Two Ways To Turn On A Light

The Techie Way: “Let’s start with the theory of the electron …”

The Apple Way: “Push this switch up.”

And if you think I’m being inflammatory, I want all of you to consider the following.

Douglas Engelbart, father of the first “user-friendly” computing system, NLS, shown off in The Mother of All Demos, believed this:

NLS, meanwhile, continued to add new features, including hypertext, multimedia, and screen sharing, but at the same time there were costs associated with the increasing power of the information tools. Every new feature meant added complexity and added training. For those who were part of the ARC group or committed to the Augment vision, the training was a minimal price to pay for the power that resulted. But for outsiders it presented an intimidating and bewildering array of commands to learn. NLS contained no “user interface” in the manner of modern computer graphical interfaces that are designed to make it easy for a novice computer user to master a range of commands.

For Engelbart, simple user interfaces were beside the point. At one meeting of the Augment programmers, he posed the question, “When NLS is complete, how many instructions will it have?” He went around the room and asked everyone to answer. They were, of course, all wrong. The right answer was that NLS would eventually have fifty thousand instructions! That would require learning a language a significant fraction the size of English.

Boldfaced emphasis added by me.

And he didn’t see anything wrong with that!

I’m not arguing that Apple is the only way or even, as it stands, the right way. (Anyone with some computer experience will quickly trip across frustrating limitations in iOS that are just startling.)

But not expecting people to have to basically go to school to learn how to get things done is too often disparaged as just being wrong or unworthy of serious consideration.

Too often everything has been seen in terms of a contest which basically boils down to people with a natural bent for technology pissing on those who don’t.

Instead of all-or-nothing, start to think in terms of tiers:

1) Those who just want to do things (iOS)
2) Those who want to do more things (restricted by iOS)
3) Those who want to rule things

Those in category three need to start thinking more about the needs of those in category one — because, as iOS has shown, that is the monster market.

And why rule the damn technology if you can’t make money doing so? Isn’t that also a goal?

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Filed under Digital Overthrow, Friction, Minimalism

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