Its almost trite to talk about Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers these days as it seems everyone is familiar with the key concept of mastery requiring a certain level of practice, on the order of 10,000 hours. Indeed the idea even spurred people on to do their own experiments to see how true the rule rang to life and the results of said experiments shows that there’s something to it, even if the hours required may vary wildly from person to person. I have unwittingly been participating in my own versions of these experiments for the past few years and a new milestone came up yesterday that I had completely forgot about.
I hit post 1000.
It seems like a lifetime ago when I hit that milestone that every blogger seems to celebrate publicly: the 100th post. Reading it again it’s clear to see how far I’ve come as the post is littered with smilies (which look horrendous to me now), the tone is completely different and it’s clear that I’m writing it directly to the only people I know are reading, I.E. my friends. Whilst I can’t claim that I’m some kind of blogging superstar now I do know my reach extends much further now than it did back then with my daily readership exceeding that of my monthly numbers back then. Back then however it felt like I had made some real substantial progress in my quest to become a blogger but upon reflection of my 1000th post it feels like I’m just starting out all over again.
Most of my posts don’t take that long to write, comparatively speaking, with most of them going from concept to draft to published piece in the space of 1~2 hours with more than a few being way above that. Putting that in perspective I’m probably about 2000 hours into the requisite 10,000 to obtaining mastery which, at my current rate, puts me at mastery some time in the mid 2020s. There are ways of accelerating this of course (I’d say that my experience writing for LifeHacker probably counts for 2x~3x the hours I spent on it due to the amount I learned whilst working for them) and I jump at the chance whenever they come my way but it’s still daunting to think that I’ve invested almost 5 years at this point and I’m only 20% into my journey.
Does that make me want to stop? Hell no! The opportunities that have opened up to me as a result of my work-daily rantings have been some of the most exciting things I’ve ever done and the more I blog the more those things seem to keep on happening to me. Whilst I’ve never attained the kind of overnight success that I had envisioned coming my way one day the slow and steady build up just never seems to stop. It can be disheartening some times when you write something you believe is brilliant and inspired only to have it fall on its face but, as the past has shown, I’m a terrible judge of what will be popular and for that I blame those little multiplying haters in my head.
It’s comforting to know that people I respect highly struggle with the same things I do, even if our medium of choice is different. I’ve always had this disembodied version of myself hanging over my shoulder, constantly critiquing everything that I’m doing. In all honesty it’s a great thing and it’s responsible for a large part of why I’ve enjoyed so much success in other aspects of my life but it can be a real detriment, especially when it collides with my almost OCD level compulsions. It hasn’t gotten any easier as the years have gone by but I’ve developed a whole bunch more tools in order to deal with it. That’s probably the biggest insight I’ve had into this whole 10,000 hour thing as it’s more about understanding and overcoming your shortcomings more than anything else.
Unlike my myriad of other hobbies I feel that blogging is one that will stick around for good, just like gaming and software development did before them. It’s something that I’ve made a heck of a lot of progress in and the idea of giving it up just doesn’t seem to make sense like it did back when my daily viewer count was in the single digits. Whether or not it’ll morph into more or less than what it currently is however remains to be seen but I’m sure as I keep chipping away at that 10,000 hour goal more good things will come of it. I might not ever become the blogging starlet that I thought I was going to be all those years ago but I’ll be damned if it hasn’t been a blast regardless.
I consider myself to be pretty lucky to be living in a time when technical advancements are happening so rapidly that the world as we knew it 10 years ago seems so distant as to almost be a dream. Today I carry in my pocket as much computing power as what used to be held in high end desktops and if I so desire I can tap into untold pools of resources from cloud based companies for a fraction of what the same ability would’ve cost me even a couple years ago. With technology moving forward at such a fever pace it is not surprising that we manage to come up with an almost infinite number of ways in which to utilize it. Within this continuum of possibilities there are trends towards certain aspects which resonate with a need or want that certain audiences have, thereby driving demand for a product centered around them. As such we’ve seen the development of many devices that are toted as being the next revolution in technology with many being touted as the future of technology.
Two such ideas spring to mind when I consider recent advances in computing technology and both of them, on the surface, appear to be at odds with each other.
The first is the netbook. I can remember clearly the day that they first started making the rounds in the tech news circles I frequent with the community sentiment clearly divided over this new form of computing. In essence a netbook is a rethink of traditional computing ideals in that the latest and greatest computer is no longer required to do the vast majority of tasks that users require. It took me back to my years as a retail salesman as I can remember even back then telling over 90% of my customers that any computer they bought from us would satisfy their needs since all they were doing was web browsing, emailing and documents. The netbook then was the embodiment of the majority of users requirements with the added benefit of being portable and most importantly cheap. The market exploded as the low barrier to entry brought portable computing to the masses who before netbooks never saw a use for a portable computer.
The second is tablets. These kinds of devices aren’t particularly new although I’ll forgive you if your first ever experience with such a device was the iPad. I remember when I was starting out at university I looked into getting a tablet as an alternative to carrying around notepads everywhere and was unfortunately disappointed at the offerings. Back then the tablet idea was more of a laptop that got a swivel touchscreen added to it. Couple that with the fact that in order to keep costs down they were woefully underpowered you had devices that, whilst they had their niche, didn’t have widespread adoption. The introduction of a more appliance focused device in the form of the iPad arguably got the other manufacturers developing devices for consumption rather than general computing. Now the tablet market has exploded with a flurry of competing devices, all looking to capture this next computing revolution.
Both of these types of devices have been touted as the future of computing at one point or another and both have been pushed as being in direct competition with each other. In fact the latest industry numbers and predictionswould have you believe that the tablet market has caused a crash in the number of netbook sales. The danger in drawing such conclusions is that you’re comparing what amounts to an emerging market to an established maturing industry. Slowing growth might sound like a death knell to an industry but that’s actually more to do with the fact that as a market matures there are more people not buying the devices because they already have one, I.E. the market is reaching saturation point. Additionally the percentages give the wrong idea since you’re ignoring the market size. In 2010 alone there have already been 20 million netbooks sold, over 6 times that of the iPad and similar devices. Realistically these devices aren’t even in competition with each other.
So why did I choose the rather grandiose title for this post rather than say “Tablets vs Netbooks, Facts and Figures”? The answer, strangely enough, lies within spaghetti sauce:
(I wholeheartedly encourage you to watch that entire video, it’s quite fantastic)
The talk focuses on the work of Howard Moskowitzwho is famous for reinventing the canned spaghetti sauce industry. Companies approached him to find out what the perfect product would be for their target markets. After following tradition scientific methods he found that his data bore no correlation to the variables that he had to play with until he realised that there could be no perfect product, there had to be perfect products. The paradigm shift he brought on in the food industry can be seen in almost all products they produce today with specific sets of offerings that cater to the various clumps of consumers that desire their products.
How the heck does this relate to tablets and netbooks? Simple, neither one of these types of products is the perfect solution to end user computing and neither were any of the products that came before it. Over time we’ve discovered trends that seem to work well in worldwide markets and we’ve latched onto those. Then companies attempt to find the perfect solution to their users needs by trying to aggregate all possible options. However no one product could attempt to satisfy everyone and thus we have a diverse range of devices that fit our various needs. To make the three types of sauces analogy there are those who like their computing focused on consumption (tablets, MIDs, consoles), creation (desktops, laptops, netbooks) and integration (smartphones). These are of course wholly unresearched categories, but they seem to ring true from my anecdotal experience with friends and their varying approaches towards computing.
So whilst we may have revolutions and paradigm shifts in the computing world no one of them will end up being the perfect solution to all our needs. As time goes by we will begin to notice the trends and clumps of users that share certain requirements and develop solutions for them so the offerings from companies will become increasingly focused on these key areas. For the companies it means more work as they play catch up as each of these revolutions happens and for us it means a greater computing experience than we’ve ever had before, and that’s something that never fails to excite me.