Good and obsolete

On being relevant in a changing world

Jon Peddie

On being relevant in a changing world

I’m asked sometime when would you/ will you retire? My answer is, when I’m no longer relevant. 

Relevancy is another parameter that can be plotted on Maher’s practicality-gap or Roger’s Diffusion of Inno-vations curve; a predictive model for the life time of a product, and other items and people. 

Consider the fax. It is now possible to get a system that consists of a relatively fast, high-resolution full-color scanner, with a built-in high-resolution color ink-jet printer, that will answer the phone, and connect to your computer wirelessly, while also offering USB and SD slots for plug in memory, weighs less than ten pounds and sells for less than $60. It is a marvel of evolved technology having first been developed by Alexander Bain in 1843. When was the last time you used one? They just aren’t relevant. Like candles, they are used as a backup, unlike candles they aren’t ro¬mantic or decorative. 

Owning stuff is becoming no longer relevant. The need or desire to own software is already a thing of the past. Who wants or needs a program on an optical disk that was obsolete before it was even printed? Today we rent software on a pay as you use basis, just like TV, or ice cream; although the purveyors of those products try to convince you to take a subscription so you’ll never be without it when that fateful moment occurs and you can’t get the instant gratification we all desire. 

When a product, or politician, is first introduced it, it has a novelty to it. Its value is its uniqueness, and maybe its function. If it actually works more people will buy and embrace it, and as they do economy of scale clicks in and the cost comes down making it more available to others and you get what is often referred to as positive feedback or a virtuous circle. Eventually the practicality of the thing is diminished and it is no longer relevant, no longer needed, or providing any contribution to the quality of your life, and so, unless you are blindly sentimental, you abandon it. Abandoning it may mean putting in a closet somewhere, or simply tossing into the landfill for ultimate destruction, disposal, and disintegration. Irrelevant people seldom get tossed into the landfill, but do get abandoned and forgotten about; sometimes it takes longer than it should. 

The social media explosion is a case where measuring its relevance is difficult. Those who tout its relevance have a difficult time quantifying and revert to hits, likes, and impressions, but nothing tangible that has a cause-effect basis. Those studies are in the works—do “likes” translate into buys? The simple answer is they must. People buy things, or engage with a person (including politicians) because they like them (or hope they will). Depending on the level of cost of engagement, price, marriage, election, getting rid of the entity when it has lost its charm or usefulness can be difficult. We no longer like it. 

The life of relevance 
The fascination of striving for social media popularity is no different than the adolescent drive to be liked, to be accepted. However, as one matures, a process that should start at age 21 (clinically, and physiologically proven over centuries) the self-absorbed need to be liked (to be accepted) is replaced with a sense of self, and ambition toward self-actualization. It’s when giving starts to overweigh getting. Some people never achieve it, some can’t even perceive it. They think they are relevant, liked, needed, in spite of the facts. Or, if they do perceive it, they fight it and try to re-make themselves or their product to make it (or them) rel¬evant once again—new and improved, Episode III, The Return of . . . It seldom works. Those attempts are often referred to as a mid-life kicker. You always wanted a sports car, now’s your chance. You always wanted to see Gone with the Wind, now you can experience it in VR. 

I would like to see social media evaluations keyed to relevance, not adolescent likes. We can still use the little thumbs up/down, or the five-star point system, only change the parameter from something with short-term emotion, to something of more (ahem) relevance to a subject product, or society. 
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