Mechanical Age versus Informational Age in Learning

Coming home for my spring break vacation, I had many things planned: visit friends, relax in the warm Miami weather, rework some design projects and get some additional work done on my current design initiatives. I also knew I had the prestigious honor of reformatting my parent’s computer. Having been on the fritz for some time, I often suggested that my father reformat the system but my parents were comfortable in waiting for me to get back in town. This is based not on the comfort I have with technology but my willingness to hit buttons and see what happens. I do not have any more technical knowledge when it comes to setting up computers, I just hit functions until it does what I want and I get a large mental list of what went wrong in the process.

It wasn’t until I got the computer functioning again today that I realized this hesitance to format the computer is the same as my friend’s hesitance to use power tools. Back at school, I am involved in construction for our Spring Carnival. On a team with a handful of students who have never used power tools, I have become a sort of teacher in the way of power drills and the glorious dremel. No expert, I simply approach the problem and play with the materials until I get the desired outcome. The obvious physical risk of power tools aside, some of the others in the organization are afraid of the tools much the same as my parents don’t want to reformat their computer. The curse of the beginner, they have simply never used the tools or carried out the function and due to some perceived barrier they delegate it to someone who is deemed more skilled, even if I just button mash (my generation got something out of Nintendo).

In this way, I find it interesting that the mechanical tools and the digital world have this similarity. It shouldn’t be any sort of surprise, people hate being novices and looking inept at a task. Still, there should be a way in designing interactions and experiences that makes it easy for the novices to step up and feel confident in using the application. It is too easy to forget what it was like being a beginner at something, especially if you learned it at a young age. Although people are novices for a short time and learn quickly, a poor introduction to a system, interface, or physical product might turn them off from using the system any further.

(no big closing, here ends my observation.)

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