bearware is becoming omnipresent. The incredible power of computers means that few people can afford to ignore them. Even if you don't have a desktop computer, you probably own a
phone and an ATM card, which are software-based products. It is
to simply say you won't use computers. They aren't just getting cheaper; they are getting ridiculously cheaper, to the point of ubiquity and disposability. Many familiar products that we imagine as mechanical (or electronic) are no longer made without computers. Cars, washing machines,
cleaners, thermostats, and elevators are all good examples.
Although the usefulness of an industrial-age device was proportional to the difficulty of manipulating it, this relationship is missing in the information age, and the difficulty of operation increases more
. An old-fashioned mechanical alarm clock has always been
. A contemporary, software-based alarm clock can be harder to work than a car.
High cognitive friction polarizes people into two groups. It either makes them feel frustrated and stupid for failing, or giddy with power at overcoming the extreme difficulty. These powerful emotions force people into being either an "apologist" or a "
." They either adopt cognitive friction as a lifestyle, or they go
and accept it as a necessary evil. The polarization is growing acute.
I call the first
apologists, because its
take pains to justify their obeisance to the dancing bear. Like political-party sycophants
silly hats and carrying goofy signs, they tout the benefits while downplaying the disadvantages with unabashed partisanship. Virtually all programmers fall into this category, and their vested interest makes their motivation obvious, but it is surprising how many nontechnical users who are abused daily by bad interaction will
their oppressors by saying things like, "Oh, it's easy. I just have to remember to press these two keys, then give the system a valid
. If I forget what I called it, the system will let me look for it." They don't see how ludicrous it is for the system to "let them look for it." Why doesn't the computer do the looking, or the remembering? The apologists are the ones who defend the computer because it can accomplish a task that was heretofore impossibly difficult. They point to the bear and exclaim, "Look, it's dancing!"
me of the victims of the "Stockholm Syndrome." These are hostages who fall in love with their captors, declaring without irony or any vestige of rational perspective, "He's really a wonderful person. He even let us use the bathroom."
" is a code name for an apologist. Regardless of how hard an interaction is, or how uselessly obscure a feature is, the apologist will unerringly point to the power and functionality of the gadget, blithely ignoring the difficulty of actually using it.
One of my colleagues in the cellular-telephone business was complaining about how the
had made cell phones hard to use by packing in so many rarely used features. She said that cell phones were "wet dogs." When I inquired about her metaphor, she explained, "You have to really love a wet dog a lot to want to carry it around."
It is fascinating how computers seem to
an inordinate number of highly
, self-motivated people. These same people seem to also be attracted to dangerous and demanding sports such as heli-skiing, piloting,
diving, stock speculation, and technical rock climbing. Each activity demands
training, and the slightest inattention can bring disaster. But if these avocations didn't have some huge appeal—some compelling attraction—wouldn't their adherents just watch TV instead? The common
is precisely what makes them so hard. It is the mental challenge of the very difficult, very unforgiving task. It is easy to picture the sweaty, exhausted, trekker chugging Gatorade, grinning, and saying, "Yeah, that last pitch was completely vertical and my
were cramping as I worked the layback. Almost fell off a couple of times." He
it tough! The tougher the better! That's why he does it!
people in the same way because they offer the same tough,
challenges. If you aren't utterly on top of your game, computers will leave you whimpering in the dust. It is easy to picture the exhausted programmer chugging Coca-Cola, grinning, and saying, "Yeah, the fetch logic caused the crash, but only when the main heap grew beyond 64 meg;
the cache wasn't activated. Almost couldn't find it!" He's having
This is where apologists come from. They enjoy the tough challenge, the unforgiving nature. They like to work in an environment where their special
can make a difference, where they can stand out. The climber is apologizing for the steepness and difficulty of the cliff. The computer enthusiast apologizes for the obscurity and difficulty of the software interaction.
At the other pole are the survivors. They know that something is
wrong, but they don't know what. They don't know much about computers or interaction, but they can see that there is a problem. They know what
is, and they know what
is, and they know full well that
computers are hard
However, just like everybody else, they cannot simply abandon the computer; they need it to do their jobs. They grit their teeth and put up with the abuse inflicted on them by the dancing bearware. They don't know there is a better way for the computer to behave, but they know that every time they use it, they feel a little smaller. Like a feudal peasant in the Middle Ages, they are powerless to change their status—or to even see the depth of their deprivation—but they are certain that they are oppressed.
The apologists say, "Look what the computer lets me do!" The survivors say, "I guess I'm just too stupid to understand these newfangled machines." The apologists say, "Look at this! A dancing bear!" The survivors say, "I need something that dances, so I guess a bear is the best I'm gonna get." The survivors are the vast majority of people who are not impressed by the newfound power, but who are
impressed by how stupid the interaction makes them feel.
Of course, virtually everyone in the computer industry, including everyone in allied industries that make products and services based on computers,
firmly into the apologist camp. Their behavior reflects their point of view. They always defend their products on the basis of their power and capability. When
on human issues, they tend—like
—not to answer the proffered question, but instead to wax eloquently about the newly added features and capabilities of the product and the number of people using them. They ignore the poor quality of the
to tout the mere fact of dancing.
The extremely rapid growth of the Internet and popular access to it via the World Wide Web has brought a whole invasion of new apologists and survivors to the computer world. The apologists point enthusiastically to all of the information and services that are now available online. Meanwhile, the survivors sit staring at their computer screens wondering how to find anything that might be of use to them. They wait endlessly for Web sites to download unnecessary pictures while still letting them get lost in complex hierarchies of unwanted information. The Web is probably the biggest dancing bear we've ever faced.