Étude #1

An attempt at an étude—short but dense writing—as introduced by Venkatesh Rao on ribbonfarm. It didn’t start off as one; it was supposed to be a short Facebook post, but after some typing, grew into this. (It ended up being posted on Facebook anyway.)


(305 words)

The “digital native” is a fallacy.

There are people who are curious about product features, people who are creative in the way they use digital tools, people who are clear about what they want and need a tool designed exactly for that, people who are insanely flexible in their workflows, people who are insanely rigid in their workflows, …

But there are no digital natives. No one speaks binary as a mother tongue. No one was born in the digital ether. No one is wired for the digital ether.

Our experience of digital information is mediated by architects, programmers, and designers, of information systems and interfaces. Even text-based command interfaces are a challenge in design: lexical and grammatical.

Our social interactions are also mediated by ritual interfaces. The greeting. The introduction. The handshake. The smalltalk dance. The shared-with-public announcement. The friends-only personal celebration. Calling a friend’s name to ping their information stream. Social networks are not a digital thing, but we now have digital interfaces for them.

There are complex interfaces, and there are simple interfaces. There are fixed interfaces, and there are contextual interfaces. There are strict interfaces, and forgiving interfaces. Each unfamiliar interface has to be learnt anew, lest we commit ritual faux pas and are reprimanded to our inter-faces. The socially able are proficient at reading social interfaces. The digitally able are proficient at reading digital interfaces. There is nothing “native” about it; our grammatical skills are native, but the way we apply them to various interfaces are not.

So give the non-native a break. No one is supposed to be native at these things. It’s why we have “etiquette” courses. “Computer” courses are the same thing in different guise.

Be a gracious interface. Learn to make gracious interfaces, learn to teach gracious interfacing. Because none of us are natives at this.