It’s amazing we are at a point where I will see half a dozen long form reviews of a two dollar application flood my RSS feed. Are we so desperate to save 1-5 dollars that we devote an hour to reading different perspectives on simple cheap apps? The web and the iOS app store have fueled the fire when it comes to this recent explosion of small, single use applications as well as our low expectations price wise. Now, don’t get me wrong, I admire products that can take one idea and make it shine. I love the simplicity of this approach but when is enough enough? How many different single use applications will I chew through before I am satisfied with one particular workflow or need?
As a photographer, audio engineer, and more recently, a writer, I find that there are a lot of useful tools available to me that aid me in these processes but this is also where the waters start to get murky. I see blog after blog now chalking up minimalism as a bare bones, fundamental approach to living a tightly organized life and sometimes I feel it reaching near religious followings. Everyone wants their chance to show off how neatly organized they are, how they have discovered The best way to write a story, launch an application, or manage their time.
This is all well and good and I enjoy reading through different ideas and opinions but at what point is enough enough? When does minimalism start to become cluttered and excessive in itself?
Take writing for example, a task so basic and fundamental, in its essence it can be broken down to pen on paper or a stick in the sand. Yet here today we have a plethora of various writing applications because at some point in the past 15-20 years of modern technology we have managed to damage and greatly exaggerate the basic fundamentals of recording our thoughts and feelings into their written word. We have somehow sucked the romance out of it and turned it into nothing more than a means to reach an end.
Life and work have become so overly complex that there is now a sub genera of writing applications that strip out functionality in an effort to bring the focus back to writing. This is great and all and I myself use two such applications, but I am starting to wonder when we will realize that what we have is good enough. Why continue to spend countless time and energy (that we clearly realize is precious else all of this minimal talk sort of negates itself) researching new writing applications when you have one already that you are happy with? What on earth prompts you to think you need more than a keyboard and a few basic niceties to help organize, archive, and share the information?
I guess first off you have to ask, what constitutes happiness or contentment in a computer application that transcribes your thoughts. We construct our personal ideal in our mind and tell ourselves what features or lack of features we need to seamlessly get these thoughts out of our heads and onto the screen. So where do we get these ideals to begin with? Well, the way I see it, in today’s social media blitz of a world it’s peer pressure. No one is invulnerable to this. More than ever before I see people, including myself, fall prey to this most basic of social pressure. The web and tech has turned our minds, our needs, and our desires upside down and it’s gotten to a point where even something like writing has become a task easily influenced by the collective, ever shifting ideas of the people we follow online. It’s suddenly an urgent need to feel as though you are keeping ahead of the curve, staying relevant.
This means that, to a degree, our idea of contentment with an application is constructed of the things we let influence us. Now with a never resting movement of information this has grown increasingly difficult to keep up with and without realizing it we find ourselves thinking that there is always greener grass on the other side even if in reality we are perfectly happy with what we already have.
You end up coming across conundrums within the logic of finding a good app to suit your needs. If app X only had the ability to change the text size it would be perfect. If app Z would just let me pick my own typeface and adjust my kerning and leading I would really be able to get some good writing done. I like app Y a lot but it just has too many features to deal with… My point here is that at what point will we learn to satisfy this highly bizarre balance of both wanting so much more from so much less? When did we get so spoiled that we are left never feeling satisfied enough not to poke holes in everything. It’s depressing.
How many different conduits do we need to accommodate our writing needs? How many more ways do we need to sync data to feel as though we have control over it from every location possible? How many articles about being minimal do we need to read before we feel as though we have a natural understanding of our own needs? How much more do we really need to feel happy with less? I feel the answers to these questions in some ways speak volumes not only of our computing habits but the way in which we live our lives.
The same types of questions are brought forward within any number of other fields, most notable for me of course is photography. It’s almost painful to watch the speed at which trends come and go as various applications and techniques go through their month long cycle of interestingness. It seems everyone is out to discover the next best photo application or way to manipulate digital photos to look more analogue, a contradiction that will never really make any sense no matter how you look at it. When you break down what you really need as far as post editing tools are concerned (from a classic photographer’s standpoint) you really only need iPhoto, or perhaps Aperture or Lightroom if you want to get more serious and shoot RAW which I always suggest you do if there is the option. Simplicity in post processing is key to developing your skills as a photographer. No matter how good you may think you are at something the only true path to honestly calling yourself a professional is time, patience, and an unwavering knowledge and precision within your craft. It doesn’t matter how many toys you have around to manipulate your images. Don’t play victim to current trends if you are trying to make your way as an artist. This is where these sorts of social pressures not only clutter and contradict the fundamentals of living an organized, minimal life but can also end up stunting your growth as a master of your passion.
Something else to be taken into consideration when debating the need for yet another app to try and fulfill our bottomless expectations are the various app stores out there and the dawn of pushing technically incomplete software into the market as the norm. While in some cases you get a product that grows in healthy ways with user feedback this has also turned software development into a rat race to push out new ideas first resulting in one too many half finished pieces of software. Since when was it ok to state, “as long as they add feature X in the future like they say they will this app will be the best ever!” in a review? This practice has thrown our expectations into a tail spin of disappointment and confusion leaving us constantly in search of what’s next before what we have is even truly fully realized. To me, that’s a maddening prospect.
To bring this back around to my original point, I am simply starting to find it daunting to read through endless reviews rambling about every negative nuance possible within a product which ends up reinforcing our driving need for more. Nothing is ever good enough anymore, even positive reviews seem to find the need to look for what is NOT there. This causes waves of developers scrambling to make new software to fill gaps that only ever existed because of newly imagined holes in our needs to begin with. If you are honestly trying to devote yourself to a minimal approach to computing and living, its amazing how simple this task really is and it astonishes me how much effort some people seem to go through in order to emulate the sometimes utopian standards projected to us online. Whats the big secret? Knowing yourself well enough to be honest with your own needs and learning to be your own you. It’s fine to keep up with the latest and greatest but you can’t let it define you. Age old advice but true now more than ever.
I find myself enjoying writing articles like this here on FFS because my mind is often running wild with curiosity and wonder as I read through the statements being made by fellow writers online and I can not help but want to jump in with observations from more of an aerial view. I find countless parallels between every creative field out there from writing, to music, to photography. I am interested in continuing to explore these observations from varying points of view through reviews, photographs, and simple observations like those mentioned here today. In the future you can expect not only a continuing source for photography and focus on that field (and of course plenty wallpaper imagery) but also growing observations on life in a world more and more dominated by technology. Speaking of which the often spoken of changes to the sites design and features are still very much underway! Just hit a few snags in the coding process of the new design, thanks again for being patient as I work towards building fiftyfootshadows into something even better.
Update: I have written a few more thoughts after a provoking comment left after publishing the article. I have pasted the comment and written a response after the ‘Read More’ link below.