I am a fan of Walt Mossberg. I have read his work and seen him interview many famous people in technology across the years. He has been quite an influential reviewer and commenter. If you haven’t ever read anything from him, I might recommend his view on Internet regulation or his thoughts on the Steve Jobs biopic , or even check out his gadget museum. You might even take a few minutes and read about The Taco Bell interview. It’s a pretty neat story.
Mr. Mossberg recently wrote his last column. He’s retiring this year, and penned a look at some of the technology he’s experienced in his lifetime. Reading over the piece brought back some nostalgic moments for me as I think about how the world has changed. He also notes that early in his career he wrote this sentence: “Personal computers are just too hard to use, and it isn’t your fault “. Now he says “Personal technology is usually pretty easy to use, and, if it’s not, it’s not your fault.”
I agree with that, and one of the complaints I have with our industry. We haven’t done a great job of actually considering users and building software that’s not only intuitive and easy to use, but also gets easier over time. While I learned to appreciate the adaptation of some Office software that keeps the often used menu items displayed and remembers previous options I’ve used for features, I find this is the exception, not the rule. Our software is often in the face of the user, and I constantly bemoan the state of poorly written applications.
As we’ve moved to larger displays, and smaller displays, using touch, speech, and other methods of interacting with computing devices, building newer devices that look nothing like the computer of the past or even the computers of recent years gone by, we haven’t necessarily made the computer fade into the background. The smartphone (and related car displays, tablets, etc.) have perhaps done one of the best jobs of integrating into our analog world, but the interfaces, displays, and certainly rendering of content overall has a long way to go. Plenty of that is our fault, we, the people who build applications.
I wonder if we’ll reach Mr. Mossberg’s vision of having most of our computing infrastructure fading into the background. Certainly reducing the need for cords and remembering to charge things will help. I look forward to the day when I have multiple pads built into my desk, my kitchen, my car, and more to just charge my devices when I set them down, so I don’t need to think about power. I want connectivity to be just available, and I certainly want to be able to enlarge text easily, without zooming in and scrolling side to side as my eyes age.
The world may get better applications and infrastructure, and hopefully much better security. I certainly think it’s possible, though not likely to be ubiquitous among all parts of the Internet. I doubt that for most of us choosing to work with technology as a career that we’ll see computing fade away. We’re too involved in the details, and hopefully excited by systems, to abstract ourselves too far away.