Friday, November 04, 2005


Technology has made some staggering advances in the last 30 years. In some ways, though, it has just staggered - made a few awkward steps, and in some cases, just fallen over. One of the biggest failings has been user interface design.

I don't think is from lack of ability (although tech people do have a notoriously hard time designing usable stuff for non-tech people, and that is a hard problem to get around), but rather, underestimation of its importance. Companies lose countless worker-hours due to badly designed, confusing interfaces. We think they're okay because we get used to them, or just started using them before we remember, but to somebody who hasn't used a computer before, a mouse just isn't that intuitive. I mean, think of Scotty: "Hello computer" (aside: anybody else wonder why he could type so fast?).

A lot of technology seems to be in a messy intermediate phase. I liken it to cleaning: when you clean, it gets worse before it gets better. Technology is making things messy right now: throwing off our ecosystem, making people unhealthy, and, although helpful for some tasks, often as distracting and time-consuming in itself as the time it was supposed to save. I have faith that one day we'll get to a point where technology is just a seamless part of our lives, working right in at least as many cases as a human would (don't expect perfection... that's a problem too).

The point of all this is that we need technology interfaces that are more like interacting with the real world, the world we're used to from million years of evolution. We have nice, fast, capacious hardware now. Let's dedicate some of its powers toward making something that's natural to interact with. Something that doesn't depend on liking math or logic or linear thinking. Something that complements the range of human ability and talent and preference and intuition. It's not frivolous. It's what the rest of the world needs - and I don't just mean Third-World countries... I mean everyone, anywhere, who currently doesn't feel comfortable with technology. That's a lot of power and utility we're missing out on.

As a final note... I want telepathy. That's my new standard for when technology has really succeeded. My old standard was flying like Superman.


Blogger zara elis said...

"I want telepathy. That's my new standard for when technology has really succeeded. My old standard was flying like Superman."

:-) Thank you for the smile. And we won't talk about the time that my cousins actually convinced me that I could fly like Superman. I was only 4 or 5, and the tree wasn't all that tall (well, if you were an adult), and there was a matress at the base just in case. Don't remember if I hit or missed the mattress.... Yep, I was a gullable kid.

11/16/2005 10:45 AM  

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