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Why aren't digital calendars smarter?

Jason Snell | April 30, 2013
I use Google Calendar, Apple's Calendar app, and Fantastical to manage my schedule. In general, my calendaring is in the best shape it's ever been in: My colleagues can see my free and busy times, and schedule me for meetings, and we can even reserve our office's conference rooms, all using the same system.

Many computer calendars also can't match humans when it comes to processing the concept of certain repeating events. If you want to repeat an event every day or week, or even every few days, you're in good shape. But if there's a meeting that's held on the second Tuesday of every month? Smoke will come out of the calendar's ears as if Captain Kirk exposed it to an impossible logical contradiction.

You are not made of paper

I don't want to dip into the skeuomorphism wars. But in most cases, our adherence to old paper calendars as a metaphor is a mistake. I'm not just talking about the stitched leather on Apple's Calendar app; I'm talking about the idea of a monthly view that contains the current calendar month, even if you're already at the end of it.

As described by Marco Arment, calendars that show you an entire week or month are wasting space--and the closer you get to the end of the week or month, the more space it wastes. Can't we break free of this metaphor and let time and space be a little more flexible? As Marco puts it, in most cases calendar users don't care about the past, they care a lot about the present, and they care less (but still care) about future events.

The day/week/month calendar metaphors prevent other, more useful views--such as a detailed look at today's events, while also providing a gloss on future commitments.

Turn the page

At the risk of sounding like an aspirant for Andy Rooney's old job, computer calendars could be a lot better. These are a few ideas from me and from the good people of Twitter. I have no doubt there are many more out there. What are yours?


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