I just finished listening to the first episode of Eddie Alterman’s podcast Carshow. Eddie was the editor-in-chief at Car and Driver when they were a client of mine. Working with them was some of the most fun I’ve had in my career.
In this episode he and Malcom Gladwell talk about the perfection that is the 2003 M5 BMW. It’s an entertaining listen, even if you’re not a car guy.
The point they’re making isn’t just about the car, but the whole notion of things being over-engineered, especially cars. The example they use is comparing today’s technologically advanced M5 with Gladwell’s relatively simple mechanical model.
There’s a time when I would have brushed off their lament as just a couple old curmudgeons and gushed over the latest and greatest. That is, back when I used to suffer from feature-itis.
Coincidentally, it was a German friend of mine who helped me self diagnosis the problem. Nicolas and I met when we were both working at Apple in the late 90s. He lived in France and was in town for a couple weeks.
Everyday around 3:30, we would swing by the on-site coffeeshop and take a little break. We both ordered black coffees. I would always order the extra large, 20 ounce. Nicolas would order a small, and make a point of saying “no lid and just a cup.”
Walking back to my office, I asked him about his order. Was he worried about caffeine? Not at all. He orders a small because that’s all you can drink while it’s hot. He may have less coffee, but every drop is worth it. Meanwhile, I’ll be sipping on the tepid dregs of mine long after his is dead.
I looked at the obnoxious contraption I was holding. The lid, was an extruded piece of plastic with two holes. One hole for sipping, the other to let air in and out. It also came with a Java Jacket, a thick corrugated piece of paper wrapped around it to protect my hand – because the two paper cups they used weren’t enough.
It seemed so pathetic. All this stuff, just so I could have an extra 6 ounces of coffee I wasn’t even going to enjoy. It was like my coffee was on life support. Modern science and engineering had come up with a way to extend those last few drops of low quality coffee, just because.
From that moment on, I started to become more of a minimalist. It’s hard not to look products all larded up with features and think they look ridiculous. It’s not that I’m turning into a curmudgeon, as much as it’s a maturation process. The older you get, the more realize how little you actually needed.