"If it don't fit, don't force it.
Turn it over and try again."
Cliff, a dockworker at MJ Rudolpf, ca. 1977
|Photo by Debbie Egan-Chin, Daily News|
I can drive a car reasonably well. I know its basic functions, can dive under its hood with a reasonable idea of what does what (and even fix things occasionally), and I'm cognizant of what a car can (and cannot) do.
I grew up with cars, they were around long before I was born. I am an automotive native.
Still, when faced with driving a new model, I invariably struggle to find the defrost function. I stil struggle with it in our latest car, and we've had it for over two years. No one worries about this, though, because we are all automobile natives, and we all know that I can figure this out on my own.
Henry Ford was not an automotive native. Neither were the many, many folks who drove his Model T's, cantankerous beasts that needed a lot of loving and logic to keep chugging along. Chokes needed pulling, engines needed cranking, and tires (over and over again) needed replacing.
Yet just about anyone who owned a Model T could finagle their way through the myriad maddening Model T problems.
Not because they were natives, but because they were problem-solvers.
|Miss Ramey, a school teacher, 1924, via Shorpy|
Maybe the myth that a child can figure out a piece of software faster than her teacher says more about the teacher than the child.
Commercial software is made to be sold. "Intuitive" software sells better than clunky code, and pretty much all commercial programs and hardware meant for mass consumption start up in similar ways.
There is nothing amazing about a reasonably bright child picking up a device and figuring how to power it up, no more than a reasonably bright teacher starting and driving a car they've never used before. Praising your two year old using an iPad is like praising him for pooping in a toilet. I'm all for praising toddlers. But pooping and iPadding are both "user friendly" activities.
Problem solving is a an old, generic skill, It requires reasoning, experimenting, patience, and (in some cases) chutzpah. Humans are (generally) pretty good at it.
Let's not fetishize the machine, nor the child's relationship to it.
Crows can solve problems. Humans can, too.
We should be able to do it better.
My Dad would say that you should not use a machine until you know how it worked.