I’m 100% certain that nothing is certain

August 20, 2007

As Scott Adams has said more than once, human beings (or “moist robots” if you subscribe to that sort of thing) are often absolutely, 100% certain about something only to change their minds later based on either experience or new evidence. If I’m honest, I know that this has happened several times in my own life. And I’ll bet that if you think about it, it’s probably happened in yours, too.

Let’s take a short trip back in time . . . ::cue flashback music and cheesy-but-oh-so-effective screen transition:: June 2007. San Jose, California. The 3rd annual Internet Retailer conference. Along with my boss and one of our web designers, I’m sitting in an auditorium with about 4,000 other websters. There’s a large stage in the front of the room and 5 large screens are spaced evenly along the back wall. On this stage is a panel of “industry experts“*, one of many such panels on display throughout the week (“Oh wow, Morgan. Look at that beautiful panel! And so well-mannered! We’ll have to get one of those for our office!”). This particular panel of guys and gals is covering mobile devices – mainly smart phones and cell phones.

At the podium, a gentleman is explaining that the mobile device platform will increasingly become a key vehicle for retail opportunity. He’s got graphs. He’s got statistics. He’s wearing his most persuasive, gotta-make-the-sale-or-we-don’t-eat suit. Hell, he probably got his hair did for just this event.

There’s just one problem. I’m not buying it.

With all the gusto I can muster, I call BS in no uncertain terms. My main argument is that the form factor for mobile devices is crap.

  1. The screen is too damn small! Why would anyone shop when seeing the picture of the item is nearly impossible?
  2. The input devices suck! Yeah, you can get a “full” QWERTY keyboard on a mobile device, but you wouldn’t use it to shop unless someone was threatening your dog.
  3. The web browsers on mobile devices are altogether unsavory! (Yes, these are the types of exclamations I make on a routine basis) We’re light-years from being able to render the authentic web experience on a mobile device and until we can do that, you won’t see the platform begin to make a dent in traditional web retail.

Of these things, I was certain.

That was June. This is August.

And did I mention that I bought something using my mobile device less than a month after the Internet Retailer conference? No? Well, I navigated to a retail site using my BlackBerry, searched for a product I was interested in, and then. . . (wait for it). . . I bought it.

How could this happen, you ask? “Mark”, you’re screaming as you read this, “you said no one would shop using a mobile device! Did someone threaten your dog?!”. Listen, I really meant those things. I did! What I didn’t realize is that the whole “mobile devices are crap for shopping” argument is squashed handily by the word “mobile”. Yes, you can take them anywhere. So yeah, it may not be as comfy as shopping from home, but, not unlike a Porta-Potty, the convenience far outweighs the interface issues.

So now I’m certain that the mobile device platform will increasingly become a key vehicle for retail opportunity. I don’t have graphs, I don’t have statistics, and I’m not wearing a suit. What I do have is a mobile device and a powerful need to buy stuff.

Got any similar “certainties” you’d like to share? Let me know.


3 Responses to “I’m 100% certain that nothing is certain”

  1. Doug Says:

    “In psychology and the cognitive sciences, perception is the process of acquiring, interpreting, selecting, and organizing sensory information. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Perception)”

    We cannot help but form opinions on everything. You may say you choose not to form an opinion until later, but you are already leaning one way or another. It is all part of the organizing part of the definition above.

    This is one of the largest problems with political correctness and why we are given over to stereotypes so easily. The human brain forms opinions on general topics and groupings. Describe someone. Tall/medium/short, male/female/Pat, skinny/medium/chunky, white/black/asian/indian/hispanic. I am going to guess that you use 2 of the 3 mentioned terms or a synonym of them. Really if you think about perception and learning if we did not categorize things/ideas our brains would never be able to handle the volume of knowledge. This grouping is inherent in all of us and our thinking (we all do it differently which is what makes stream of consciousness so dang cool). Given that, it is no wonder we tend to jump to conclusions and form opinions quickly about things; that is what our brains were designed to do. Obviously you cannot form an opinion about a topic you have never considered though.

    Changing your opinion in this situation was not your fault, we were all designed with the same problem: taking what we know and making generalities based on that acquired sensory information.


  2. themarksavage Says:


    I’ve often thought about posting on the efficiency issues caused by being too PC. I’m all for fairness and equality and all that, but the truth is that our brains don’t immediately identify with “politically correct” terms.

    I realize that the first things in our brains or out of our mouths are not always the most intelligent, but they are the most genuine and unfiltered. And that’s worth something, IMO.

    Thanks for reading,

  3. padraic2112 Says:

    I’m 100% certain of quite a few things, but they’re all things that are dependent upon physics or other rule systems that require an arbitrarily high amount of energy to circumvent 🙂

    About what people want, I’m about 60% certain about people that I know reasonably well, but once you get outside my immediate circle, and (more importantly) outside of 4 years below my current age, that number starts to plummet.

    Those young kids, they have some crazy ideas!

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