Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Struggling with Convenience

There I was 15 years ago, lying (Or is it laying? I’m never sure. Tell you what, we’ll just say that I was snuggled) comfortably in my bed, working on a brain-teaser problem from the Sunday paper. It was a problem that involved quite a bit of math, and I being too lazy and too comfortable to leave my cozy little nest to get my calculator from the next room, decided to solve the problem with the most convenient things there were: the pencil on the night table and scrap of paper from the floor.

It really would’ve taken much less time to get up out of bed, go get the calculator from the next room, come back and re-burrow myself in my comfy little nest, and then do the calculations; but the best tool for the job was inconvenient, and so instead, I struggled for a half hour with tools that weren’t quite up to the task, but happened to be right at hand. I forced myself to use this set of tools, not because they were the best ones for the job, but because they were “convenient.”

15 years later the situation hasn’t changed much. I’ll be snuggled comfortably in bed (there, I totally avoided the entire “lay/lie” problem), wanting to check my email, and rather than go downstairs to get my laptop, which I forgot to bring upstairs with me, I’ll reach for the iPod Touch sitting on the night table, and struggle with typing responses on that…because it’s “more convenient.”

You’d think I would’ve learned after all this time that maybe the most convenient tool isn’t always the best one, and that maybe it’s worth getting out of bed to go get the best tool for the job. But I haven’t. And the sad news is that I’m not alone. There are millions of other people out there who haven’t figured this out either, and who keep trying to do work on the “most convenient” tool rather than the best one.

Now, I understand about times when the “most convenient” tool is also the only one you have available. I don’t regularly schlep my laptop around with me all over the place. So when I want to take a quick note, or quickly look something up, the my handheld device is definitely the way to go. It’s the best tool at the moment, but not necessarily the best tool overall.

But there seems to be a big push among the digiterati to have all computing done on those convenient little handheld devices – even though they may not be the best tool for the job. These people believe so much in the future of handheld computing that they’re willing to ignore all the disadvantages of the devices; especially those that occur when you combine tiny keyboards with fat human fingers. They keep saying that the technology will get better, and that it’s just a matter of getting used to using the tiny devices.

I don’t know about that. I just recently moved from having a desktop and a laptop computer to having only a laptop. What made that move so seamless? The fact that the keyboard was pretty much the same size, and fat fingers weren’t an issue. I didn’t have to relearn anything. And…basically being a portable version of the desktop I’d been using for years, the laptop was still the right tool for the job. It was the full-blown computer that I could keep under my pillow, rather than having to schlep downstairs to use.

Call me silly, but I believe that for new technology to be truly useful to people, it should feel natural, and not forced. And I see too many tech-heads trying to force the latest cool thing too quickly onto a public that’s not ready for it - because that next cool thing isn't quite ready for the public. The tech-heads understand other tech-heads, but they don’t seem to understand regular everyday people, and how they use, or want to use, technology.

There’s no denying that I love my iPod Touch. It’s great as a PDA, and it’s the right tool for the job when it comes to tracking my glucose levels and teaching my eight-year-old her multiplication tables. But for other tasks, for many other tasks, I’d much rather have my laptop.

And that’s a very inconvenient truth.

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