Musings on designing experiences & (re)engineering complexity

Jul 2023

Question of Value

Photo of three pairs of glasses on a desk. In fromt are the Vue smart-connected glasses. Behind them are Snap Spectacles. And behind them a non-connected, normal set of glasses. All sitting on a desk with grey and white striping.

What’s the value of creativity or any type of manual information work during this age where the tools for work moves faster towards network-automated transformations? It would appear that the phase of connected work accelerated by “asynchronous, collaboration“ has really moved “slow curiosity and remixing“ to the edges of what it means to do knowledge-based work. One can argue this is merely a ripple, or an implication of the tools we have. That eventually, every tool evolves in use until certain parts of friction are reduced to “normal”. And we are seeing this now as it relates to asynchronous information collection, remixing, and distribution- that is every application and service whose premise is to be yet another feed and dashboard. There’s probably a new axiom to this- “enterprise products evolve until they become a form of Pinterest with chat boxes.”

So then, what is the value of those things which are not so easily collected, measured, or remixed?

It probably comes down to “what is the value that is most valuable.“ Within the information space much of the conversation and the activity about productivity revolves around this concept of value. Doing something because it is valuable. Doing a measurement because the measurement is able to be valued. Or having a series of components and products whose ultimate worth is declared in value. Now, the question of “whose value“ is where things may swing from one end to the other economically, psychologically, socially, and technologically. But it is always about “value.”

The possession of ascribing value to whatever it means to do work seems to live in the hands of everyone who does the work. But, as we see from the current Screen Actors Guild strike, value is actually not in the hands of those who are creating, it’s actually in the hands of those who invest in the creating and distribution of what has been made. Or rather, it has been tilted there due to a social pact. The agreement is that one party creates and another party distributes (and potentially another party invests in both). Anything that increases the apparent ability to reduce friction in distribution, and maximize any type of investment and creation by doing so is propped up. There is nothing to distribute of nothing is created. However what’s created has no value unless it is distributed. Hence, the swing in “value.”

The literal limitation of human performance has a cap in value according to this view. And every workers union that arises, admits to this disconnect between the value of those who are doing the creating and the investment of those who are enabling creative works to be distributed.

The limits of the creative human performance…

Maybe we do not want to admit that there are limits to the reach of our creativity. That, no matter what it is, that we create, we are ultimately relying on items that are outside of our own control to extend, this ability for that creative thing to have an impact that goes beyond us. The limit of human performance is an admission that we cannot reach into the universe as far as we would like. That we cannot live longer than the time that we are given without the assistance of someone or something else. Admitting that we are within this limit, either empowers us to find ways to maximize it (creativity) or causes those who might have realized it sooner to deprive others of discovering this limitation (manipulating agency).

The value of using non-automated tools for productivity is an acceptance of the limits of (and pleasures to be found within) certain/some human capabilities.

The question the value seems to ultimately relate to what we might say is a willingness to accept what we are, the things that we can, or cannot change, and then exist within the difference. To not except, or to make an exchange on that, may mean there is some exchange we are making with a condition we instinctively know we cannot truly overcome. If others agree with this exchange, cultures and ecosystems are forged. If not, wars and religions are forged. It would seem, we are questioning our place in this temporal plane while also navigating this exchange. Navigating this acceptance (or not), of a limit we ultimately do not overcome.