I was recently at a friends for dinner and at one point my host pulled out his computer. It wasn’t ten seconds after he put it down that I was questioning the way he was using it (tangental moral: never have me a dinner guest). It looked as if every application on the computer was in his dock and I asked if he ever considered using something like LaunchBar instead. He said he liked it this way and we got on a tangent about how we used our machines.
To say that we both have drastically different approaches to using what is essentially the same computer is an understatement. To say that I wanted to help him, to show him how he was doing it wrong, to show him the “right way,” also an understatement. I started down this misguided course, but quickly realized the futility of the act. He was comfortable doing things the “wrong way”. In fact, he couldn’t even seem to imagine a world where things could be better. He had his trusted system, no matter how wrong it may have felt to me.
Despite the fact that I still think he uses the computer like a silly little man, it got me thinking. He’s not wrong. It’s not that “they” are doing it wrong, it’s that they don’t need to do it. They either don’t care or more likely don’t need to put nearly as much thought as I do into their usage. Their brains are better at organizing or the tools don’t make nearly as much of a difference. The time spent learning “the right way” or even just finding “their own way” wouldn’t be worth the bump in productivity.
It’s easy to forget that the average user doesn’t think about their tech tools the way we do. They don’t think in terms of workflows. Their thoughts never turn to data portability, interoperability, services, macros, snippets. Why do you think Apple is going out of their way to make things like iCloud feel invisible instead of innovative? It’s not a product geared towards “us”; it’s tailor made for “them”. We’re talking about an audience who often struggles to understand what an application like Dropbox does, never mind how it could help (in this case that “audience” is my wife, but I digress).
The problem with us Markdown-loving, Plain Text using, TextExpanding, Keyboard Maestroing, OmniFocusers: we’ve found so many of ourselves that we forget we’re a minority. We care (and care deeply) about things that only a small percentage of overall users care about. We need or want things that others just don’t care about or have a use for. They may become curious, but chances are we will quickly overwhelm the hell out of them when they finally come looking. Let’s face it: there’s little doubt that they are doing it wrong, but we’re not going to get that point across if we keep telling them that…