Question 40 of 365: Why can't we focus on making something, rather than the something itself?

It is the product that we are after: the book, the video, the iPhone, the worksheet, and the report. These products are the result of a huge amount of processing, working, collaborating, and creating. And yet, we are so focused on the product itself that we have almost no idea how it came into being. We are so interested in what the product can do for us, the idea that we could be learning from  the creation of that product and helping ourselves to the knowledge of what it takes to create something great is simply left behind.

I have three examples for this kind of misguided focus.

The first is of a single YouTube video. For effect, let’s choose a meme: Takeing a picture of yourself every day for a number of years. The result of this meme is a serious amount of introspection, reflection on what matters in one’s life and an amount of dedication to an idea that many people do not choose to follow. The video is just the byproduct of this reflection. It can garner a huge level of interest, but the process is what matters, not the object at the end of it.

Other videos are even further removed from the process. One of the most engaging videos in education, social media, and technology in the last 10 years was created by a friend of mine, Karl Fisch. He did a powerpoint presentation that gathered a lot of data about technology, schools and the ways in which the world is changing. The process that he went through to create the powerpoint was rich and worthwhile, and every iteration that has been created off of his original vision has undergone some version of the process. Yet, all of the people that have watched the video believe that the final product is what should be the conversation starter. I believe that the process of thinking through the implications of technology, education, informatics, design, and comparative analysis is where the power lies. If we truly followed the example of this process, we would all be trying to find the data in our own lives that will enable us to anticipate and engage in the future instead of taking someone else’s observations on data and declaring it to be gospel.

A second type of product worship happens when a piece of technology becomes the focus of endless discussion. Facebook is a product that you would think could focus on the process of creating intricate networks of people for all kinds of reasons, but in fact, the majority of the conversation about Facebook is about how to get the most friends, make money, or all of the content (read: products) that gets shared on that ever expanding network. The conversation rarely is about what an individual’s social network requires in order to be a sustaining and engaging aspect of a healthy social life. Facebook, as a product, too often wins out to Facebook, as a creation of interconnected stories that add value to your life.

The final way in which I see products being the focus of all attention is within the “upload” button. The upload button has become a pervasive part of the online ecosystem and it has quite simply turned all of our actions into looking for a product that we can “upload.” Whether it is a powerpoint uploaded to Slideshare, a photo uploaded to Flickr, or any type of file uploaded to Google Docs (now that it is basically an online hard drive); all of this uploading is causing us to focus on getting everything we do into a package that is uploadable. While I am seriously in favor of placing my work on the cloud, the fact that all of the collaboration and thought behind each product doesn’t get uploaded with it is a serious problem. Google Docs gets it right when you start from scratch in there. You can look back at the revision history and see what contributions and thought process made it an important document. However, that is only one path, and it is still incredibly hard to follow a thought process through a revision history.

What I want is a system that allows me to see the process of creation, from start to finish. I want to see everything that goes into answering a big question. I want to hear the fits and starts of answers. I want the “umms” to hang in the air while someone formulates a new thought. I want the rough edges in the middle drafts and the clean lines of the final one. I want the upload button to be modified into a “record” button. I want that button to be the beginning rather than the ending.

In essence, I want a YouTube that can show me how the ideas were birthed and provide a backstory to fill in all of the things that were left on the “cutting room floor.” I want a Facebook that allows you to see the connections and understand the true importance of each one. I want a social network that can look at the quality of content and not just the quantity (or the ability to view huge amounts of it). I also want a cloud-based service that doesn’t let the upload button to reign supreme. I want the uploaded work to be an iterative process, one idea leading to the next.

I guess that is asking for a lot, but perhaps this is more about my process of building it than it is about the product I want at the end. Right?

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