A man's reach should exceed his grasp, or else what's a heaven for? — Robert Browning
I had lunch yesterday with someone who was a recent transplant to New York from Silicon Valley (as opposed to a returning native like me). They commented on what a great thing it was to finally ditch the car, as it's a bit of a hindrance to own one in Manhattan.
I thought about this for a while afterward, mostly remembering the few years I lived in New York in the late 80's. I owned a car back then and kept it in the city. I never drove it anywhere for fear of losing the most sacred of things in New York: my parking space. As a result, it mostly sat unused except to move it from one side of the street to the other twice a week.
I dreamed of just garaging it, until I discovered that, for the same money, I could have rented it two bedrooms and a bath in a nice area in New Jersey. The key was, I had the potential of using it anytime I wanted, even though I rarely did.
Today, I live in the New Jersey suburbs, no more than 15 minutes from Manhattan (without traffic). Ask me why I moved back from the Bay Area, and I'll tell you it's to have the advantages of the suburbs but still be close to the great museums, theaters, and culture of New York. Of course, you might want to ask me when was the last time I went to one of those great museums or theaters...
There's an aspirational theme associated with all of this. Not what I do, but what I could do: the things I could associate myself with through potential.
That brings me to the point of this story: technology should be aspirational.
Sure, a message of thinner, lighter, smaller, cheaper, faster, higher density, etc. are all great, but they're not aspirational. Apple, historically, has done a better job of being aspirational than most technology companies. I remember sitting at the product introduction of Garage Band thinking, The only difference between John Mayer — the musical guest at the event — and myself was a copy of Garage Band.
Apple's "Shot on iPhone" campaign is a great example of aspiration, but surely there's more to my smartphone than just replacing my point-and-shoot camera. 3D Touch and even Cookie Monster aren't quite the same.
Most other vendors don't even bother trying to have us aspire to anything more than to buy their stuff.
In days gone by, PCs were sold with a programming language, the notion being you could use this tool to create great things. Later, it was HyperCard with Macintosh, perhaps the best piece of software ever created for content creators and consumers. (I honestly believe that if Apple wasn't run by bozos in that era, the company would have owned the Internet with HyperCard.)
Today, I see that most consumers aspire to little more than creating playlists of their favorite songs, or lightly editing a photo. Surely there are greater things that we can accomplish with modern technology and tools? Not necessarily through coding, but everyone should be inspired to create.
From consumers to creators
Consumers are called just that because they "consume" content rather than create it. That doesn't mean that the industry shouldn't strive to deliver products that fire the imagination and spark creativity. Many may never care, and others may create the next big thing, but many more could be inspired to just create something to make themselves or someone else smile.
Even if many people never take advantage of it, the potential is important. Aspiration is important. If technology doesn't exceed our grasp, we have no reason to reach.