» Have good user interfaces made us lazy and dumb? HouseOfBrew – Unplugged and Brewed

Have good user interfaces made us lazy and dumb?

So this post’s finalized version is motivated by Jim Raffel from jimraffel.com who has one heck a great blog, and blogs way more than I could ever motivate myself to do.  Thanks Raffel!  Also thanks to Scott Stratten for pushing me even further and releasing before a grammer edit.


I’m sure this will get some User Experience Designers upset, but here’s a thought:

I’ve noticed something lately
about the generation of kids attending high school.  Mostly, I noticed this recently because my niece graduated from high school, and I hooked her party up with some awesome karaoke ran from my laptop.  What I noticed was astonishing:  These kids could use their cell phones to play games.  They could use my ipad to facebook, and play games.  However….

When I asked them “who knows how to use a computer”…
because I had to leave for the night and wanted to show any of these kids how to use windows search to find the karaoke songs (I have over 250,000 songs) and add them to the queue…  Holy cow.  Only one kid from the entire group of 20+ kids felt comfortable enough to say “Hey Uncle Jon, I know how to use a computer.”.

Really?  Seriously?  1/20th of graduating high school kids?
I’ve ranted in the past about spending more time in front of a computer than behind the wheel of a car, but are you kidding me?  Do these kids have the same parents that say “I don’t really use a computer but man, my kids do all kinds of smart stuff on that thing”.

Is it because things are too easy?
Seriously, consider this for just one second:
- When I was a kid, we had to load games from a DOS prompt.   We did not have autoload.
- We knew how to load “*”, 8, 1 on the Commodore 64 (and 128).
- We had to blow in our cartridges to get them to work.  A basic understanding of connectivity.
- We had to use a screwdriver for a UHV connector into a VHF connector for an RCA dongle to hook up our gaming platform.  What?  use tools?

Fast forward to a culture where “User Experience Designers” need to make everything easy.
So now we live in a world where:
- Macs have one big button and call people who know how to do PC like functions “geniuses”.
- We are (slowly) moving to one power cord – USB
- Yellow goes to yellow, red goes to red, white goes to white (Yes, everyone but the color blind can hook up TV stuff now)
- (Insert your really easy thing in the comments section below)

Today’s kids can’t easily
– Hook up a stereo (it’s all integrated these days)
- Fix their broken Xbox’s
- Got other examples? – feel free to comment below.

I know it’s a strong statement, but maybe we made things too easy – are we making generations of dumber kids?

  • naborzbike

    How about reading a real map or using a dictionary or phone book?

  • http://tiegsj.wordpress.com tiegsj

    “Blow in our cartridges to make them work” I absolutely love that! That is still an approved troubleshooting method is it not?

    Reading your post I thought of the movie Walle. In that movie the humans had become overweight drones that had everything they needed on the screen in front of them. They never had to think or do anything. They just had to turn it on and everything that they needed was there. I think that there will always be those that are thinkers and doers. But you are right, there is going to be a large segment of our population that are “drones” that waste away in front of a screen without ever contributing something of value.

    Now I need to go play some Wii before bed. J/K

    Nice post

  • jimraffel

    Hey Brew,

    I mostly agree. It’s why when my teenage boy wanted a gaming machine I said sure. Go to newegg.com and start looking for parts. He was like – huh I have no idea what I need. I said “ever heard of Google” With my business partner’s help he put together a parts list ordered all the parts and with our supervision and assistance assembled the machine. He went from being afraid to take the cover off a machine to wanting to. He now searches out updated drivers for his kick ass video card all on his own. I guess all we really did was release his inner geek.

    Of course, thanks for the mention and kind words.

    • http://houseofbrew.wordpress.com houseofbrew

      That’s fantastic, Jim. What a great learning experience that was for your son. I bet he felt alot more ownership of that gaming machine after piecing it together himself. However, I don’t think I’m all that shocked that most kids can’t take apart, gut, and fix a computer. I can’t do much with the engine in my car, but I”m sure there was an era when that was more common. Concentrate on the phrase “who knows how to use a computer”. That’s what shocked me the most. I didn’t say
      “who knows how to fix a computer” or “who knows the difference between RAM and ROM” or “Anyone troubleshoot video card drivers lately?”.

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