Our Good Enough World

Years ago, Wired magazine published an article by Robert Capp called “The Good Enough Revolution: When Cheap and Simple Is Just Fine.” During the past years, I’ve heard speakers refer to this concept, and I’ve come across a number of concrete examples.

In the translation and localization industry, we’ve come to apply this idea to examples of bad English often seen online and abroad: if the meaning somehow comes through, isn’t the quality of the text sufficient?

Recently, however, someone put an ancillary thought in my head. I was reading Minneapolis Star Tribune archives and encountered columnist Kim Ode talking about the availability of ready-made pie crust. She wondered if mixing and rolling a crust is becoming a lost art. My attention was caught by this sentence: “What do we lose when every destination comes by way of a shortcut?”

I’m just as impatient as the next person. OK, more so. I want my downloads now and demand to know why my overnight shipping came late. Indeed, today’s culture seems to be driven by the need for the immediate. That fuels the economic engine and drives innovation, creating jobs and boosting the GNP. But I wonder—what are we losing?

I remember my father saying that my desk at college was nothing but a piece of cheap pressed wood with a paper-thin veneer. While he sneered, my mother calmly said it was all the college could afford to provide without raising tuition. Besides, it was a desk for a college student, not a CEO. It was good enough.

Flash forward. Today we are accustomed to furniture that may be labeled “all wood” but is actually largely medium-density fiberboard. It’s good enough, and it’s a good idea because its construction consumes fewer trees and results in lighter-weight items. But when I run my hand over my grandparents’ oak claw-foot pedestal table in my dining room, the difference is obvious.

The last time I attended a concert at Symphony Hall, it had been too long since my previous visit, and I took a deep breath at the first orchestral sounds. I had forgotten how amazing live music performed by professional musicians in an acoustically balanced venue can be. The sound astonished me. I love the music I listen to when I run and the tunes in my player while I garden, but I can still hear the difference. And that may be the problem with good enough.

Our definition of value is changing. We are gradually becoming a nation that wants speed over quality work. I recently read that translation project managers should be able to handle a million words a day. Perhaps—if all they’re doing is running the text through the latest machine translation software and sending it right back to the client. And certainly, sometimes that’s appropriate.
When speed takes the place of quality, are we on our way to losing the appreciation of fine craftsmanship as we increase our ability to produce an immediate product? Will we cease to respect the work of the artisan’s hands and find no motivation to strive for quality? If we lose that appreciation, will we then lose the ability to produce those fine pieces of work or even tell the difference? What do you think?

(Coming in two weeks: Quality vs. Value)
Patricia May
President and CEO