I Want An App That [Changes The World]

It’s New Year’s Day 2016. And, in the spirit of this symbolic fresh start, I’ll offer a perspective for a fresh start to problem selection for software. Stay with me here…it gets less geeky…

A few weeks ago, as I was browsing my twitter feed, my eyes fixed upon a rapid series of tweets by a tech writer/speaker named Scott Berkun.

I’ll confess, I’ve never read any of Berkun’s books, nor heard him speak. But, he was among the earlier people I followed on twitter and I’ve enjoyed many of his posts since.

Anyhow, I’ve captured the series of tweets below, because they got me thinking about a topic that I would normally dismiss as bordering on nonsensical. (NOTE: the best way to read them is to scroll to the bottom and then read to the top.)

They first appeared as one of those rants that you sometimes see people fire off, due to anger, frustration, sadness, etc. So, when I read the first couple, my internal dismissive voice said “yeah, right.”

It was quickly followed by my internal logical voice which said “technology is just a tool; those kinds of changes only happen due to the actions of people.”

But then, a third, internal voice of challenge said “but, wait a second; why can’t we demand of our tools that they contribute in a substantial way to these kinds of desirable social changes?”

As the rant illustrates at the beginning (bottom): too often, our design & development efforts are focused on improving the speed or effectiveness of imperfect solutions to problems.

Or, they are focused on applying an “X of Y” adaptation (i.e., the “Airbnb of parking spaces”).

But, we tend to think that problems concerning social innovation and behavioral change are outside of the province of technology. When, perhaps instead, that’s the next frontier of app development.

So, as you plan out your 2016 today and in the coming days, think about how you can help bring to life an app that can change the world.

berkun rant

One thought on “I Want An App That [Changes The World]”

  1. Another way to make my point is to ask the question: What can technology never do? I’m not anti-technology by any means, as I’m sharing this note with you using various amazing technologies, but I do realize that there are many important things that no tool can truly help us with.

    Fitbit is a fascinating example – it’s certainly a helpful tool that reminds people of their goals, and it helps some people, but since in the end a person can always ignore tools and apps (and as the article suggests many do) it’s still a matter of their own choices whether they achieve their goals or not. In some ways we were a healthier society 30 or 40 years ago, when life wasn’t quite as convenient as technology has made it for us.

    There is always a human element of psychology, self-awareness, and choice. Technology is great for solving some kinds of problems are near useless for solving others. A failing marriage isn’t in the need of an app, it’s it need of a marriage counselor. An absent parent isn’t in need of an app, they’re in need of new priorities. Could technology *help* these things happen? Sure, but only so much. Our lives are still up to us.

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