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Simplexity of our gadgets

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I am reading "Simplexity," the 2008 book by J. Kluger. He writes:

"Electronic devices ... have gone mad. It is not just your TV or your camera or your twenty-seven-button cell phone with its twenty-one different screen menus and its 124-page instruction manual. ... The act of buying nearly any electronic product has gone from the straightforward plug-and-play experience it used to be to a laborious, joy-killing experience in unpacking, reading, puzzling out, configuring, testing, cursing, reconfiguring, stopping altogether to call the customer support line, then calling again an hour or two later, until you finally get whatever it is you've bought operating in some tentative configuration that more or less does all the things you want it to do--at least until some error message causes the whole precarious assembly to crash and you have to start it all over again. ... "


After elaborating on this topic  (for several pages), the author concludes that "there's necessarily complex and then there's absurdly complex."


What he does not analyze, at least in the chapter I am reading, is the effect all this may have on the minds of our push-button youngsters. Push-button experience is very different from building radios, repairing grandfather clocks, tractors, cars, etc. Will the overall effect be positive or negative?  What do you think?

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I think the real problem, if there is one related to not figuring out how stuff works, is the incredible stifling of curiosity and imagination in public schools. Kids will naturally try to do new things until adults beat the impulse out of them.

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I am reading "Simplexity," the 2008 book by J. Kluger. He writes:"Electronic devices ... have gone mad.

Without the benefit of the examples, this does not ring true to me. Devices get more complex, internally; but, I do not see device interfaces getting more complex. Even over a decade ago, people used to be befuddled about setting their VCRs to tape a show.

Consider old point-and-shoot cameras. They had a very basic fixed-focus and little control of aperture. Most people bought more complex SLRs when they could afford it. Then, as more complexity was automated, point-and-shoots are back with a vengeance, producing very good photos, while being very simple to use. With a phone camera, you can shoot, and email, and post to an album without even remembering where you kept that damn cord.

Navigating a file-directory, renaming files, and so on was far more complicated in DOS than in early Windows. Now, with drag-and-drop, it is simpler than ever.

Perhaps some exmples from the author would clarify the types of things he is looking at.

What he does not analyze, at least in the chapter I am reading, is the effect all this may have on the minds of our push-button youngsters.

I think it is a feature of every generation to think the next generation is not being exposed to all sorts of knowledge. There was a time when 80% of the population knew all sorts about farming; today, that's a tiny percentage. A vast majority of people today do not know how to sew. Forget needle and thread, they have never even used an electric sewing machine! How many westerners have driven a (more complex) manual-transmission vehicle?

Yes, there is value in knowing these things. It grounds other, more abstract, knowledge. It is analogous to tying concepts back to reality. For instance, in our area, middle-schoolers do a shop class where they learn to make some simple things. Something along those lines would be a good lesson. We ought to select a few good examples and teach those to kids. At the same time, we do not want kids to waste their time learning all the things our great-grandparents knew.

Added: People who are specializing in some field, ought to learn more of its history than generalists. So, for instance, a carpenter who uses only electric drills may not need to learn about manual drills, but he may benefit from some other techniques used by a previous generation of carpenters. The same is true in almost every field.

Finally, it is sometimes appropriate to seek out texture (call it complexity) and manual-work as entertainment. Someone might do something "by hand" for the fun of it. For instance, someone might get fun from buying lumber, sawing it down, drawing out plans, et. to build a fence even though you can get them pre-assembled from Home-Depot --- often cheaper than you could do it yourself.

Edited by softwareNerd
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  • 3 years later...
On 10/4/2013 at 11:25 AM, kowalskil said:

Will the overall effect be positive or negative?

If by this you mean that the overall effect regarding humans using technology, I believe that it's a 50/50. Technology has come very far from its beginnings, from the radios, the radars, the cars, the computers, etc. The problem is how far are we willing to make the technology independent, and by this I mean self-driving cars and planes, robots, and many other things. How far is the human mind trying to go in order to create a type of technology that does not depend at all from human interaction, customization, or even help. I've read some articles that say that by 2045 planes will be auto controlled and that there "might" be a pilot for emergencies. We are now seeing self-driving cars- the Tesla, which is very innovative, but not completely since there have been some accidents. Then again artificial intelligence is not perfect since it is created by humans. With this said, I believe that in the beginning it will be positive but after some time it will be negative in the way that we never know what might happen to machines, they might fail or even stop responding to us humans and decide they are in control (like in the movie I, Robot or Ex-Machina). Not only that, but also it will make us more dependable from technology than we are and were, and that is a real problem because if we depend too much on something that might have an exparition date, we will have nothing to work with in the end. 

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