Let me ask you this: How well can you use a personal computer? How well could you have used a computer 10 years ago? 20 years ago? 30 years ago?
Opening the door on yet another year (2009, already?), I find myself pondering how much the ease of learning to use a technology depends on the user vs. the technology itself. For example, operating a computer 30 years ago was drastically different from today. Give a 30 year old computer to a handful of modern PC users, and many likely would be unable to compute at all. My hunch is that PC operation 30 years ago just would be far too technical a task for the modern mouse-clicker. Yet, today, there are still some who find the modern PC too difficult to learn to use and continue using. Think about where you fall on that spectrum. Can you use a computer well? Is it because you understand the computer, or is a modern computer really that easy to use?
So to what extent does an adopter of technology truly have to understand the technology to use it? Let me raise this question another way. Do you know exactly how all the parts in your computer work? Do you need to? Or likewise, do you know how all the parts in your car work? Do you need to understand in order to drive it? (Let’s politely overlook those who consider automotive tinkering a hobby.) The obvious answer: for the average user, probably not much depth is needed. Most of us just want to turn the key and go.
But I’ve never been satisfied with obvious answers, so let me open this question for discussion: just how much should a user have to understand in order to adopt a technology? Where is the benchmark for usability these days in a world now rapidly flooding with new technologies, many of which arrive with no training, product manuals, or (in some cases) any form of customer support whatsoever? How much technology knowledge do you think manufacturers assume adopters will have? And lastly, at this rate, what do you think PC adoption will be like in 10 to 20 years? Will learning to use a PC become easier or harder? What about other technologies and devices?