Friction Can Be Good

Something I have noticed as content, software, and product design have attempted to eradicate friction is that friction is not necessarily a bad thing.

Friction is a part of everyday life. It comes from the difference between one thing and another — the encounter of two things. It’s neither good nor bad. But removing it has been central to the value proposition of so many products and experiences central to modern life. The internet itself is an ecosystem that seems driven to purge friction rather than embrace it. But take the iPhone as just one example. Steve Jobs repeating “an iPod, a phone, an internet communicator…are you getting it? These are not three separate devices…” set the tone for the next decade and a half (and counting) of design in just about every context. Consolidation. Seamlessness. Friction-free. It seemed good…for a while.

But more and more, I’m seeking out friction. I’m returning to edges. I’m preferring the version of the thing that wasn’t connected to the internet — the print book; the dumb watch; the old-fashioned light bulb; the wired stereo system that plays CDs; the DVD player; the camera, the phone, the music player, and the internet communication device…individually. Yes, after twenty years of consolidation, going backward can feel less convenient. Old habit will need to be made new again. But at the root — the why — is intention. Friction requires much more of it.

I like that individual devices dedicated to doing one thing well requires me to choose in advance what I’m going to do. I like that they don’t let me be distracted by other things while I’m using them.


8 March 2023