10/30/2013 06:52 pm ET Updated Dec 30, 2013

Design Obsession Making Tech Press Blind

By Noah J. Nelson (@noahjnelson)

Last week, for the first time in what feels like forever, I wasn't online during an Apple event. I was, lucky me, out in the real world having adventures. Yet I still had one foot in the digital world. I was keeping an eye on the reactions to the Apple news on Twitter.

I suppose I shouldn't have been shocked by what I saw: an almost split down the middle set of reactions. Apple fans oohing and awing over the iPad Air, Apple detractors ridiculing the company for not launching a new product category.

From where I stood, which for the record was in front of Forbidden Planet in Manhattan, both sides seemed utterly ridiculous.

This is new for me. I've usually got my face deep deep into any big launch. Apple, Google, even Facebook. Video game console launches, new phones, new operating systems. It's the joy of window shopping, with an occasional dash of schadenfreude tossed in for flavor.

Yet standing on a street corner in Manhattan surrounded by thousands of souls, I couldn't help but think that we have our eyes glued on the wrong thing. This technological age of wonders that we live in has managed to distract us from the point of living in a technological age of wonders.

There's so much obsession with the minutiae of design. For professional designers and developers this isn't a bad thing. User interface design is one of the great arts of the modern age, and a populace who understands how they are being programmed by the choices of designers is needed for a functioning democracy. If only that were the design conversation we were having.

Instead the obsession that has spilled off of drafting tables and pooled on the scuffed linoleum of the collective unconscious is largely trivial in nature.

While our devices can be beautiful as well as useful it is their utility that truly matters. The most potent language of design is the one that enables the most people to do the best work with the least effort.

Instead of focusing on that principle the collective obsession of the tech press seems to be on the outward form of things. The question we should be asking of all of our technology is this: does this tool make our lives better? Or is it just a distraction? Does it reveal the fundamental ground of reality any better than a stick, some patience and a clear day?

The conversations we could be having around our technology would be more about how it connects us, empowers us, changes the way we perceive the world, and less about computing power, new app icons, and or horserace like statistics on sales numbers.

We have to change the tone with which we discuss technology, or we will find ourselves drowning in a beautiful sea of hype. With perfectly set typography, and utterly devoid of meaning.

Public media's, covers tech and digital culture from the West Coast.

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