About the comfort economy and how we can be open to other alternatives

This is a speech I wrote for the Toastmasters course I’m in. I hope you enjoy it.

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A little less easy please! The current industry is making it easier and easier for us to Do things. The comfort economy. But is comfort always the most desired behavior? For example.
The other day i was in the restroom and I just washed my hands. Automatically I grabbed a paper towel to dry my hands. You know, from one of those devices with a sensor. Kind of funny, because it was a real crappy camping, but they did have a towel dispenser with a sensor…

And then I thought, kind of a funny way to add technology to a device, where you can easily do it without one. I know it’s because people will only get one towel instead of many, but it is really easy to get one where you maybe won’t need any. From a user perspective it’s super nice because there is no easier way to get a towel handed to you than moving in front of a sensor. But is the user in this case the only stakeholder? what about the owner of the restroom? What about the environment? Those 2 stakeholders would want as little towels as possible used right? I would want that if I were them, I didn’t ask them.

We humans love these kind of solutions, because our brain has the task to spend as little as possible energy. It’s a real survivor. That’s why solutions that bring us more ease are so popular. Think about Apple pay or Uber. Their purpose is to let us consume more and move less!

As users we really like this on the one side, but on the other side we need to arm ourselves against the next episode that is automatically playing on Netflix. We WANT to quit after 1 episode, but it’s too much effort to press the stop button. In this case there is a cost for the good habit of watching only one episode. You would rather have a cost on a bad habit: walking all the way to the tv to play the next episode.

There’s 2 ways of looking at this:

We have a role in this as consumers, we must know how to make sure we live by our own intentions. Organize our tech in such a way that it doesn’t auto play, that we take a moment before purchasing something in an impulse. And that we set limits in scrolling for information.

But there is also a huge role for Software and technology companies in my opinion. How can you make sure that instead of just removing all the struggles a user has, you help the user to make better choices for him and his environment. Instead of automatically setting the default of sending notifications, think about whether a user really want this notification by default. Is it really worth to disturb him or could the user set specific notifications on when he wishes to?

I already have an idea how we can solve the issue with the towels in public bathrooms.

Imagine: you just washed your hands and move your hand in front of the sensor of the towel dispenser. The device suddenly says: you need to earn this towel! Show me a dance! If the device doesn’t signal any movement, you won’t get a towel. of course you can do other things as well like solving riddles or other kind of games. I can already see the social media campaigns: # do a dance for a towel

This way you lower the barrier for what is eventually the best for the user from environment perspective, not using a towel at all. Because if the user doesn’t really need a towel he just shakes his hands, dries the rest on his pants and leaves (which the device of course notices and makes a funny note)

This way a lot less towels are used, owner of the restroom happy, environment happy. The user that does really want a towel, does a dance, dries his hands and walks outside with a smile. Triple win I think