On the user friendly computer

One of the podcasts I listen to on a regular basis, 99 percent invisible featured a story about the computer mouse and its inventor, Doug Engelbart. In it, the fact that modern computers are becoming increasingly user friendly was bemoaned, arguing that if it were less user friendly, we would be able to perform more advanced tasks. Though an interesting point of view, it seems to me sadly mistaken. The thing is, though modern computers and operating systems are becoming ever more user friendly, accessible, and easy to use, that does not necessarily extend to the software run on the device. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Statistics suites
    • Whether you use, SPSS, R or SAS, you will be spending a fair bit of time learning how to use it, and they all have advanced and complicated tools that take time and experience to learn
  • BI Software
    • Highly powerful though they are, I would be hard pressed to call software such as SAP BI or Oracle BI readily accessible to the untrained user, though the experienced user can get a wealth of information out of them
  • Database management suites
    • Whether you use MS SQL, MySQL or NoSQL, database management is a skill that takes time and experience to hone,

Simply put, I would contend that the world envisioned by Doug Engelbart, where we push ourselves to do more with our tools, and leverage those tools to greater effect, is here. Though most users might not see it, and therefore not know it or even know of it, it is here, and the toolsets afforded to us are ever expanding, ever improving, and ever deepening.

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