Forgiving Technology

Times have changed or evolved to put it in a different perspective. Mankind has an age old endeavour, how to make life simpler and better ( after making it complicated and worse). In the stone age the primary mode of survival was by hunting and human beings primarily developed tools aimed towards making that process simpler. Life moved on and our species figured out how to do agriculture. That was one major step in making life complicated. Agriculture needed people to settle down as it would take time for plants to grow. This obviously led to lot of lifestyle changes and human beings started creating next set of complications in their life. You would not have thought of checking email or writing a blog if you were busy with chasing wild animals or wild animals chasing you.

The next wave came few thousand years later. When we moved from a system of almost everyone doing everything ( unless you were a king ) to an era of specializations. You could survive just by putting a OK seal on a Nike shoe without ever knowing how leather is made (who the hell wants to know that anyway). This created another interesting opportunity for mankind to make things complicated.you were a computer engineer then you could create buzz words like CORBA, OOPS, XML and scare the hell out of everyone around. If you were a doctor you can have some complicated names of diseases and lack of ability to pronounce these diseases correctly can itself be called another disease. So anyway things moved on. I am sure you are almost wondering by now if there is any co relation between the title of my article and content, so let us get back to the real issue.

Technology is primarily about building these complications and their solutions and building forgiving technology is all about building e technology in such a way that all the complications are hidden from the end user. So let us look at some stone age tools. These tools were simple and they did the work they were meant for. They never published a user manual on how to use them and never gave you a shock if you did not use them in the prescribed way. But now you might argue that this was primarily because these tools accomplished very simple tasks. This is precisely where I beg to differ my fellow earthians ( not sure if that is even a word ). I think that lot of people building the technology are just not able to put themselves in their customer shoes which come in a wide variety of sizes and colors. They always assume a user manual or basic framework of assumptions and fall flat on face when the technology gets used in an out of the box manner. So long live the example of washing machines being used as Lassi maker in Punjab . I am sure the washing machine makers never thought of this usecase while building it.

So next time you are building any piece of technology, just imagine that there is no user manual. Just get NUM ( No User Manual ) principle embedded in your psyche. If you are software developer writing code to add two numbers do not forget the case where both the inputs might be perfectly right but the sum might still have an integer overflow. If you are a restaurant owner it is a better idea to label what is salt and what is pepper after all how many people can guess it based on the number of holes. So the idea is very simple that understand your user very well, the smartest one and the dumbest one also ( both might correspond to the same human being in some cases ). And always ensure that you forgive them for all their mistakes after all you as a technology builder is existence because you have users. Your life is not worth a meaning without that user set.

Happy Forgiving Technology Building !

PS: This blog entry is also posted at http://fourint.com/blog/?p=48.

 

  • anonymous

    I’m new here, just wanted to say hello and introduce myself.

  • ext_121966

    Hi,
    Quite an insightful thought! we are so obsessed with our technology that we cannot let people experience with. What if they use it the wrong way… except nuclear tech and RDX, we need not worry about others!
    we need to asklaila about what will people use asklaila for?!
    regards
    Levine