Our Declining Tolerance for Friction & Wild Concepts Likely To Become Commonplace
As tech changes our tendencies it also changes our tolerances. Let’s explore the implications of work and life becoming increasingly automated, and some wild concepts bound to become commonplace.
Edition #9 of Implications.
This edition explores forecasts and implications around: (1) our declining tolerance for friction as tech irons out the kinks of work and life, (2) what seemingly wild concepts today may pierce our daily lexicon over the coming decade, and (3) some surprises at the end, as always.
If you’re new, here’s the rundown on what to expect. This ~monthly analysis is written for founders + investors I work with, colleagues, and a small group of subscribers. I aim for quality and provocation vs. frequency and trendiness. My goal is to ignite discussion and lay kindling for feedback and connecting dots.
If you missed the big annual analysis or more recent editions of Implications, check out recent analysis and archives here. A few highlights include the “personalization wave” and demand of non-scalable experiences, outlook and implications for the next era of meetings and management, and 12 Realizations while running that have changed my approach to building and leading. OK, now let’s dive in…
Humanity becomes more intolerant of friction.
The more friction software eliminates from our lives, the more intolerant of friction we become. I have always found human tolerance fascinating: we are so resilient and have withstood such harsh conditions to survive and thrive over the course of humanity, and yet we get so quickly accustomed to comforts with an ever-declining threshold for disappointment. Whether it is a flawed shipment from Amazon, a slow loading website, a late food delivery, an ad during the modern streaming era, or a delayed flight, we become annoyed and often times unreasonable. All of these technology-enabled wonders like free shipping of anything you can imagine or globe-trotting through the skies would have felt like outright wizardry to our distant ancestors but as they become commonplace our bar just gets higher. Let’s discuss some of the implications and opportunities that result from this undeniable trend in technologically advanced societies.
We’re becoming lazier and more impatient. As everything is available as a service at work, and everything is a click away- or a shout at Alexa or request of the next generation of AI agents - I fear we are becoming collectively lazier, more impatient, and now have far higher expectations for every service and product we use. It reminds me of that friction-free world portrayed in Pixar’s Wall-E that resulted from advanced robotics. Consider the field of UX design, and how great we (as product designers) have become at selecting the right defaults for every user experience, progressively disclosing complexity, working with engineers to shave milliseconds off of every load, and radically optimizing any set of choices. As a result, people have lost tolerance for any UX that requires effort. Generally, we are less forgiving of every interface, every delay, and any obstacle. I have mixed feelings about this. I have always believed that friction makes us feel experiences as they happen. It helps us appreciate the outcome of labor and develops our tolerance for life’s inevitable challenges. In some ways, we only remember moments in our lives that had some form of texture, often in the form of surprise or difficulty. A string of beach vacations all blend together, but challenging hikes or missed flights stand out in our memories. And I do wonder, in our final days, if we will feel like we lived longer when we remember more of our moments, thanks to friction? I explored this a bit in The Messy Middle and am convinced that friction makes us better: The aspiration for a “frictionless” experience is shortsighted. A truly frictionless experience, where you avoid any ounce of struggle, can be unengaging. Friction makes you feel (it also makes babies). Without friction, customers carelessly engage with your product.
The less friction we face, the less resilient we become, the more fragile we become. Over the years, it feels like the frequency of outbursts on social media about dissatisfaction with delayed flights, slow internet, or other products and services have gone up. Our collective tolerance seems to have dissipated, and this seems to fire a collective temper, causing many to search for ways to polarize or be polarized about a long list of topics - from vaccines and valuations to every random quip from a politician. Is growing anger tied to our lack of tolerance? I can’t help but wonder, what if humanity is becoming too fragile? What if all the efforts to remove friction are backfiring?
Friction helps inoculate us from fragility. My observation here is that the less we’re exposed to friction, the higher our frustration and anger spikes when we encounter friction. To remain strong and able to endure friction, we have two options: (1) introduce controlled bouts of friction into our lives to develop a tolerance, or (2) build new mechanisms that reduce the impact of friction (the spike of frustration or anger) when we encounter it. I am an advocate of the former, and have personally introduced self-challenges to my life, like running, as well as a new perspective when life doesn’t go according to plan (“embrace the training,” I think to myself). The latter approach (#2) doesn’t inoculate us from friction, but they numb us to it. These “mechanisms” range from meditation at best to the long list of prescription and recreational drugs that seem to be having a heyday in society right now - and are perhaps being legalized as a result. But no short-term solve comes without cost. Which all begs the question: What are the symptoms we should expect from some segments of society getting increasingly out of touch with life’s frictions?
As AI increasingly thinks for us and proactively solves problems for us, our tolerance for friction will further dissipate. Can AI also sustain our tolerance for friction? Whenever I encounter the “AI is going to kill us” arguments in my various circles of friends and technologists, I always counter with a few thoughts: (1) I am most worried about what bad-intentioned humans will do with AI (scams and spam), not what AI will nefariously do on its own, (2) I am concerned about what parts of human development will slow or cease to happen as the result of AI (like what the calculator did to my adult ability to mentally do arithmetic) and (3) I think good AI will save us from bad AI. In the case of our growing intolerance for friction and the negative implications we’ve discussed, my hope is that “good AI” will help us in the form of synthetic frictions and challenges introduced into our daily lives. Much like I force myself to run every day despite my daily excuses not to, should AI be designed to make us “work for it” a bit? Perhaps our thresholds for friction should be monitored and optimized by technology?
We are entering an era where every company and product we interact with will have an AI agent. Perhaps even every object, from cars to kitchen appliances, will be intelligent. These agents will initially work with us, but will eventually negotiate and work directly with our own personal AI agents on our behalf. We’ll eventually be abstracted from daily transactions. As AI agents gain the ability to negotiate and ultimately plan our digital experiences on our behalf, we will increasingly feel like “guests” in our everyday experience, hosted by the AI agents that are working behind the scenes to cater to our preferences. I share this outlook only to accentuate just how much more friction will be ironed out of human existence for those who are able to (or who choose to) participate. As always, mixed emotions when it comes to the implications here. On the one hand, I am excited about a far more personalized world of digital experiences. As we discussed in a previous edition of Implications, the future will be hyper-personalized and for the better. However, I am also concerned about a fast-emerging dimension of wealth inequality, notably friction inequality. Of course, there will also be advantages to preserving a degree of friction in your lives, so this is…complicated, but critical to think about and discuss as these new technologies emerge.
Life has a way of reliably reminding us of what’s important, and about all that we take for granted when we are overdue for a rude awakening. More generally, as AI further abstracts us from everyday frictions, we will become less prepared and tolerant for the curveballs. Little things bother us more when we don’t have really important things to worry about. So, we need daily practices to keep perspective and, when the bigger curveballs come, let’s recognize the increasingly important role they play in keeping us grounded and reminding us what matters most. We must continue to develop our tolerance for friction and preparedness for life’s curveballs in a modern world with less of them.
What wild concepts might become a commonplace terms likely to punctuate our future? (Part 1)
I thought it would be a fun if not dystopian exercise to imagine some wild terms that may (I wonder or fear) find their way into the mainstream based on how technology and society are progressing these days. This is also a fun way to chronicle, in a short and pithy way, a bunch of trends I’m pondering. The more worrisome of these terms are not meant to incite fear but rather caution as we anticipate the implications of recent trends in technology. I suspect this will be a semi-regular series going forward, so consider this Part 1:
Car Gone Wild: “We’ve got another CGW on the 101!” When a self-driving car, or system of self-driving cars, is hacked or malfunctions in a way that the device becomes unpredictable and cannot be reigned in or stopped remotely, it will be a CGW. In such instances, a CGW will cause streets to be cleared. We’ll need new forms of air-based solutions to take manual control of vehicles that are otherwise all be autonomous by default. My colleague Chethan suggests we may need a common system or universal key of sorts that authorities could use to troubleshoot such instances. We also wondered whether there is a start-up opportunity here that helps operators of all varieties of automated vehicles and delivery drones regain control if their device is hacked.
Commerce Grid & The Transaction Graph: In a modern “cashless” society where every transaction is digital, the ultimate source of truth for our activities and values will be a transaction graph and a modern landscape - perhaps called a “commerce grid.” The unimpeachable measure of what we value is what we spend our money and our time on. A grid that analyzed and displayed that would be illuminating — and at times perhaps disturbing. Our personal histories will be easily searched, sorted, and analyzed using this data. This enables us to not only figure out where we’ve been and what we’ve purchased, but also passively (automatically) share and get recommendations from friends and influencers. Today, this history is stuck in proprietary systems and not at all stitched together nor available for developers to play with for consumer use-cases, and I think this will change.
Debanked: In an increasingly digital and centralized economy, authorities could start regulating and interrupting or pausing access to funds as a dystopian consequence administered by governments to their people. In such a world, “debanked” individuals would be forced to live for a period of time without access to the modern commerce grid. I shared this provocation with my team over dinner the other night, and they reminded me that instances of this are already happening in some countries. Also, those living in poverty or even immigrants without credit scores experience some degree of this already. However, the implications of this becoming further weaponized in an increasingly cashless society are concerning.
Micromarketing: At Adobe, we’ve been discussing the next generation of flows of content and marketing production in a modern organization. The world of all marketing being centralized in a company, with a very rigid chain of functions developing and deploying marketing is ripe for change. In the era of social media, real-time engagement, and personalization, many companies are adopting a more decentralized approach to marketing that allows business leaders and social media marketers to create small campaigns (often times by making variations of the official brand and marketing assets from the centralized marketing team) and deploy (and measure and optimize) them in real-time. Of course, Generative AI will play a huge role in enabling what I’ve come to call “micromarketing” at scale while still adhering to brand standards. Even the largest brands and companies in the world will need to connect their macromarketing efforts (the brand development and big campaigns with agencies, etc) with their micromarketing efforts (the high velocity, real-time, social-native stuff).
“Knowledge Hacking” & “Personal History Hacks”: Given the scraping of Wikipedia and scores of blog posts to help train common LLMs (Large Language Models), I anticipate a growing and sophisticated effort to try and trick these models with highly choreographed edits and campaigns that literally “hack” the knowledge and reasoning of AI. Similarly, you can expect a whole legion of “training hackers” to emerge who infiltrate commonly scraped sources of training data to influence the standing of brands, people, and facts - SEO for the age of AI. For this reason, the provenance of models and generated assets of all kinds will matter tremendously (and one reason my team is so focused on the Content Authenticity Initiative). This growing field of “Knowledge Hacking” will spawn new countermeasures in the way LLMs scrape the web and validate the information used in training. Similarly, I expect this to happen with our own personal history as we rely on private models running locally on our devices that help us remember our own past, things we did or said, etc. A “Personal History Hack” will describe when your personal memory AI is infiltrated with false occurrences that influence the outcome of your searches of your own past. (sorry, too dystopian!?)
Autonomous Businesses: As AI enables or augments most functions of a business, a new breed of business will emerge that essentially functions without humans in the loop beyond the setup. Imagine establishing a set of automated services that sources leads, field requests, complete requests, manages customer service, bills, learns and optimizes, and repeats all of this automatically and autonomously. We will start to see these businesses emerge alongside the platforms that people use to build and deploy them, which begs all sorts of questions: Where will these businesses be incorporated? Will any new laws emerge that require a business to be owned AND managed by a human?
Ideas, Missives & Mentions
Finally, here’s a set of ideas and worthwhile mentions (and stuff I want to keep out of web-scraper reach) intended for those I work with (free for founders in my portfolio, Adobe folks…ping me!) and a smaller group of subscribers. We’ll cover a few things that caught my eye and have stayed on my mind, as well as my latest areas of interest as an angel investor. Subscriptions go toward organizations I support including the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. Thanks again for following along, and to those who have reached out with ideas and feedback.