Computers: Are They Easier to Use ?
Here’s my simple test for a product of today’s technology:I go to the bookstore and check the shelves for remedial books.The more books there are, the more my suspicions are raised.If computers and computer programs are getting easier to use,why are so many companies still making a nice living publishing books on how to use them?Computers manipulate information,but information is invisible.There’s nothing to see or touch.The programmer decides what you see on the screen.Computers don’t have knobs like old radios.They don’t have buttons, not real buttons.
Instead, more and more programs display pictures of buttons,moving even further into abstraction and arbitrariness.I like computers, but I hope they will disappear,that they will seem as stranger to our descendants as the technologies of our grandparents appear to us.Today’s computers are indeed getting easier to us,but look where they started:so difficult that almost any improvement was welcome.Computers have the power to allow people within a company,across a nation or even around the world to work together.
But this power will be wasted if tomorrow’s computers aren’t designed around the needs and capabilities of the human beings who must use them —a people-centered philosophy, in other words.This means retooling computers to cope with human strengths,observing, communicating and innovating instead of asking people to conform to the unnatural behavior computers demand.That just leads to error. Many of today’s machines try to do too much.When a complicated work processor attempts to double as a desktop pulsing program or a kitchen appliance come with half a dozen attachments,the product is bound to be awkward and burdensome.
My favorite example of a technological product on just the right scale is an electronic dictionary.It can be made smaller,lighter and far easier to use than a print version,not only giving meanings but even pronouncing the words.Today’s electronic dictionaries,with their tiny keys and barely legible displays,are primitive but they are on the right track.