Tuesday, June 21, 2005

One little Thing: Computers are like 2 year old children

How often do we use these machines, trying to get some work done (or what passes for work in this information economy of ours) - and are stymied by one little thing......that one little checkbox left unchecked, or one setting left not set, or one button not pushed.....

Case in point: I've been trying to send in some blog entries for three weeks, but nothing was posting. It turns out that there was one checkbox in the blogger settings that needed to be checked - and asn't.

Never mind that there was just one word - "Publish" by the checkbox, and no explanation anywhere on the page. (You had to really dig in the help area - incidentally, one of the bettter written help sections out there - to find out what the checkbox did).

Which brings up the point of this entry: Computers are like 2-year olds, in some respects. No, I'm not going for the obvious "garbage in garbage out" analogy - that would be way too easy....and obvious.

No, somputers are like a two in that they are very literal. I once told by oldest son - who was two at the time - to go ahead and "hop into the tub". Fortunately I managed to catch him before he whanged his shins against the tub trying to jump in.

He took the statement literally - as do computers. There cannot be a situation where there is a diconnect between the commands given and the result. I am, of course, blatantly ignoring the plethora of malfunctions, bugs, and errors of unknown causes by making this statement - but the point remains:

The computer does what is it told to do at some level.

This creates a problem, though - we don¹t work that way....and this permanent disconnect between the human way of expressing ourselves, and the machines need for precision in instructions is what causes all sorts of frustration.

If you think about, the need for higher level programming languages, the graphical user interface, etc etc are all attempts to bridge the gap, so that the human can stop trying so hard to adjust to the machine's world.

Go back to the 70s, when I was a teenager (oops, I just dated myself. Oh, well). At one Boy Scout area-wide event, one Explorer troop had a little microcomputer of sorts running. I remember it had several blinking lights, a keypad, some chips on a breadboard - and the guy was programming it by typing in assembler code. I can't remember what the program was supposed to do, but I remember thinking it didn't look like much fun.

The human had to adjust to working like the machine.

The same is still true, but to a lesser degree. How many times do we modify a preferred workflow because the machine works better if we follow process B instead of the preferred process A?

When will it get better? Only God knows!

In the meantime, keep yourself out of trouble body-wise. Don't adjust your body to fit the machine - adjust the machine to fit your body.

Rephrased: Don't move your arm to grab the mouse. Move the mouse to where you don't have to move your arm!

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