I’m always fascinated by the way people find unusual and unintended uses for the functionality provided by designers of technology.
A particular example I’ve been tracking for a while is the “Give me a missed call” approach I first saw practiced in India. It’s been around for quite a while now; if you want to delve into it, this post at kottke.org is a good place to start, to follow as you wish; in fact as a general rule kottke and smartmobs are good places to dig around for stuff like this. It is by no means restricted to India, as the Kottke post shows.
Why do I find this so fascinating? Because I think it has something to do with abundances and scarcities and the Because Effect, in a strange kind of way.
It’s all about affordability. Over thirty years ago, when I was still in Calcutta, international calls were (a) operator-based (b) very expensive and (c) often person-to-person. I’m sure there were many reasons why such calls were prohibitively expensive; to many of us, at least one of the reasons was some form of artificial scarcity.
And the response to this situation delighted me even then as a fifteen-year old stripling. A neighbouring family created a simple code, agreed in advance, to solve a simple problem. Their children tended to travel abroad while waiting for university offers and acceptances. They would call their children wherever they happened to be, person-to-person, with the first name of the synthetic “callee” or recipient, carrying the message, and the surname identifying the addressee. So a call for Stanford Philip would translate to “Philip, you have an offer letter from Stanford waiting for you at home”.
It seemed ingenious to me. Completed calls became expensive and “scarce”, while person-to-person not-completed calls became free and “abundant”.
Today’s equivalent is “give me a missed call”. I think there’s a lesson here for all of us.Â And that is this:
When you create an artificial scarcity, the market will create an artificial abundance in response.