The Elegant Simplicity at Koha US 2017

I would not give a fig for the simplicity this side of complexity, but I would give my life for the simplicity on the other side of complexity—Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.

As Emile Leray sat in his broken down Volkswagen in the middle of the desert, he must have had a moment in which he wondered if he would survive.

Leray’s sojourn began as an adventure: given his electrician training, he wondered if he could take a much modified 1970s Volkswagen Beetle across the Moroccan desert.  Having to sneak around security, who told him he was crazy and a danger to himself, the experiment seemed to be working, until, 20 miles from the nearest village, his Frankenstein car his a rock, destroying an axl.  Without tools, and with limited supplies, Leray went into survival mode…rationing his food and water supply, and praying for rescue.

This could be where the story ends: Leray stranded in the desert.  But Leray, being an engineer, had an inquiry: although his Volkswagen, as a car, would not work, could he possibly create a different vehicle out of the Volkswagen parts, something that could take him to safety?  12 days later, he created a very rough looking motorbike which took him to the nearest village, where, although safe from the desert, he was not safe from the law: he promptly got a ticket from the Moroccan police, for driving a non-registered vehicle.

Most of us will not attempt to drive a Volkswagen through a desert, and most of us will never face an engineering problem our life depends on.  However, we all can relate to Leray’s opportunity (or predicament, given the degree to which danger appeals to you): our context and situation changes, and it is some comfort to know that we could recreate our technology to respond to that context.  Wendell Holmes might call this elegant simplicity: the one that we get after we deal with complexity.

In designing thinking there is a notion of creative confidence.  Many people do not feel confident in their drawing skills, for instance, but when asked to draw a baby, or a house, or an airplane, everyone succeeds, and everyone ends up relying on similar visual metaphors: one curly line for a babies hair, for instance.  Though we may not have  seen a baby that looks like this, the point is we use visual shorthands.  Given a test or challenge, we can surprise ourselves, and do more than we thought we could.  Creativity then, is not so much the ability to draw well, it’s really the confidence to try, and to persist in trying.  When I once told my artist friend I wanted to draw, and that I bought a drawing book, she told me to throw it out: drawing, she said, comes from drawing an apple, a sunset, flowers, over and over again. Get books of paintings, she said, and try to recreate those.

Koha US was a conference all about creating the kind of elegant simplicity on the other side of complexity, and about building creative confidence.  Koha as software encourages this kind of play and experimentation, and the exchange of ideas generated through formal presentations and workshop collaboration allowed us all to gain new experiences and new perspectives on what is possible.

We are living in an era in which technology seems ubiquitous, yet for this ubiquity we often find it disappoints.  We want ecosystems, we want an experience that makes our lives better, our work better, but when we find “the system” messed up our flight, or makes us wait on hold way too long, or invades our privacy, we take it personally; something that seemed all about us wasn’t.  Koha as a software, and Koha as a community, is different: given all of our collective efforts, we can create an ecosystems, technology that truly responds to what we need, and what our customers need.

I talk about the eco-system concept of technology at parties; in cases in which the person does not find a way to go to the bathroom to stop the conversation, the response is, nothing works that way, but wouldn’t be great if it did?  Koha does, and Koha US was about the people that make that happen coming together, for creativity also relies on community.  We may not be escaping the desert in a makeshift motorbike, but we are doing something equally impressive: creating technology that delights, that makes users feel like it is truly made for them.  With our creative efforts, at future Koha US conferences and in future collaborations as a community, Koha will continue to be a technological refuge.

Read more by Michael Cabus

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