In the previous episode, it had been decided to buy my father an Asus NEXUS 7 for his birthday. Over the past few weeks I have been keeping tabs on my father’s progress in exploring his new toy. It turns out he’s been having issues with several functionalities on the device:
Google Play – because the music arranged in the MS folder system he’s used to
Editing documents – because he is an MS Word power user and Google docs simply don’t cut it
Downloading PDFs – because he has a hard time figuring out where the files are downloaded to and —wait for it—
Navigating the UI – because he isn’t familiar with the icons. Which, I think we can agree, is the most fundamental requirement in interacting with any kind of user interface.
Now, the thing to keep in mind is that my father is no technophobe. He is very apt when it comes to Windows and Office, is a Photoshop autodidact and manages most of his financials and paperwork online. He just isn’t all that familiar with Google products and Android in particular. This brings to mind John Palvus’ boycott on “Intuitive” interfaces:
No technology is intuitive. It’s all just familiar or unfamiliar at first (…)
I think what we all want from technology are interfaces and interactions that feel familiar, legible, and evident. They should teach us in ways we would like to learn, and speak to us in a way we can understand. This doesn’t mean that technology ought never to surprise or challenge us. But desperately seeking “intuitive” feels, to me, like a kind of techno-animism. Interfaces aren’t magic, and we don’t really want them to be. To borrow from Timo Arnall: interfaces are culture. And like any pieces of culture, what they ought to do is simple: they ought to connect.
There is something inherently wrong with the idea that baby boomers, who until recently were humanity’s hope for a better tomorrow, are left in the dust of the Black Mirror technology. The speed with which technology advances is rapidly increasing and the people spearheading it sometimes forget that only the ones born into it can keep up with it. And in a digital culture where every new feature is based on familiarity with earlier versions of it – that is one critical survival skill.
Of course, these are also the voices unheard, because they don’t wield the power of hashtags, are not part of the vibrant online discourse and are rarely test users for apps that don’t target them in any case. And so the cycle continues and as these things go, missing out on one rung makes it all the harder to catch up with the next innovation.
Technological progress shouldn’t stop for anyone, but maybe the UI and UX folks should consider looking around every so often and taking a more inclusive designing approach.