I recently watched a presentation done by Martin Seligman, ex-president of the American Psychology Association. He's the main man behind something called 'positive psychology.' It's a fairly new branch of the discipline, and one in which there's alot of positive interest.
Ever since the 50's, psychology has dealt with illness. Medical solutions to psychological problems have been the 'norm' of psychology as a science. As such, psychologists got the reputation of being a little scary. Talking to one meant they'd analyse you to find problems. Your repressed memories and assumptions could be read from a single conversation - therefore psychologist were those to be ignored.
Well, according to Mr Seligman, this is no longer the case (at least with him). Since the mid-90s, there has been an increase in interest in psychology as it has diversified into new fields of practise. One such field is this positive psychology.
The talk I watched was done at something called TED (www.ted.com) - it's a conference organised whereby experts in their field are invited to share their ideas. The best thing though, is that they're then asked to move their ideas into a different field. To throw it out there for all the other brains at the event to understand. Sometimes these sparks can light a fire.. that's the idea anyway.
Well, Mr Seligman's talk was on happiness. It's a fairly new area, and one open to massive interpretation: so here's mine.
Seligman talks of three types of happy lives.
Pleasant Lives - Celebrity, Indulgent, Experince
Good Lives - Appreciation, Focused, Commited, Engagement
Meaningful lives - Pensive, Broad, Faith.
They're not mutually exclusive or inclusive. It's interesting, it's possible to have all three.
His studies have led him to find the opposite of what he'd expected to be true. The most 'happy' life to lead is the Meaningful Life, then the Good Life, followed by the Pleasant Life. His reasoning is that although the pleasant life is something we all aspire to; it's also extremely habituating. If you have air conditioning, then a fan is no replacement. The step up is great - but once you're there you've got to enjoy it and appreciate it, else it becomes the habitual norm and anything less is sub-standard. Ironically the pleasant life is the most depressing, as improvements are finite - and more often than not they happen in big steps, rather than incremental changes.
The interesting thing was is that he applied this 'happiness' to technological development (not necessarily electric). Sure, you can put out a "pleasant" application and people will be happy with it. However, it's got to be constantly improving. If you create an application that people can get engaged with, it moves up a step to the "Good"applications; people are happy just using it. The third stage is the 'meaningful' application; one that gets the user interacting meaningfully with it. A great example is facebook.
Now, the interesting thing to me is that this group of 'three' is very similar to another group of 'three' that I read about at University. There's replacement, enabling and ubitiquous technology. The three categories seem to fit nicely as pairs.
Replacement technology - that which replaces a process we already have, but makes it easier.
Enabling technology - that which enables us to do things that were either not possible, or too time consuming to be worthwhile before the technology.
Ubitiquous technology - technology that becomes so widely used and pervasive that it becomes a part of the fabric of society, and is taken for granted.
Reading Zeth's blog post, Zeth cites commentators that say the time is over for the Open Source World, that development is slowly stalling and the exciting ideas of the 90's that came out of Open Source are being commercialised and exploited. I don't think that for one second. Software has (unnecessarily, one may argue) become far more complex. Sure, improvements in programming have been made and there are better skilled people out there than before - but packages are becoming far more complicated.
I'd ask, is this needed. The 'Pleasant Life' of Seligman talks about how having too many pleasures can be depressing. The constant expectation rather than fulfilment is lost on people who fail to appreciate. The same can be said for software consumers.
The ideas that have made people rich are rarely complicated. It's a simple idea, executed well that succeeds. The problem now, is not in "integrating all these fantastic packages and solutions," but in the realisation that perhaps that's not what is needed. Perhaps we need to look again to the simple things in life. A hammer doesn't come with a screwdriver attachment, in the same way a phone doesn't have to come with 'twitter integration.' Sure, it's a nice feature for thos that want it... but for those than don't it becomes a barrier to using the original 'simple' aspect of that technology.