Friday, October 22, 2010

The Internet...Point and Click or Tab and Type

Does anyone remember those old loud keyboards? You know, the ones that sounded like jigsaw puzzle pieces clicking into place as you struck the keys! I remember the old Tandy that we had practically echoed down the hallway when you typed. I kind of miss those keyboards. They were from an age of computing (I know I'm only in my early 20s) when a computer was a smart in the sense that you had to have some smarts to use them.

I'm not saying that computers were for any sort of elite group (and I am by no means calling myself smart), but they definitely required you to use your brain. Today, a "good computer" or rather a good UI (user interface) and OS (operating system) is one that any native pulled out of the jungle could sit down and figure out without being shown. Modern computing for the average home user has become idiot-proof. This phenomenon applies to the Internet as well. Websites that have been around since Al Gore gave the green light for the interwebs are updating the sites more and more every year to make their interface "more user friendly" know, in case all of the Aborigines decide to leave the bush and buy MacBook Airs tomorrow. The point is, just because more people can supposedly use computers without instruction doesn't make them better...maybe more marketable, but certainly not better.

Why did we most of us learn to read analog clocks? Well, some might argue it's a product of the Cold War days and that we should be prepared for the potential reality that an EMP from a large nuclear detonation might wipe out all digital watches in the world leaving humanity to fall into a post-apocalyptic world of chaos because no one will know when Survivor will be on (NaOnka, you need to go home). Others might say it's simply because there are many analogue watches still being made...very valid. While still others might say it's because it is the most efficient (let's not talk about atomic clocks here) and fail-safe form of time keeping and helps 7 year olds (and older) learn an engaging mathematical system in a practical way. Well, a watch is a simple little machine that helps people like you and me obtain information that gets us through our days. Isn't a computer the same thing, only worlds more complex? In that same vein, aren't we forsaking the more efficient, powerful, and engaging forms of computing for the less-capable, less powerful, and more passive forms? Simple is not necessarily better in computing!

Remember the days of command lines and terminals? Maybe you don't, hell I wasn't typing when it was a mainstay. However, you used to need a basic level of programming in order to navigate a computer. You needed some training, some knowledge, some cerebral activity. It took more work, but your computer experience was more adaptable. Tech support was not the multi-gazillion dollar business that it is today because people could work through their own problems. They didn't have a message box with the "OK" grayed out...they had a loop in code or an error that had to be worked around.

While many people companies might argue that more user-friendly interfaces are beneficial to productivity and other similar things, it can't be argued that being ignorant and only knowing how to click things is more powerful and long-lived than knowing how to type commands.

"Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime."

I just threw up a little in my mouth for using that, but it's applicable here. We've become too dumb for a race that has become so dependent upon a technology and experiences that require some real smarts to maintain and adapt to the future. Maybe this newer generation who were born with Baby Einstein and Fisher-Price laptops will change things?