Saturday, February 25, 2006

Making technology simple

Making technology simple I couldn't agree more with this posting by Niall Kennedy on his weblog: "In our quest for the latest and greatest technologies we may be overlooking the masses of users waiting for technologies to enrich their lives. My mom's a blogger but doesn't know it. She passes along chain mail and jokes to family and friends on an almost daily basis. Each week she updates everyone who's interested on the latest news from my brother in Iraq. Both activities are ideally suited for blogs and syndication, but it's easier for her to fire off an e-mail to 25 people with her latest funny joke or piece of chain mail than connect to everyone through a blog or reader. My 18 year-old sister has never used MySpace, Facebook, or Xanga. Her social networking app is a cell phone she carries everywhere, including sending text messages from her bed. She creates content using still cameras and video, but never shares the content online because she finds the process too complicated. It's easier to connect her video camera to a TV than to send it to a video sharing site. As geeks we put up with all the complexities to explore a new service but most of the world just wants to plugin something that works. " I would go further than Niall, actually. I am pretty above-average technical, and laughed when I brought my first video recorder (1980?) at those jokes about people asking their children to work it for them. But I've turned into one of those people. I can't work the DVD recorder without reading the manual (and forgetting how to do it next time). Not that this matters because the fate of anything I did manage to record would be for it to sit on the shelf with the 100 or so DVDs waiting for me to watch "one day". Another example: I used to be a keen photographer. I took thousands of b&w pictures and developed them myself, using all kinds of techniques. Yet I can't work a modern digital camera. By the time I've worked it out, the technology evolves and a yet new type of device is out there, cheaper than before. Another: I have to have the most simple mobile phone possible. I have been forced to use a colour screen but no camera as yet. I am amazed at the "integrated" phone/internet/TV goodness knows what mini-handsets that people have nowadays and could not imagine coping with it. But I am not a technophobe, I would like to be adept at this stuff, but I am not prepared to put in the amount of time it would take me to learn how to use all these things. I am not sure I agree with Niall Kennedy about the younger generation. Cathy (15) is adept with MySpace, mobile phone, email, applications like powerpoint -- Jenny (10) similarly uses excel, Flickr and even photoshop with confidence. Both girls have blogs (and both can work the DVD recorder with ease). What am I saying here? Niall is right. All over the web, via rss or whatever, one reads about fantastic little bits of programming or great applications to do wonderful things -- search, retrieve, categorise, share, send, organise information. Just go to the Firefox or Technorati homepage, or read some library blogs, and dozens of ideas for great things to do come to mind. But for the "normal" user, by which I mean technically able but not an infotechnical professional, too much time investment is required to work out how to use all these developments. There must be a market for an interface between all the "geeky" suggestions and the "non-geeky but keen" users. Online help! Of course there are plenty of user-friendly applications out there -- Connotea, Flickr et al. But at the "below product" level, there is huge scope for spreading and accelerating the use of ICT developments by -- well, dammit, just explaining how to use and apply these bits of programmes or cute little tools in language that we can all understand. Movies over the internet, though, that's something I can get my head round. When are we going to get enough broadband (or whatever the technical term is if not that) to be able to look at a menu of TV shows we missed, or a movie database, select one, and watch it on our computer screens, when and where we like? I think even I could work that. And it would get rid of the piles and shelves-full of DVDs and videos littering the house. (Yes, Superpatron, like the books, uncategorised.)