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Many Will Have to Die

February 26th, 2013

This weekend I was at my sister's and we were tearing down her old laptop to do a minor repair to the power module. Basically the thing got shoved in and a piece of plastic that held it in place broke off. The hardest part was tearing the thing down but once we got to a stopping point, she asked me to step up the printer for my nephew's new laptop. I was busy with something else and told my 14 year old son to walk him through it. 

 

The computer being new is running Windows 8 and I have to admit that I had to search google to figure out how to even open the control panel. With a little bit of effort we found the control panel and got the thing installed. The thing that stood out was hearing my son say over and over, "I just want a Start Menu." I found this humorous on a number of different levels. 

 

The first being that here he was just into his teens and he was already set in the way that he interacts with a computer. It's not completely his fault, he has been using a computer since I first plopped him on my lap in front of my desktop at 2 years of age. He has used every version of Windows since Windows 98 and he has experienced a different form of user interface because of it. A UI that maybe on it's way out as those younger are introduced to computers in a completely different way. 

 

As I struggled through trying to get the correct apps open, I noticed one thing, this UI wasn't designed for me or older windows users. Sure there is the nod toward the move to tablets and touch but the key difference is that hidden away are those paths and actions that we have all spent years using. This is not an operating system designed for those that I want control. This is one for those that full trust the OS to handle settings to give them the best experience. They are not worried about startup programs, will never open the task manager or change the display settings for better performance and when computer begins to run slow they will take it to someone to "clean" the computer.They are the IE users and there is nothing wrong with that because it fits their needs.

 

As frustrating as I found interacting with that machine, the more I used it the more I realized that things like searching and opening commands by just typing makes much more sense than opening the start menu and typing in the search box. As well as having only the applications that you use being in tile form instead of the start menu list or a cultured desktop. What the UI is doing that seems frustrating is that it is hiding the stuff you don't really need in the background. It's only when you find a need to find these apps that it gets to be a pain in the ass. 

 

When I began to think about it, this has more to do with the next generation then some grand plan to move everyone away from the "dying" laptop and desktop to the underpowered tablet and more to do with the fact that a majority of the population's first interaction with computers now is the mobile smart phone. Much like Android and iOS it's more about keeping the UI easy to learn and use than giving the user access to the settings. 

 

This can have the blessing of getting a much larger user base interacting easily and quickly with computers but it does have the side effect of what could be the "magic" effect. Meaning that a majority of the user base as no idea how the device does what it does and has no interests in knowing how it does it. Which creates another blog worth of concern for the future and more importantly everyone should know how to code. For more information on that go to http://www.code.org/.

 

Back to the subject at hand, technology, science and culture has always been constrained by the prejudices of old generation. Many cases it took the slow march toward death of the older generation to see advancements to come into practice. In my life time I've witnessed mass advancements in culture and technology that was first greeted with fear and dread when it was first introduced. Often this was because of the effect it was to have on the status quo. These would inspire countless doom day predictions and in part I think science fiction has been to blame. I think we have all had that experience where we wanted to live in the future world with all those fancy toys and then became fear of those toys when they began to take over.

 

In reality technology in the 20th century didn't have a good track record. There are countless modern problems that have been created or been a result of those advancements. So, is it hard not to understand that there is a undermining fear of the new? I think we all have this collective memory that feeds off this idea that quick change will result in some unseen terrible side effect. So, it would be unfair to say that these fears are completely unsupported.

 

When new technology is introduced there seems to be those that embrace it and those that find it pointless or fear the negative impacts from the start. Those that are unwilling to embrace the new technology begin to feel invaded by that tech and often respond defensively and only when they feel they are left no other choice will be drag kicking and screaming to using it.

 

The smart phone revolution that has happened over the past 6 or 7 years is a prime example. Personally I saw no reason to have a smart phone at first or even a connection to the internet. It would take my uses of the internet and especially e-mail for business that would make me see the need of having access to both all the time. Though the UI and how I interacted with the additional information was primitive at the time, it only took a short time to understand the advantage of quickly responding to clients and updating my site.  

 

I have to admit that even today, I will not respond to an e-mail or a text until I get to a computer or can call the person because I find the interface to limiting to express what I need to. However having access to the knowledge of the world in my pocket is by far one of the most useful and powerful experiences of my life. It has effected my life in far too many ways to begin to go into but I still have friends and relatives that do not trust it and see it as a some how less reliable source of information.

 

Along the same train of thought is the prejudice toward video games and the gamification of education. This idea that if it is fun or entertaining that there can be no educational benefit and is some how going to cause some kind of adverse effect to gamer. I've been playing video games since I was a child and I always found it odd that culturally we celebrate those that play chest as a learning tool but look down on other games as only time wasters. As tools of developing strategy, determination, problem solving and trouble shooting nothing beats a game. Weather it be a board game or Donkey Kong. 

 

After years of having study after study come out claiming that video games cause lack of attention and violence, the truth about video games and the people that seem to "waste" all their time playing them is coming out. Something I've known first hand is that video games train the mind to find work arounds to problems, increase concentration and increases determination to solve difficult problems. Recent studies have stated that many hardcore gamers carry the same skills and determination into the way they address real world problems. In fact they excel far and beyond those that don't play games. When it comes to innovation and new ways of doing something who do you think is going to push the bounds of what is thought possible? The person that finishes the New York Times crossword in pen or the guy that spent four hours coming up with a new strategy to defeat the last boss fight?

 

One of those sting jokes is the question, Why do so many exceptional children turn into ordinary adults? I think it is largely to do with how we educate children. In early development we push this idea that play is how a child learns and then at the magical age of  6 or 7, we force them into an educational system that stifles and oppresses play. I've never understood why if nature has given us play as a form of teaching that we do everything we can to eradicate it as we reach adulthood. Now understand I'm not talking about playing house or getting on the floor and playing with hotwheels but games and puzzles. More important the gamification of education.  

 

With those computers getting into smaller and smaller hands there has been an increase in educational games. Not only are they teaching children to interact with computers but there are games for everything from teaching typing to teaching algebra. Just because the plot might seem childish the reality is that it can give a child a understanding of concepts that many adults can't get their head around. However it presented in a language that is easy to understand and a format that is entertaining, engaging and challenging. However some how because it is fun, some how it carries less worth. Think about this for a second, if you could have mastered the concepts of algebra at age 7 how much further you could have gone with that building block?

 

The thing with the current state of technology is that we are to the level where many of the things that were mere fiction a few years ago are completely possible. The problem is no longer the need for advancement but acceptance. It is the user that is holding back the advancement. Car ownership could be a thing of the past within a few years but people would have to accept automated cars. How we interact with the world could be completely changed with internet connected glasses but we would have to give up on this idea that we should fear cameras and the collection of personal data. We could have a virtual room in our house were distant friends and relatives could interact with us every day but we would have to have cams in our houses. Think of a room where your family could just stop by to chat daily or share a meal. We could have a physician diagnose sickness an illness without an office visit but we would have to trust wearable biotech.

 

I know many of you are thinking of all the things that could go wrong but it wasn't that long ago when the idea of doing banking in any form other than face to face seemed insane. Now most of us deposit paychecks, withdraw money, pay bills, etc.. all on line. When was the last time you cashed a check at a bank? We don't even consider the risks because it is the norm.  It took a generation for it to go from visiting the bank to using the ATM to doing everything on line. You have to wonder how much of the resistance is clouded by a flawed nostalgia. An idea that some how the old way was better. That going to work getting your check, signing the back, driving to the bank, waiting in line and then depositing it was some how more rewarding.

 

Some day I hope that the idea of owning a car, maintaining it, putting gas in it, getting a license and insuring a car will look as pointless. Many would say that they wouldn't want to give up the joy of driving a car but I have to state without an ounce of resistance that I will not miss it in the least. I would much rather have a car pick me up at my door and ride while I'm enjoying a book or movie on the way to work. I for one won't miss the insurance payments, the out of the blue break downs and repairs and the dull effect of being trapped in a long drive with only the radio for entertainment. 

 

See the idea brings up a whole host of fears of what might happens and it will take the dying off of a generation of people that are unwilling to embrace the change before it will become a reality. Sadly humanity instinctively is motivated greatly by fear and the most effective marketing method is fear. It always seems like there is this tipping point with the adaption of new ideas, were the fear of what might happen tilts to the fear of isolation. The more this change effects the status quo the longer the time is to that tipping point and in most cases it involves the majority of those with the most resistance dying off. It takes those hold outs kicking the bucket to swing the balance. My hope is that as age becomes increasingly less a gauge of one's worth and status, this will change.

 

We should all help this along. Start by taking the time to learn about the technology that you are using and how it works. Learn some Programming code. Use vocabulary that everyone understands and when they looked puzzled by a term, take the time to explain it. Open your mind to new ideas or at least research the idea before you start stocking up on survival gear. Read a book on a subject that you know nothing about. Play games. Explore new ways to interact with the ones you love and remember the end of the world will come regardless, it will either be sooner or later but always remember that one of the greatest learning tools known to man is the mistake.

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