozens of tablets. A continuous, dizzying change in mobile OSes. Lawsuits and patent wars. Incoming tweets by the second. New revelations and new products appear every day with a numbing effect. There is, it seems, no coherence, no closure, and so, as with any addiction, ever larger doses are required to satisfy.
It's amazing to me that some observers of Apple can lead a double life. They recognize, intellectually, that Apple's vision is to make our lives better in a fundamental way. But then they turn around and claim that Apple is doomed because it hasn't matched other companies in the gadget-of-the-week contest.
This is what I think Apple means about a product when it asks the question in its vision statement: "Does it deserve to exist?" Filling a human need with grace and style is a different process from daily technical agitation. It requires devotion and patience.
Don't get me wrong. There are many insightful technical columnists who have earned our respect with their experience, reasoning, perspective and professionalism. We pretty much know who they are.
But is it any wonder that a surplus of writers, hungry for continuous stimulation, exhibit all the characteristics of the supremely spoiled? The frenetic pace in lonely isolation leads to the pretense that one is serious, in charge and trailblazing for the masses. However, in the end, the surfeit of riches, whether it's money or technology, has the same ill effects on any human being and creates the nagging feeling that something is missing.
The curtain of high technology can only hide our wizardly foibles for so long.