Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Stopping to smell the roses

The Washington Post had a very interesting article (which I found via Raph Koster's gaming blog, of all places) describing an experiment they did to essentially see if people would inconvenience themselves for something unexpected and beautiful. They took a world renowned violinist and plopped him down as a street musician in a commuter packed metro station. It's a really interesting article, so you should just go read it.

There's a lot to think about in that article. But I'm going to take a tangent off of one small comment from it on our willingness to experience new things:

"For many of us, the explosion in technology has perversely limited, not expanded, our exposure to new experiences. Increasingly, we get our news from sources that think as we already do. And with iPods, we hear what we already know; we program our own playlists."

It's one of those odd human truths that at some point in everyone's life they experience a cut off point past which they cease seeking out new things (in particular, music). It's the scariest thing to me about aging. Having my body fall apart pales in comparison to losing my desire for new experiences. The unknown and unfamiliar are particularly uncomfortable things for me, but I consider it part of my human journey to push myself and try to grow as much as possible.

It's ironic that our technological revolution has empowered individuals so much that we're growing apart and losing our ability to do anything truly interesting with that technology. Technology has always been pioneered by the socially inept (i.e. nerds). But the time has come to blow past that and start making technology something social and collaborative. Most of the interesting individual software pieces have already be written - the true next frontier is technology working together, and technology working for real people. And this technology can't just aim to satisfy our every selfish indulgence - we should have software that actually makes us better people.

There's so much to be done here. In the realm of music, Pandora has made a great start. The whole concept of "play me something that I want to hear, but haven't necessarily heard before" is brilliant. It needs to explode into other places. Movies, TV, news, food… really just about everything is in need of some quality individually-tailored recommendation system. All the content is there - the problem is that no human can parse all the information available today. People will stick with what they know because finding something else is too hard. We need to make it easy.

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