Sunday, September 9th, 2012
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is one of my favorite books. It’s a bestseller, but I think it’s a great journey into the philosophy of science and art, and the metaphysics of quality.
The book contrasts this with our fascination with the new, and the new media driving us to lose the ability to discuss and connect deeply with things or people (and this was written in early 70s).
Zen the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig, Chapter 6:
Perhaps because of these changes the stream of national consciousness moves faster now, and is broader, but it seems to run less deep. The old channels cannot contain it and in its search for new ones there seems to be growing havoc and destruction along its bank.
“What’s new?” is an interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued exclusively, results only in an endless parade of trivia and fashion, the silt of tomorrow.
I would like, instead, to be concerned with the question “What is best?,” a question which cuts deeply rather than broadly, a question whose answers tend to move the silt downstream. ”
The text might sound like a complaint against “modern times”, how everything was better before. Our world is now better in many regards, but it can end up worse if we can’t find balance.
“What’s new” drives most of the popular sites and our consciousness. What are the scandals and news of today? What new your friends are doing? Twitter’s homepage literally says, “Find out what’s happening, right now”. Like tabloids, there is something new every today, and which is gone by tomorrow. Are we actually gaining anything?
Whether the internet has always been like that, I’m not sure. But it’s definitely accelerating towards faster and smaller bits. Filling up every spare moment, these things also invade our minds.
Where are the sites, apps or avenues that answers “What’s best?”. Is there even a place for them?
I think there is, but it’s a battle against addiction and instant gratification. Jason Hreha, notes his GigaOm article When did addiction become a good thing?:
At best, many of the products we’re building are time wasters. At worst, they’re the addictive equivalents of cigarettes — irresistible cheap thrills that feel good in the moment, but are destructive in the long run. “Addictive” products are rampant in our lives — Facebook, Farmville (or any Zynga game), Twitter, Pinterest. The list goes on and on.
I think Quora is a one counter example. It’s a great site, offering the best answers by connecting and exposing the valuable knowledge people have. Longform promotes quality and deep content.
So how to have more media and products like these? What qualities should they have? Where do they fit in our daily lives? And how we define success for them?
One of the things to consider is the economies of sites and products. Right now, most of the free, advertising driven sites rely traffic, engagement or selling in-game goods. More addicted you’re are, the better. The products of non-addiction obviously shouldn’t be measured on those metrics, and probably should rely on different models than traditional online advertising.
Fortunately, product wise, I think they can be almost anything. They can more focused on specific things like Instagram has. They can be about making something disappear or more delightful like Square does.
I don’t think you can build sustaining business on top of addiction. There will be always new addictions, and I hope we get tired of them all at some point.
Continue the discussion in HN
Karri Saarinen - You can follow me on twitter