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Friday, November 22, 2013

There's Nothing Simple about Simplicity

"Simplicity is not the absence of clutter. It's refining and being able to define the very essence of something."  
John Ive, Senior V.P. of Design at Apple, Inc.

We use objects, systems and tools everyday that simplify our life and make things easy. Twenty years ago when I graduated from law school, I didn't have a cell phone, an email account, voicemail, social media or the internet. To type a paper, I had to use the Computer Lab at school because no one had a personal computer. The "world wide web" was in its infancy.

Today, I carry an iPhone that weighs ¼ of a pound but can access my email, my voicemail, my social networks, the internet, the prescriptions I need to refill at the drugstore, my Starbucks card that I no longer need to physically carry, my bank account, satellite GPS, traffic conditions, weather conditions, stock market conditions...and can talk to me when I ask it questions. Smartphones illustrate the essence of the complexity behind simplicity.

Can you read? You're reading this (thank you!). We read all day everyday. A simple skill essential to accessing and executing most everything that we do. From food shopping, banking, reading road signs and communicating. Twenty-six letters strung together in various combinations allow us to do all of these things. Twenty-six letters. And only ten numbers. With 26 letters and 10 numbers, we write books, craft national budgets, create algorithms, study science and disease. Worlds open. They improve. Through the simplicity of the tools honed to allow the most efficient connection and communication.

Things that appear seamless never are and certainly aren't an example of simplicity. Systems, tools, even relationships aren't simple because they lack clutter or complexity or problems. They're simple because time was invested to define the essence and purpose of something and then refine it. From the apple that you slice and enjoy to the Apple that you trust with every appointment, document, creative venture and photo, neither is "simple." Because there is no such thing as simplicity. Simplicity is simply the result of mastering complexity.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

The True Focus of the Holidays

Tonight, I watched "Elementary," a modern-day drama of a New York-based savant detective, Sherlock Holmes. In the episode, he's annoyed that his partner wants him to have dinner with his chef brother who's prepared an elegant meal for him. Sherlock asserts to his partner that he detests the idea of an elaborate dinner because "The ritualization/fetishization of food is as an egregious waste of time as I can think of."

Yes, fictional Sherlock, I agree! I've propounded for years that we unnecessarily focus the quality time with our friends and family around food. Thanksgiving. Christmas. Birthdays. Any holiday. Even just getting together to watch a football game is about food. The meal. We spend countless hours planning menus, preparing things ahead of time. Then, when we actually all get together as a family, the meal takes minutes. Maybe half an hour. Instead of sitting around and simply enjoying one another, we (particularly women) spend the majority of our holidays in the kitchen either cooking, serving, or cleaning up.

What if we could simply get together and sit and talk. Share our lives. Enjoy the pleasure of uninterrupted conversation. What if instead of making Thanksgiving and Christmas about the meal we brought in pizza and enjoyed time just talking. Laughing. Being a family.

In many parts of the world, food is a necessity. In ours, it's a luxury. So many go to sleep every night hungry. What if we--those of us who never go to bed hungry, who have ice cream before bed, who get a $4 coffee from Starbucks everyday--sat with our families without the distraction of menus and courses and clean-up and embraced being together. Thankful. Instead of ritualizing and fetishizing food and making it the centerpiece of the time we spend with those we love most, why don't we simply take a step back. Order take out or eat peanut-butter sandwiches and focus on the actual point of this season. It's about family not food.