Why do we (or many of us) equate individual, personalized and customized designs to be good? There is a perception that the completely personalized iTunes library or search result is the best result. Without getting to Chuck Palahanuik, circa Fight Club, airplane scene, on you, I have a critique on designing personalizing, packing aging and designing everything for the individual.

Going home this weekend helped me think about designing for shared experiences and families. When we had physical phone lines, mail boxes, music and movie discs, we shared them. We put our books out on display and shared the book cases with whomever we shared our spaces with. Our friends would come over, skim our music collection, pull out a cd case, snap the disc out, open up the tray, place the disc in, close the tray and let the disc play. The vinyl experience is that times 10. But now, we become screen zombies in front of iTunes.

We have personalized music libraries, individual tracks and go through so many more steps than scanning a bookshelf just to share and show what media we have.

My teenager cousin come over for Thanksgiving and like most boppers I hear, see and read about, she was glued to her mobile phone. Texting till her fingers fell off. I put the phone in the other room during dinner and turned it on silent. She was sufficiently put her through pure agony (and secret relief). Before, I would call a household and everyone shared a phone line. Or mail a letter and some person who lived there would sort the letters out. But now, I have my own inboxes, numbers, libraries, etc.

There is a huge efficiency and value in personal custom systems, but it certainly motivates a capitalist, individualist, consumerist society. Who is designing our completely, perfectly personalized lifestyles? The ones that let us be so picky, particular and inflexible about anything because we need our own absolute perfect custom settings. Who is letting this happen? Those hippie folk in the bay area. That’s who.

But, San Francisco is packed to the bone with designers and developers from all over the country and world. But many many of these people have (physically) left their families and built their own personal, customized social circles. Many more people remain unmarried in the Bay Area. Many people there are generally liberal and progressive and it’s hard to believe these ideologies don’t find their way into the designs of products that get used in very different cultures.

My parents, who now use iTunes have their own logins, their own iTunes and are completely frustrated that they can’t figure out how to listen to each others’ music easily, and they are relatively tech savvy. The library is designed for one person, to sync with their one phone, and their one iTunes Store account, not a family or I’ll argue even a house of roommates.

I have two married friends who share a facebook account. They both use it for writing, commenting and liking. Upon their marriage, they joined parts of their identity. They are absolutely using Facebook in a way that the company likely does not prefer and that makes it very confusing for people in their network. But it works for them.

So, what happens when relatively, single, social, liberal, tech savvy people that moved away from home, design for families, conservatives and low-tech people? I smell determinism.

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