After a chat this morning with the writer behind Minimalist EdTech, and now reading Jake LaCaze’s most recent post — hearing Chuck Palahnuik’s “writing vs. typing” distinction he to linked from that post — I’m struck by a clear new principle for the software I build:
The tool is subservient to the voice it carries.
I think it’s easy for tech folks to get carried away building and adding and expanding their digital creations until it’s everything to everyone. We get fascinated more by the workings of the machine than the people working it. We force our specific way of working on the people that use our tools. We focus on how our little widget will revolutionize whatever it’s revolutionizing, and along the way lose the point of why we even need it to begin with.
This new principle is suddenly so clear to me now. The tech is so trivial and insignificant compared to whatever human thing it enables. We spend so much time thinking about the technical side while neglecting what our tool actually does for people. The product only needs to do what it set out to do. The code only needs to be elegant enough to be maintained — anything beyond that is pure onanism.
People will always find a way to write, learn, and socialize, with or without the latest technology. As builders of this digital world, we need to wave away any grander illusions than that. If we want to build things that actually improve the world instead of creating more pointless problems, we need to remember that it isn’t about the tool, but the people that use it.