I recently sat through a meeting in which the presenters needed a little help setting up for the presentation. You see, the presentation was not only comprised of computer-based slides, but also a few video clips as well. What was the difficulty? Understanding how to make it all work together… especially getting the audio to come through the speakers.
Now, I realize I’m different than many presenters. I have an extensive background in multimedia. I was glad to help the presenters, but afterward, when they thanked me profusely, I began questioning if I had really done so much — if I was really “specially” helpful — or if some basic technologies are just really (still) not understood.
Though the VCR is nearly dead, remember the old semi-humorous question, “Can you set your VCR clock?” or the variant, “Can you program your VCR?” How many years are we beyond the dawn of basic consumer grade audio/video devices, and yet they’re not understood. And it’s not like the world of technology has stood still, waiting for all to catch up. Yet, most consumers have moved on. They’ve adopted DVDs, BlueRay, DVRs, sophisticated cell phones, and so on. But many clearly don’t understand these newer inventions any better than the old.
So what is it? It is the design/usability of the products, or are consumers simply not able to ingest new technologies that fast? Are we truly becoming overloaded with technology to the point of inadequate understanding of them all? Well, I’m thinking it’s a little of both.
First, many of our new technologies still require a lot of learning (mental processing) for use. Over time, perhaps these will become more refined and streamlined for everyday use. Consider the advent of the microwave oven. At first they came with incredible instruction and cooking manuals, additional options, and a learning curve (what setting and how long to cook X?) But these days, the microwave is the staple for heating/reheating, complete with pre-programmed settings for common items. You almost don’t even have to think about using it. Just toss that plate in and push a single button. Pretty much everyone can thoughtlessly use a microwave.
Now contrast that with the modern cell phone. Does everyone know how to add and edit contacts, program speed dials, take pictures, set up and check voice mail, and perform a three-way call? Certainly not… but why? Are those things really so difficult, or are they just much more knowledge-intensive, perhaps to the point of being too difficult by comparison? Of course, over time these tasks will probably, as with the microwave, become refined to the point of relative simplicity.
Perhaps the problem right now is that our lives are being flooded with many, many new technologies that all require more and more mental energy to use/manage. And with no end in sight, I ask you: are you overloaded yet? If not, do you think it will happen to you, and if so, what choices do you think you’ll need to make? More importantly, what will the ramifications of those choices be? Will you be left behind, or will you be better off?