Going Faster

We are all going faster, and I’m here today to ask if there is value in that.

This week, my scheduling app had a conversation with a friend’s artificial intelligence app — yes, it was one bot talking to another — and together they were able to work out a time for us to talk on Monday. It was faster, but it was also strange.

If you’ve used Facebook lately, you know that the simple thumbs-up Likebutton has become a bunch of emoji that you are able to roll over. This lets you choose from six different icons to express your surprise, happiness, rage, love, sadness, or likey-ness in just one click. It is faster, but it is also strange.

An amazing amount of work went into designing that array of emoji, with the result of making it easier to express emotion. Is this bad, because we have reduced emotions to an icon, or is it good, because our reactions to everything on Facebook cannot all be reduced to a Like, and now we have five more ways to express ourselves, and Facebook is used by a billion people, and those multitudes can be more accurate in their expression of emotion? It is faster, yes, but also it is strange.

I have the capability of sending a scheduled email series to hundreds of people and making each message in the series seem like it is a personal message to each person. It is faster. But is it good?

It’s not a fair question, you’d say. Yes, you would be right.

In the online world, efficiency and simultaneous broadcasting are always good. On the human side, they are almost always bad.

I expect my barista to sing the praises of my espresso, take time making it, and deliver it with a certain joy. All that makes it taste better, and whether the theater delivered with the cup is true or not, doesn’t matter. If that coffee were made by a machine (Starbucks) and handed to me in a paper cup with a plastic lid (Starbucks, again) it would taste bad. I go to Starbucks anyway and drink bad espresso (don’t tell my barista) because it is efficient. Online, and at Starbucks, if your idea doesn’t scale, you’re dead. Online markets are dominated by the most efficient player. In the real world, you can have Starbucks and Peet’s and Dunkin Donuts. You can have Fedex and UPS. Online, Google is about to kill Yahoo. Facebook has killed Ning and Ello. It’s a mono-marketplace driven by ruthless efficiency.

Uber is efficient and dominant.

Can I take a moment to celebrate the quirky? I am writing this in an app called Ulysses, which is about as far from Microsoft Word as you can get. It has personality. It is named after a novel by James Joyce. Real people are behind it. Somehow, I have become as emotionally invested in an app as I was once in an old typewriter I used to tap out plays and screenplays, pounding away until the blue hours of the morning, a comforting sound of forward propulsion, rolling each fresh page into the machine, twenty pages by dawn and then rest.

Platforms like PRNewswire and Buffer and Buzzsumo and Mention are efficient. There is no human side. There is not supposed to be one. Apps like Narrow.io, Crowdfire, Nimble, and Socedo can grow audiences on Twitter quickly and efficiently. The auto-response you programmed into Socedo gets responded to by somebody else’s auto-response programmed into Crowdfire. A lot of Twitter has become bots talking to other bots. It’s an exciting moment when somebody actually posts something for real, or when you receive an email that was not scheduled to send, when the spontaneous, messy, human side of the web peeks through, with typos.