Never work with children or animals. That’s what they told me at RADA. Many a performer’s career has been ruined by an unruly elephant or a scene-stealing brat.
Actually I never went to RADA and I reckon that I could probably manage working with children or animals from time to time. The thing I can’t stand is computers. Never work with computers – that is my motto.
You may feel that this is a somewhat limiting position for someone who has made what little reputation he has on the back of “knowing a bit about computers”. However, they remain the bane of my life. When computers treat me well I’m as happy as Larry, when they go wrong I storm around like a bear with a sore head. On the whole I’m not a violent person, but a slow internet connection and a buggy Word document have me reaching for the pick-axe.
Why do computers make me so angry? I think it is because I know what I want them to do. No actually that isn’t right, I know what I want to do. I just want the computer to be an invisible instrument of my will. I don’t want to sit there looking at the screen and watching an hourglass or a rotating circle. I just want what I want to happen to happen. I don’t love technology I love being able to do what I want without thinking about how it works or why it works. Ideally I’d like to be able to shoot messages directly out of my eyes and have them appear on bill boards around the world. But, unfortunately I’m told that that breaks a number of laws of both biology and physics and so I have to use a blog to achieve the same effect. When it works well I don’t have to think about the technology of the blog, when it works badly all I can think about is the technology and how frustrating it is.
OK, if you are still with me you have probably spotted that this is a rant. But, hopefully it is a rant with some kind of purpose. What I’ve realised is that the secret of getting people to use any technology is essentially about making the technology invisible. While people are worrying about the technology, looking at manuals and so on, they are focusing on the technology rather than what it can do. Ultimately they might walk away with a sense of how this bit of technology works, but they won’t have expanded their conception of what they can do. They won’t be dreaming of shooting information out of their eyes onto billboards around the world, all they’ll be doing is trying to remember the sequence of buttons that they pressed to make the light go on.
This is why technical faults are the death knell of any attempt to get people using technology. When things go wrong all people can see is the technology and all they remember is its wrongness. Even if they assimilate the sequence of buttons to press they won’t have experienced the sensation of flying and if something can’t make you fly or do some other kind of magic then why use it. I’ve already got buttons to press elsewhere.
So how do we make it invisible? People have got to actually use whatever technology you are showing them. What is more they’ve got to use it to solve some kind of problem – ideally a real one. At its best it has got to convince them that they are capable of things that they didn’t believe they were capable of. Remember when you made your first poster using Word or Publisher? Remember when you gave your first PowerPoint. It felt like flying didn’t it, because all of a sudden you could make something or do something that you never thought that you would be able to do. Because you had that feeling you were motivated to change your practice and once it became part of your practice you found that you were able to learn more about how the technology worked and the more you learnt the more invisible it became. Eventually it was so invisible that you actually couldn’t remember how it works when you’re trying to explain it to other people.
So that’s it. The best way to teach people technology is to make it invisible and to give them superpowers. Is that too much to ask?