Digital has become too much about the creation and collection of content and data. We are flooding the present with so much content that we are diminishing our critical abilities to think, plan and design for the long term.
“I think distraction is another key aspect of digital,” Tom Greenwood of Wholegrain Digital states. “So much of the software that we use day to day, whether it’s for work (email and Slack), or whether it’s personal, social media, so much of it is designed to distract us and keep pulling us into what’s popped up right now. It is very hard to have quiet time for contemplation, thought and planning the long term because everyone’s minds are constantly being pulled back into the immediate, even if the immediate is completely trivial and quite irrelevant; it’s now where we tend to spend most of our mental energy.”
I feel the pull and the addiction of the trivial every hour of every day. Do I continue reading this book beside me that is a little hard going but has great ideas, or do I give a quick scroll of Twitter? What can we do? It’s not good for mental wellbeing and it’s not good for earth wellbeing.
As designers, as creators and managers of websites and apps, we can start by focusing on two principles:
- Do not track
Only collect the data that it is absolutely essential to collect. Invest lots of time and energy in figuring out what that data is. Not alone is tracking an invasion of privacy, it is also a huge source of waste and pollution.
“What can happen is that you add various tracking scripts, and you could easily end up with 500 KB of tracking scripts,” Tom explains. “We worked with one organization recently and found out their CMS was adding 1.2 MB of tracking scripts to every page. I have a slightly unpopular view that 90% of websites don’t need Google Analytics. There’s a lot of clients that we’ve worked with that don’t look at their analytics. But if you have the conversation about removing it, it never succeeds because there’s always this fear: ‘But what if we need the data?’ It’s a just-in-case kind of thing. Fear of missing out, really.”
“I think there are two opposing forces,” Tom continues. “The negative force, in a way, is this culture of ‘data is god’. The need to collect data. And lots of people’s jobs these days are based on data. It might be traffic, bounce rate. Whether it’s useful or not, they need data to prove they’ve done a good job, even if it’s not a good metric of whether they’ve done a good job. There’s this force of ‘data is king’. We’ve got to collect more data and more is always better.”
Fact. Most websites don’t need any analytics. Or, at most, they need it on for a couple of months a year. Work to reduce the impulse to track, the urge to collect data.
“One of the most important questions for us who build content-managed websites is how do you make the deletion process as easy as the creation process,” Tom states. Such a critical point. Deletion is not part of digital culture. We must make it part of it. Every time you have an urge to create you must also develop an equally strong urge to delete. Removing old, dead data and content is an essential part of renewal and maintenance of a quality environment.