Technology minus the complications

Technology has the unfortunate reputation (at times both real and imagined) of unnecessarily complicating our lives. It’s why entire segments of the population actively resist or routinely dismiss the latest innovations. It’s why nostalgia for pre-Internet days has evolved into an entire “simple living” movement. It’s why bridging the digital divide requires teaching people how to use new technology as much as giving them all the tech tools.

But new Internet-based innovations, when done right, have exactly the opposite effect as this stereotype. They filter out the clutter and make our favorite things easier to undertake and less complex to master. That’s a theme that ran through the iMedia program’s first Face-to-Face Friday, a rapid fire sequence of 90-second pitches on new communications tools from each of the 37 students. We’re not talking about gadgets for computer geeks. The focus here is simple devices with an interface just about anyone could pick up.

Take Sony’s new e-reader, which reads electronic books like Amazon’s Kindle but without the button pushing that can make the experience confusing or cumbersome. Staying with books, there’s the Espresso Book Machine to print in minutes whatever title you’re looking for at the library. There’s a device allowing scientists to instantly upload data they collect in the field, or for journalists to file a live broadcast anywhere with an Internet connection. Even finding information is getting easier, with Google’s new feature visually organizing related search terms, a news website putting together a “Cheet Sheet” of the top stories being reported across the globe, or advertisements containing interactive features for consumers to get free info and samples on the products that catch their interest. Making connections also get simpler, with a new way to reach people by phone whom you only know through Twitter.

In all these cases, the goal is not to confuse but to streamline, making everyday tasks more efficient and enjoyable. Some might say that opens the door to more complications since it allows us to do much more in a shorter span of time. That may be true, but try convincing the visually impaired to stick with the “simple” life when they can start instantly reading in braille any book they can pull off the shelves.

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