I found him. I finally found him. After complaining about this guy for years, all of a sudden he shows up in a meeting to review venture capital pitches. These are pitches entrepreneurs make to prospective investors to fund their projects. You know, like my ideas for a pet dish, snow shovel, self-repairing car paint, a “relief tube” for air travel, and healthy French macarons. I would have developed that last one except we couldn’t come up with a tasty recipe with grape seed oil (see 100 Under 100).
The big news is that I finally found the guy responsible for the “feedback mechanism” on consumer goods, everything from toasters to microwaves and automobiles. What is a “feedback mechanism” you ask? It’s the ring, ding, beep, buzz, bing on electronic devices to remind you to take action like buckle your seatbelt or remove whatever you were heating from the microwave, as if you need to be reminded. I certainly don’t, which is why I refer to the thing as a “nag device.” And, as you can tell, I don’t like to be nagged.
Who in God’s name would create such a thing? Better yet, why would they? I often imagined a meeting in which an engineer stood up and said, “We need to nag people. We need to remind them every twenty seconds that their macaroni and cheese is still in the microwave. So, I propose we build in a function that requires the customer to take action. That way, they’ll feel more connected to the product.” And then everyone else in the meeting–marketing, sales, management types–agree to this madness.
Seriously, is there not enough noise in the world? Do we really need more? I wrote about this in one of my first posts and have been writing about it on and off ever since (see The People in Apartment 22; Spitting, Honking & Other Pastimes; The City that Never Sleeps; The Sounds of Silence; Killing Me Softly, Mister Softee; Just Say No to Backup Beeps!). You may call that obsessive, especially given the weightier problems we face like nuclear war. I call it committed, and, yes, I just might be committed.
Now, when I say I found the guy, I don’t mean literally, as if he is the one who started it all, although I’ll call him “Adam,” perpetrator of the original sin and a representative of engineers, marketers, and product designers everywhere. He is the Everyman of Nag. And the Everyman is Everywhere.
In our meeting, two entrepreneurs presented their idea for a water purifier that attaches to the faucet. Adam asked, “So, where’s the feedback mechanism?” As a testament to their sanity and good sense, the entrepreneurs asked, “What do you mean?” Adam then explained what he meant as if it were the most obvious thing in the world. The guys confessed that they hadn’t included anything that rang, clanged, chimed, or went rat-a-tat-tat. In fact, it had never occurred to them. But, they added, all the consumer had to do was check the color of the filter to know when to replace it. Adam fell silent and then waved them on to the next funder.
I nearly fell out of my chair. Before me was the guy I had been looking for all these years. I wanted to let him know that his idea not only didn’t work but was about as ridiculous as putting little wipers on the headlights of Mercedes-Benzes. That was probably his idea, too. Or, if not him, someone like him. Adding features to products, superfluous and annoying as these, helps no one. It also adds unnecessary anxiety to an already anxious world. The last thing people on edge need is a machine nagging them.
I wanted to tell him all this, to get him to see that he was disturbing the universe and that if somebody put mac and cheese in the microwave, they’d just have to remember to take it out. Not a big deal. Not like the loss of a limb or starving children. But most of all I wanted to watch this man, to see what he was like and what made him tick. I wanted to clobber him.
I wanted Parkman.
Image credits: feature by Timothy Eberly; girl by Gentri Shopp; graffiti by Annie Spratt. Like fiction? Check out the Mercury “trilogy” (The Gringo, Laura Fedora) here. Also, go to Robert Brancatelli.