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Unforgettable Futures

November 3, 2010

I slide on my vest and check my ascot one more time. The laces of my wife’s corset require a retying. I tighten the leather strap of my monocle. Our seven-year-old master of costumes gives us one last thumbs up of approval, and Bonnie and I are off for our latest adventure in subculture exploration: Chicago Steampunk’s Carnival Delirium.

Steampunk is a relatively new fashion, fiction and art trend. Drawing from the clothing and styles of the Victorian Era, Steampunk takes the ideas of H.G. Wells and Jules Vern and asks, “What if?” What if Babbage perfected his Difference Engine? What if giant, steam-powered airships crisscrossed our skies? What if humanity decided to dream in sepia tones? Steampunk offers the promise of a possible future, a bit more refined, a bit more eclectic, a bit more form over function.

Try as I might to keep them at bay, thoughts of work enter my mind as I watch people dance to the sounds of Abney Park and the Deadly Nightshade Botanical Garden Society. I’ve seen my share of “failed futures” in my time as a consultant. I’ve watched firms push through projects that brought tears to the eyes and had long-term, happy employees line up to announce retirement. I could reminisce about those failures and their causes. Surrounded by the brass, the costumes and the laughter of an alternate future, I choose to think about a few things that make software updates and new technologies more successful. What I have seen that helps ensure a more positive and wide adoption of the solutions pushed to users.

A new technology, software update, shiny piece of hardware, should make my life easier. When talking to me about the “New” new thing, don’t tell me about the bells and whistles, the pretty pictures. Make it obvious to me how the new features or increased stability of an update will help me to make more money. How the ribbon interface of Office 2010 exposes functionality that will help me more quickly create documents of a higher quality does not seem self-apparent. Explaining that to me as an end user should be the goal of any lunch and learn, tech commercial or formal class I attend.

An update should be easy to use and more widely accessible. I trust my IT staff to reject any new software that makes something I need to do more difficult than it is currently. I accept there may be a learning curve, but the end result should be at least as painless as the process in place.

The benefits from any change of workflow or educational task should outweigh the effort of shifting towards from the way I do things now. I understand I may need to adopt to new ways of doing things. Help me to understand how changing my ways will benefit me.

I tug at my ascot and double check Bonnie can still breathe under the tightly wound ribbons. The monocle tends to fog up with dancing. For all the beauty of Steampunk, it’s not terribly comfortable. It’s fun to try on for a night, but I can unlace my knee high boots at the end of the evening and slip into more comfortable and modern sneakers. Given that the movement does not really make things easier, isn’t really accessible and the technology takes a step back from the comforts I enjoy now, it’s no wonder why I’ll set down the Victorian Era for my modern conveniences. Unlike most new technology, I guess Steampunk should stay relegated to a forgotten future.

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