And she’s not the only one who thinks so, apparently.
“You’re caught up in the Internet
You think that it’s such a great asset
But you’re wrong , wrong, wrong
All that fiber optic gear cannot take away the fear
Like an island song.”
So Jimmy Buffet was taking considerable poetic license here, and I should point out that his massive Web site (www.margaritaville.com) and associated on-line shopping and Web board sites are among the most heavily traveled on the net. And ignoring the fact that his material drives a round-the-clock Internet radio station (Radio Margaritaville) that broadcasts his recordings (and all his concerts live and for free) 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and ignoring the commercial practicalities of his business empire, his lyrics, as usual, still make a point, and that point was brought home when I Francine Lou Yazzie last month.
I met Francine in a crappy bar in Cedar City, Utah. There aren’t many bars in Utah, crappy or otherwise, so our meeting was quite coincidental.
Francine is a full-blooded Navajo from Tuba City, Ariz., she’s raising three boys on her own (13,12, and 11) and she makes her living driving a forklift for Wal-Mart at the company’s warehouse in Hurricane, just a few miles down the road from where we both sat nursing cold Budweisers.
Francine and I got to talking about her boys and how they were doing in school, and I started in about how access to the Internet would/could/should revolutionize the learning process for her sons, especially since they’ve expressed an interest in being fighter pilots.
Francine knows a little bit about the Internet, of course, but my enthusiasm for the technology was completely lost on her. Although she said it would be “nice” for her boys to have access to the Web, she didn’t see it as a priority, especially in terms of her own life.
“What about having e-mail?” I asked, jumping to that very common and pedestrian service enabled by the Internet, having learned that Francine’s friends and relatives were spread out all over the massive and sparsely populated Navajo Nation that sprawls across southern Utah, northeast Arizona and northwest New Mexico.
“If I need to talk to people, I’ll go see them or make a phone call,” she said matter-of-factly.
And then it occurred to me that I was indulging in the vanity of many of us in this industry: thinking that the technology we see as powerful and possibly even indispensable in “our world” must necessarily resonate with everyone else in the rest of the world. Wrong, as I often am.
We’ve got a compelling message to deliver about the power of the technology we’re developing and implementing, but sometimes I think we make the assumption that the people we’re developing and implementing for look at the world the same way we do, and desire the same kind of functionality and capabilities that we desire.
Are we building what we’re building just for the people who are like us? If so, that market is ultimately limited; although there are millions of people “just like us” those millions fade into obscurity alongside the billions of people who share the planet with us and aren’t “just like us.”
Are we after a (technologically savvy, affluent) niche market or, as Stephen Jobs of Apple so famously asked of John Scully, do we “want to change the world?”
We’re not changing the world quickly enough if Francine Lou Yazzie sees new linoleum for her modest kitchen as more important in her life than access to the Internet. (I’m speculating here; I didn’t ask her specifically about linoleum.)
Maybe we need to revisit our technology value propositions – why should what we’re doing matter to people, especially people unlike us? Why should Francine buy our goods and services rather than any other good or service available within the scope of her limited funds?
Unless we’re happy serving a niche market of people who think just like we so, I think we do ourselves and the world at large a disservice in the way that we think about, create and market technology solutions.
It could change at any minute, but for the moment, Francine Lou Yazzie doesn’t need whatever it is we’re selling.
Hanley is an IS professional in Calgary. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.