I’m sure that someone at Microsoft can articulate a very convincing case for why the Zune is a “better” device than the iPod.
Maybe it has some awesome obscure feature or function. Maybe its’ battery lasts longer, or maybe it has more hard-drive space. But the sales tell the story (and no, I don’t believe that it’s just slick Apple marketing. If the Zune was truly a better product, the word would be out by now). It’s not that there isn’t one single person anywhere on the planet who prefers the Zune. But the majority of the worlds’ consumers of have voted with their wallets and essentially declared the Zune as #SWEDOW.
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A number of things have been slowly crystallizing for me over the past several months. This comment (here) on my blog not long ago, plus the whole #100kshirts / invigorated GIK discussion (too many places to link individually) helped it gel for me. I’ve written about elements of it before (here, here…) – it’s nothing particularly new or earth-shattering. It is simply this:
We’re incredibly distracted.
For as much as we say we want to “help the poor” – and I believe that we’re at least mostly sincere – we spend an awful lot of time on things that don’t further that aim.
I’ve written before repeatedly that aid work is complicated. We take on complicated problems, very often in highly complicated contexts. The work itself is often very difficult. But at the end of the day, it all boils down to some of the most basic concepts there are. The basic concepts of aid work are not rocket science. Not just not rocket science, but not even remotely close:
- Ask people what they need –>Listen to the answer.
- Understand the issue or the problem –> Use basic logic to come up with the most reasonable response.
- If the need is X –> Provide X (not Y)
And yet it often feels as if we’re making it artificially complicated. Many days it feels as if we spend increasing amounts of time in discussions about issues that – even once they’re resolved – will not move us collectively in the direction of better aid. The amount of time and emotional energy behind the GIK or volunteers discussions, for example. No one is saying that as a matter of principle all GIK is bad all the time, regardless of what it is or the context in which it is being delivered. Nor is anyone saying that in no circumstance whatsoever is it ever ever ever appropriate for an unpaid (or marginally paid) foreigner – a “volunteer” – to perform some function which contributes to the aid endeavor. But the amount of time spent and the lengths gone to to justify those two particular activities as a matter of principle, you must admit, is rather astounding.
If as much energy was put into just doing plain old good aid – whatever that means – as into explaining the whys and wherefores of how and under what circumstances GIK might work or volunteers might be effective, I’m thinking we’d be better at this aid thing than we are. And while this is nothing even close to scientific evidence, I can’t quite shake the feeling that if they were all that effective as interventions, it would be a bit more obvious. It feels, to paraphrase Shakespeare, as if the lady doth protest too much.
We’re distracted. We’re intellectualizing about what “might” or “might not” work. We’re endlessly splitting semantic hairs about the differences between “always” and “usually” and “sometimes”, and then putting all of our chips on “sometimes.” We’re conflating “help” with “doesn’t harm”, and “doesn’t harm” with “doesn’t harm too much.” We’re trying to give someone a great deal on a Zune, when the iPod is straight up a better product.
Sadly, the worlds’ poor don’t have the same say in what kind of aid they get from us as do Western consumers when selecting MP3 players…