Monday, November 21, 2005

Emily's new cell phone and the cost of complexity

Emily needs a new cell phone. Here 2-3 year old coddled Samsung flip phone is now unreliable (it turns off unpredictably when closed).

Unreliable technology. That's a cost of complexity.

Ok, I'll just buy her the phone I have, the Samsung i500. It's a flawed device, but I know it well and I've more or less got it working with Emily's iMac. It will run ePocrates and she'll finally be able to dump her crummy SONY CLIE TJ-27.

Except the Samsung i500 is history. The PalmOS being 90% dead, Samsung has switched the physical descendant of this phone to whatever it is Microsoft now calls their PDA OS. There's no equivalent at Sprint. This launched Emily into an eloquent rant on the cost of complexity -- summarized here.

This is progress, yes. But it has a cost. A 10 minute exercise will now consume hours of research -- starting with figuring out if I can buy the phone on eBay and get Sprint to switch it over. There's a huge hassle cost here.

It's a hassle and complexity cost we pay almost every day. Call it "the progress tax". It consumes a lot of our life.

We are starting to adapt. The price tag of a new item is now almost irrelevant to us -- the cost we look at is the complete cost of ownership. This is dramatically changing what we buy and how we buy. Even so, we can't avoid the progress tax completely, and sometimes the churn cost far exceeds the value of the "progress". Indeed, in many cases, there is change with regression, such as the loss of capabilities that we value (reliability in particular).

I would like to see more scholarly investigation of complexity cost and its impact on our lives. We know that the average middle class person watches much less TV than they used to. I wonder if that really represents a switch to other entertainment forms, or whether it's how middle class Americans are paying their complexity taxes ....

No comments: