The rise of the enablers

I travel quite a bit for work, and as I recently sat in a hotel room I started thinking about all the steps that brought me to that room. I booked the flight and the room online, I flew from Atlanta to Boston and I took a cab to the hotel… A typical business trip, with no problems or delays. Breaking things down, I started counting off all the technological innovations that supported me in that journey… “enablers” that made things happen and made things easy. Here’s just a few of them:

  • I was able to compare flights online, both times and flights
  • I was able to compare hotels online, both price and location
  • I checked traffic before I drove to the airport on my GPS.
  • I used to GPS to get directions to the airport (that routed me around traffic)
  • I checked in to my flight through the Delta app on my iPhone
  • I changed my seat using that same app
  • I was able to track my checked bag using the app
  • I was able to use an electronic boarding pass to go through security
  • I read news articles and watched videos on my iPad in the airport, using free Internet access
  • I was able to write a status report for work on my iPad that automatically synced to my laptop via the cloud
  • I confirmed the address of my hotel through the Marriott app
  • I paid for my taxi ride with a credit card using a card reader that was mounted in the taxi

And if I spent more time pondering I’m sure I could easily double this list.

Because we use them every day, we tend to forget is just how amazing these advances are. If you are old enough, think back to a time when you may have taken a similar trip, maybe ten or twenty years ago. You had none of the above to help you on your way, everything took longer and things were more complicated. You had to spend time with a travel agent, you had to have sufficient cash to pay the taxi, you would have gotten stuck in traffic because you had no way of knowing there was a wreck backing up cars for miles… It was, well, kinda hard.

To make a direct point, what is happening throughout society is that technology is streamlining processes and helping people do things faster and easier than ever before. These enablers are becoming omnipresent and ubiquitous. They are also impacting society in negative ways… For example, the aforementioned travel agent is becoming an endangered species, and that isn’t the only job category that has been impacted by these enablers.

What is even more exciting to me than seeing how far technology has helped us every day is that companies are still actively coming up with new enablers. One of the big stories in technology this week is a computer peripheral called the Leap, a small box the size of a pack of chewing gum that offers gesture recognition far superior to the (previously groundbreaking) Kinnect XBox controller. The promise of gesture-based computing, as predicted in Minority Report, is one step closer to reality, and as a designer the possibilities that brings excites me.

We often think of the “old days,” and whimsically say to ourselves “things were simpler then.” I’d like to counter that statement, as in many ways things are simpler NOW. We just have so many enablers to choose from, things look more complicated than they actually are. Ask the typical man on the street if they would like to go back to getting their food they way people used to in “the good old days”… by growing it themselves… and see if you’ll see them pining for that nostalgic past after that.

Joseph Dickerson is a user experience professional and UX Lead for Microsoft based out of Atlanta, GA. He has implemented processes in user testing, design and ethnographic research and provided design and consulting services for many different projects and organizations.

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