Monday, January 28, 2013

When cool design is bad design - Air Canada Executive/First

I am traveling from Montreal to Frankfort on Air Canada 's new executive first class seat (more like a pod).  At first I was impressed by the cool and seemingly futuristic design of these diagonal seats capable of flattening completely to ensure a decent night of sleep.

Before take-off one of my business partners made a request for us to be seating next to each other (after all we are three business people going to Germany to close on a deal).  This was the first issue; the seats do not provide any passenger-to-passenger interaction due to their 45 degree angle and encasing.   They are designed for isolation.  First mistake!

Then comes the takeoff.  A 45 degree angled g-force that causes an uneven weight distribution during take-off and the ascent.   You are pushed against the panel, and your back muscles wrestle to find a symmetrical position.  Second mistake; comfort.

Once in the air, your tray table keeps you prisoner in your seat as  you do not have to ability to push the tray forward to slide sideways to go to the bathroom.  Third mistake feeling trapped.

Then come the ergonomics of the usable space.  The control side has an armrest that can not be lifted for you to access objects that you might have stored.  The opposing side's armrest can be lifted but collides with the tray table, and makes it difficult to store a laptop and close it for elbow use.  The seat is not too narrow, and the privacy panels make the space very claustrophobic and uncomfortable to navigate and store objects if you want to work.  The touch-screen entertainment system is not within arm's reach unless you sit-up and reach forward.   The control panel blue lights are at eye-level when lying down, and they are disruptive when all is dark.  Fourth mistake is the storage and features' ease-of-use.   

In summary, very poor design.  Now let's look at it from the airline's perspective.   First, the economics;  by eliminating first class and giving business class sleeping comfort, by compromising on space and the diagonal positions of the pods, the airline is making more money by seat.  From a crew's perspective, the passengers are more likely to remain in place during service and sleep.   I personally hate this configuration and if I do not need to sleep exclusively, and travel with my team, I will book economy tickets to interact and not feel trapped.

Friday, January 18, 2013

"I am the Best"; This generation's popular egocentrism movement reveals the death of real communities.

I am observing that my industry is becoming the breeding-ground, and accelerator, of this generation's popular egocentrism movement that is increasingly disconnected from community accountabilities.  I use the word "popular" defined as "pertaining to, or representing the people, especially the common people".  This is an important distinction because this new generation is not only admiring ostentatious popular icons, but appears to embrace their attributes in every day life. 

Everything from reality television to idol branding is putting the "brand-of-the-ego" at the center of advertisement strategies.  As such, it is not surprising that this generation tries to mimic this new form of fabricated value.  

The danger is further accelerated with online social media conduits that allow the every-people to shine and feels that they are something special without true merit.  The impact of jumping the important steps of discovering and building skills leaves us with a mediocre generation that has a self-importance feeling without substance.  Even more worrisome, as a group they validate and encourage each other.  

This support allows them to sustain this eroding artifice into their late 20s. Those who succumb to this temptation, because they lack the proper parental or "real" community guidance, are doomed to face reality and lack the true skills to operate in a constructive society.

Some of you know my thoughts about the disruption of information technology on the social ecosystem.  In brief, all technology is an accelerator of time and space.  We all know the natural ecosystem is disrupted when we introduce a foreign organism or entity that would not be able to be injected on its own device.  This is why a particular algae in south Africa could not disrupt the shores of England unless it attached itself to the hull of a boat.  The same is true for the "social ecosystem" our technology has constantly disrupted societies since mankind has been able accelerate its travel.  We brought disease to America, cane toads to Australia and destroyed entire civilizations.

Our communication capability is no exception to disruptions.  We know that societies, just like nature, have a change adoption clock.  I had the privilege to have a conversation with Walter Cronkite, in Paris when with Lotus/IBM, about the impact of media before the  Iranian Revolution in 1979.  He believed that the clerical power of Iran was taken by surprise when Iranians were able to see the western world's lifestyle through television.  The clerical power felt that they would loose control if people embraced these values.  And they did.  Iran was on the westernization  track, and too fast.  The balance of intra-social powers were shifting too fast.  This conversation has inspired me to consider the social disruptive factor when creating new web social solutions.  This is why I look at this generation with an eye on the future and the impact our industry has on our society.

In my introduction I mentioned "community accountabilities".  This is not trivial. The absence of accountability in any community can lead to the use of force or violence.  Basically, if you can't trade with your community for your wellbeing, then you are disconnected.  Unfortunately social media services give the illusion of meaningful communities.   How many of you know your neighbors?  Or depend on your relationships with them to prosper?  The fact is that in most urban communities your neighbors will send you a lawyer's letter to ask you to cut off branches, silence your dog, or ask you to put carpet on your floor.  That is because many of them have nothing to trade.  If you do not have a trading community, then respect, manners and politeness are not needed; force is now needed.  This is probably why this generation is mainly arrogant, lacks empathy,  manners and uses poor language.  
What do they have to loose?  They have no immediate accountabilities, and the media is leveraging this attitude for rating.  It is a vicious cycle because the media eventually dictates the new normal (see the above about Iranians embracing western values through media exposure).

This is not rocket science and we have all been exposed to this new reality.  The fact is that if people are divided in the physical world, yet connected in the virtual world through superficial and guided values, the marketing machine will become more powerful.  This can lead to an economical power where virtual communities become a significant commercial resource.  If we reach this point, no political incentive will be able to protect the people from being reduced to a lesser quality.  The have-not will live in the illusion of satisfaction and stagnate, as the emerging new order of the information economy will continue to grow them as a human consumption resource.

As you can tell, this is a theme that constantly preoccupies me.   Perhaps it is my French tendency for the critical and philosophical.   I think that this kind of debate is needed for people in my industry to start to have some social awareness and accountability when creating solutions that impact our society.