Mastering Tools

  • willingness to master a tool seems to be higher in a professional setting
    • in some settings, even making own tools is common - woodworking, metalsmith (this is relevant to Tools Building Us, and us building the tools)
    • my hunch is that it's correlated with just spending a lot of time in a given setting - you're going to find ways to work better with a specific tool (and get opinionated about them quickly) when you use it a lot
  • there seems to be some connection between hardware and power-users:
    • MIDI keyboards and controllers for musicians
    • 3D mouse for CAD
    • you can do all of that with mouse and keyboard, but additional hardware controllers make it more natural

But there was another bias, even in the more innovative work - and that bias had to do with deciding to set aside technology and user interactions that were "too difficult" for users to learn. I was particularly disappointed to learn, for example, that one of the principal websites offering knowledge retrieval on the web had concluded that a number of potentially more powerful searching tools should not be offered because user testing discovered that they were not easy to use. Why do we assume that, in computing, ease of use - particularly ease of use by people with little training - is desirable for anyone other than a beginner? What is surprising is that, in serious discussions with serious computer/human factors experts, who are presumably trying to address hard problems of knowledge use and collaboration, ease of use keeps emerging as a key design consideration. Doesn't anyone ever aspire to serious amateur or pro status in knowledge work?

— Improving Our Ability to Improve - Douglas Engelbart

  • computers are currently made to be "easy to start using", bicycles are not - they require effortful learning (and mastering), but it pays off in the long term
  • but most important technologies have high barriers of entry - written/spoken language, mathematics, etc. all require conscious effort to master, but the "payout" is huge - maybe there's some relation between how high the entry barrier can be vs how big the "payout" is?
Szymon Kaliski © 2022