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Why Technology Does Not Work – Take 2 August 26, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Society, Technology.
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A couple of week ago, I wrote a post “Why Technology Does Not Work” did not turn out at all as I had expected. I had planned to go into why the advanced in software development and complexities of our gadgets offer an overwhelming number of options. I did not plan to go down the path of technology not serving the greater good – although I feel this is still a valid point. I think the news of Somalia has just been too heartbreaking to ignore.

The question I should have asked is: If you had a VCR, when VCRs were the thing to have, did you set the time or did it always blink? If I had to fathom a guess, I would estimate 50% of VCR owners never set the clock because it was either perceived as being too complex or it seemed like a waste of time since it had to be done every time the machine lost power. But the value of the VCR was in it knowing the time and being able to set a schedule to record a show when you were not at home (as well as play videos otherwise recorded). They were the original time-shifters. Yes, it existed before the DVR/Tivo.

Now if you have a DVR or a Tivo, answer the following question: Do you use it to schedule shows for recording when you are not there to control the machine? Without any in depth research I suspect a higher percentage of people are able to use DVRs for their intended purpose than used the VCR in the same way. While this is a very simple example, it actually runs counter to my hypothesis because of its simplicity. Tivo is a great example of how technology works, but the company is struggling and I think it should be doing so much better because its simple interface is so much better what most people get with their cable subscriptions.

I try to pride myself on reading manuals and learning about the features of new equipment and software that I use. But the reason I have come to the conclusion of this post is that I am finding that more and more of our technological advances in software applications is not productive. I feel like we are getting more and more features and options for options sake.

Take the recent release of OS Lion as an example. As a recent convert to the Apple empire, I am still very green in this environment, so I am hesitant to move to a new release. In an effort to understand it more, I have read stories, watched podcasts and done my best to learn what the improvements are. But one feature enhancement I keep hearing about is how Apple chose to reverse the way scrolling works on the touchpad. To me, you intuitively drag your fingers down to move down in a page. But Apple made a change that makes a downward motion cause upward scrolling. There is a checkbox to reverse this reversal, but why?

I look at the Microsoft Office applications and I wonder how many different ways can you do somethings… usually three, if you are counting. It is something they strive for in their applications to give users different options. And back to all those applications in the app store… over half a million. I would like to put it out there for all software developers that we need to stop making new functions and features and start making the technology work better FOR the users. There are lots of defects in code and complexities that we continually add only adds to the defects. When are we going to see the minimalist green movement come to software code to make end users jobs easily and we take advantage of the power of the computer, not the programmer?

In this age of no manuals (or at least no one reading them), we need to make the interfaces more simple and intuitive. We need to stop trying to give users so many options that it complicates the experience. Users are looking for productivity tools that make it easier to do more in less time. We need to see applications adhere to the less is more adage for options and more is more for features and functionality.

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1. Web Service Review: Mint.com « Some Waldman’s Blog – Finding Balance in the Flood of Information - August 31, 2011

[…] you get past that, the site is simple and yet fully featured (see my recent post on technology). You can take checking and saving accounts, loans and investment accounts. The site handles sites […]


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