The Encumbrance of Over-Choice

Sometimes a phrase just leaps out at you. I was reading a thought-provoking piece on ReadWriteWeb, about whether technology complicates or simplifies our lives, and was struck by the phrase, “the encumbrance of over-choice.” It comes from Richard Szafranski, Partner at Toffler Associates, and I hope he’ll forgive me for stealing it for this post’s title. Szafranski stated it as he participated in an Economist/Oxford 2.0 debate over the following premise: if the promise of technology is to simplify our lives, it is failing. The public isn’t with him on this at the moment, with 64% of voters siding with simplification. The phrase struck a chord with me, though, as it nails precisely what I’ve been trying to put a finger on for several weeks. Where does my social graph end?

Until a couple of months ago, I had admittedly only dipped a toe into the morass of social innovations now available. Screening companies for DEMO and providing analysis to The Guidewire Report monopolizes my time and I tended to try out a service for a week or two, only to leave my profile languishing afterward. But as I wade deeper into emerging tech and blogging – and present myself as an expert on startups – I’d be remiss not to immerse myself fully into key services. So I’ve dove headfirst into FriendFeed and Twitter, Twine and PlaxoPulse, Persai and YouNoodle, Facebook and LinkedIn, and some 10-15 others I won’t assault you with. The problem isn’t that these services are faulty. It’s the exact opposite – I’m loving them. They’re delivering so well on their promises that I continually add them as must-visit sites. The fabulous little Firefox add-on Morning Coffee now opens up 10 tabs every morning, each with links to read, comments to make and interesting tidbits to submit to my network. To keep things as simple as possible, I’ve struck my banking and financial sites from the Morning Coffee list and now wonder from afar if my e-bills are up to date. (On second thought, this could come in handy should my money start tanking; I’ll just blame my social graph.)

Everyone’s been raving about FriendFeed in recent weeks and I couldn’t agree more. I only just joined Persai and am hugely impressed with its learning capabilities. Plaxo Pulse may lose the war to FriendFeed but they’ve designed a great interface. And Twine – well, I can’t talk about Twine until next week but it’s good stuff. It now appears though that we need a bigger umbrella technology, something to scale the firehose back down to a drip but still retain the sophistication of the current innovations.

The opposing side of the Economist debate was John Maeda, president-elect of the Rhode Island School of Design. His view is that, seeing as how all of these technologies – especially the ones I mention above – are in their infancy, it would be foolish to write them off as complicating life until they’ve reached maturity. It’s a strong point and one of which I must continually remind myself. True early adopters must be willing to endure complication in order to one day reach simplification. So maybe my question shouldn’t be, “where does the social graph end?” but “where is it going to take me?”

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