The missed opportunity

In reading Matt Webb’s presentation at We Love Technology, I was struck by one of his side notes: his comment about missed television. He said,

My experience of missed-TV has become a social one. Even if someone doesn’t have the programme I’m after, we have an excuse to talk. It’s engaging because it taps into something which is already engaging: being social and hanging out with my friends.

Though we don’t usually design for missing, we innovate uses of things for missing… because missing affords different kinds of interactions. Missing a TV show means that Matt loses one interaction (with a television program) but gains another social one,

Or sometimes, when I call someone’s number, I specifically intend to miss them and leave a message. Haven’t you ever called someone with the intention of missing them, only to catch them? “Oh! I’m sorry — I just wanted to reach your voice mail.”  

Many people, especially in places where mobile calls are expensive, call someone with the intention that the recipient not pick up. Missed calls, beeping, or flashing all refer to communicating to someone that you have called or that you want them to call you. Jonathan Donner, who I am working with, writes about how this functions in Rwanda. It’s sometimes a complex dance as the less affluent person tries
to get the more affluent person to pick up the call.

Every alternative weekly — and of course, Craig’s List, has an exciting business based on the missed connection. I was the lucky recipient of one once when I was on the cover of the San Francisco Chronicle Datebook section for a flash mob I
took part in. A friend forwarded me the note listing. I had a boyfriend at the time but had a beer with the guy anyway (he later turned out to be friends with another friend. SF is small.)

A side note about Matt Webb: some of my favorite conversations over the last few years have been with Mr. Webb. He’s one of the most thoughtful people I know. I’m reminded of the moment at Design Engaged 2004 when I got stuck at the other end of a long table in a boring conversation. I disengaged myself and went down to Matt’s end of the table. “Oh, I’m glad you joined us,” Matt said, “We were just talking about the nature of
good and evil.”

And then, we had a long, thoughtful conversation about just that.