Sam Radford

January 28, 2022

The need for friction

David Heinemeier Hansson wrote recently about how no longer engaging in online conversation via social media (specifically Twitter) has led to much more fruitful conversations via email:

...I’ve replaced the free-for-all of the thunderdome with connections mediated by friction. The kind of friction the internet had since its inception, but that has been outrun by the virulence of the frictionless social media variants.

The most important of these mediated connections have been through email. Both sending it, like this, but also receiving it from the small minority of readers who because of the friction took the time to write thoughtful, polite replies of both encouragement and disagreement. Which in turn has lead to thousands of fruitful exchanges. Going a long way to give me faith in the internet again. Even faith in the connection with strangers again.

I love how he frames friction positively. Social media has worked hard to make responding, liking, retweeting, commenting, reposting, etc, friction free. Effortless. We don’t even have to think about it. (Which explains the low quality of conversation!) 

Social media companies aren’t interested in what’s best, they’re interested in what’s best for them. And low-friction, thoughtless posting to show how ‘engaged’ their users are to advertisers is all they care about. 

But if we are interested in conversation that goes deeper, where we actually listen to each other and, who knows, maybe sometimes change our minds, friction is what we need. And email can still be a great tool for this!

People don’t reply to all my blog post/newsletter emails, but they do regularly. And it always feels far more valuable than a mere like of an Instagram post or a recent tweet. Why? Because it takes more effort! More effort equates to more value in this arena.

Though the tools we use are constantly trying to make life easier for us—and this is no less true in the work environment—it’s worth reminding ourselves that friction isn’t always a bad thing. 

Beware the price we pay when all friction is removed!

—Sam

Got some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you—do hit reply or drop me a note.

@samradford | samradford.com