The Power of Annoyance

Addressable Markets Found in Moments of Friction

A white guy in his late 50's was lounging next to me in the pool in Calistoga, talking to a friend. “I just prefer talking to someone on the phone to texting. I don’t know what it is. I just prefer it.” He shrugged his shoulders.

His tone annoyed me as much as what he was saying. He was so offhandedly sure of himself. His body language had a dismissive “kids these days” quality that I find hard to stomach. And I didn’t like the way that he wasn’t curious about why other people did something differently than he did. There was no humility to his position. You got the sense that if you were his grandkid, you’d be getting an earful about technology at dinner.

But the moment has stayed with me. Why? Because the experience was ubiquitous, and the feeling was incredibly specific. It’s nearly impossible if you’re in a mixed generation crowd for moments like this not to come up.

Visual acknowledgement that trying to speak of generational differences is problematic. Other illos considered include: pool of sharks and ski ramp, land mines in a field.

These moments are comprised of descriptive subject matter — “I like talking, not texting” — and nuanced tone. The more authoritarian Baby Boomer meets a spectrum of cynical, investigative or cohesive Gen X or Millennial. [I’m Gen X by birth but an expat Millennial by trade, enough to be sickened by my own use of these terms, so I’m going to stop right now.]

Friction has information within it. That information contains addressable markets. In the past, I’ve seen designers and engineers ignore these markets out of frustration. I get it. They want to design for the audience they understand. It saves time and money, since it takes a lot of effort and patience to overcome the psychographic differences that separate us. You first have to try to understand them. Tech companies may have some excess cash, but enough for a team of psychologists and personal meditation coaches?

The guy who prefers talking over texting is probably really frustrated too. He didn’t want the world to change in this fundamental way. His response is to say, “I don’t want to deal with this.”

What kind of products could address the gap? Off the top of my head, some jokey ideas, but you get where I’m going:

  • Texter or Talker. Download this app to acknowledge which camp you fall into. It will badge your incoming calls, texts, and vm’s in a visual way that will let your co-communicator know which method you prefer. Features calendaring system to set up calls and auto-messaging for texts around when you won’t be able to text back.
  • EZ Status in Messages. Allows texters to show that they are ready to move the conversation into voice, if the other person is game. Perfect for when text conversations are dragging on for too long.
  • Self-Destructive VMs. Give a sense of urgency to listening to real voices by allowing the person leaving a voicemail to give them a self-destructive deadline. Also makes texter feel as though if they ignore the VM it will take care of itself cause nothing that important was in it anyway (or was it…)
  • Grand-grand. This is a special app just for cross-generational conversation. It allows grandkids texts to collect into a VM-like place, and be delivered with their own vowel and consonant sounds (may sound fake at times). When grandparent wants to talk to grandkid, they can call, but they have to choose a purpose for call ahead of time, and that purpose will be delivered via text. Purposes include such things as “Just checking in,” “Coming for a visit,” “Want to send you + roommates chocolate chip cookies + money,” or “Can you help me with my wifi?”

Friction led me to notice how much I wanted to swim away from the guy in the pool. This is why we silo the generations. It’s not the right solution. There is power in community. We need to understand why we’re feeling what we’re feeling, and what problems we need to start addressing to get us understanding each other a little more.

I was going to say talking, but I caught myself.