I read this article on Wired.com today about how some things should be difficult to use. There were a number of really interesting tidbits in there.
It made me appreciate my drive to work in a car with a manual transmission just that much more. On the whole I like the way the clutch keeps me that much closer to the machine. Even though it is close to second nature for me since I have pretty much always had a manual transmission vehicle. I still have to have in mind engine RPM, wheel speed, and the relationship between them through the transmission. driving an automatic not so much. That is the idea of an automatic transmission.It works it all out for you, automatically.
A manual transmission isn’t always desirable – like when I get a phone call, or have children in the car bugging me – but like I said, on the whole, I like it. In general abstracting away the tools we use by making them so easy to use can have the unintentional effect of making the tool less an extension of ourselves than it is sometimes good for them to be. Cars, Cameras, and Computers are just a few examples where a more intimate understanding of the machine and how it functions ‘under the hood’ may tend toward a more skillful use of it as a tool.
I think products or tools can be easy to use while also inviting people to deeper understanding, and that this is desirable over to trying to hide things away. Many products and their designers seem bent on encouraging people to think of them as magic. To stick with the car metaphor; you don’t need to have the hood welded shut or hide the hood release. Just the presence of the seam where the car would open to reveal its inner workings sometimes enough of an invitation, or a tachometer for example. Plenty of people will never open the hood, or grok the tach. They choose not to RSVP. That’s okay. I’m sure they have their reasons. However, products that make hacking into them hard piss me off. Even if I have no intention of hacking into them ever I resent the fact that I am purposefully hindered from doing so. I equate it at a basic level with a hindrance to understanding, to thinking, to learning to skillfuly use a tool. In my opinion is therefore important to make sure, if you err, you err in the other direction.