Contrived Complexity of Technologies


Some tasks are made needlessly difficult. Often in the name of asthetics others an overemphasis on control. Though I could use several examples of software, website design applications and hardware technologies to make my argument about the power trips of digital “experts”, instead I want to discuss my bathroom technologies. Actually only one, the toilet paper holder. This device has led to much frustration in my family.

I redesigned our bathroom about a year ago and I installed this wall mounted holder that had the same polished chrome finish as the rest of the bathroom fixtures. But this aesthetically appealing dispenser that I picked has one major flaw, our children cannot change the roll when it runs out! It holds paper nicely and everyone in the house has no trouble pulling paper off the roll, however it has a redicululously complicated bracket that encloses both ends of the paper. It is as though the designer was afraid that the roll of paper was going to get away, so they trapped it between two pieces of metal. The bracket is detachable with a magnetic system that requires a lot of force to seperate. The magnets are like hard drive grade! Apparently a year of frustration with the contrived complexity of this task was enough to prompt my wife to go out an buy a much simpler holder.

The shape of the new dispenser is a simple hook that allows you to pull the empty roll off the end and put a new one on. No “removable” parts secured by rare-earth magnets. This design allows anyone with the dexterity of a toddler to be able to use. We actually had a bit of a ceremony where my 5 year old put a roll of paper on the new dispenser and discussed the liberation of ease of use!

I’ve written in the past about the simplicity of creating and editing with google docs and have done numberous trainings on wiki design where I emphasize the simplicity of the controls as the advantage. It isn’t about a complicated, some call aesthetically pleasing, design. It’s about getting your point across… creating, efficiently. There is a lot of technology that we interact with that has evolved over the years based on some premises that were defined over a decade or more ago when connectivity, storage, and copyright philosophy was different. Any time we experience technology that require experts to manage, we need to question why we need the experts. Is it because the technology is that complicated for it to function the way we want it to, or is the technology that complicated to ensure the “expert” has contrived their legitimacy. My wife and I do not want to be the resedent toilet paper experts and there is no need for our toilet paper to be contained. So we changed the technology and allowed everyone access and control. Now if only I can find some contrived complexity to the pluming and I won’t have to be the expert in that area either.


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