pointerThe ideology of the user-friendly

Lori Emerson, back in 2013:

My talk today is concerned with a decade in which we can track the shift from seeing a user-friendly computer as a tool that, through a graphical user interface (GUI), encourages understanding, tinkering, and creativity to seeing a user-friendly computer that uses a GUI to create an efficient work-station for productivity and task-management. […]

What concerns me is that ‘user-friendly’ now takes the shape of keeping users steadfastly unaware and uninformed about how their computers, their reading/writing interfaces, work let alone how they shape and determine their access to knowledge and their ability to produce knowledge. […] The result is a “seemingly sovereign individual” who is mostly a devoted consumer of ready-made software and ready-made information whose framing and underlying mechanisms we are not privy to.

This is not much of an issue for me on macOS, but I can point at two platforms where optimising for excessive simplicity is having a negative effect:

iPadOS. After a four-year hiatus from iPads, I gave them another shot and bought a Pro last year. The device itself is great, iPadOS not so much. Fairly often I find that ideas that work well on the iPhone (such as the paradigm of the single full screen app) are hurting my productivity on iPadOS. On some occasions, the textual land of the Terminal would be less hostile than the convoluted chain of dances I’m having to perform between apps.

Social media. The tendency across platforms in recent years has been to lower the barrier of entry for expression by making it effortless to produce content. TikTok is based on this idea: everything, on it, is a remix. Saying is made easier by giving the user content templates to choose from. Rather than expressing ourselves, we are picking out of a set of options. This often results in a collection of reactions to the viral topic of the hour. Few of those would have value or attract interest outside of the platform which produces them.