Software development is my job, but I'm not particularly interested in having the latest gadget or playing with the latest technology. Instead, I'm more interested in big picture issues like how changes in technology affect culture, and how we can make systems easy to use and hard to get wrong.
Last month I referenced Upon the Hearth - a J.R.R Tolkien poem - and I was actually able to listen to him reading it. Maybe that seems mundane or ordinary - but it’s really quite remarkable.
Last week, I was at the Web Directions Code conference for work. One of the keynote talks was on “The Evolution of Web Browsers”. And it reminded me how much technology has changed in my lifetime, and how many things I didn’t grow up with which I now take for granted.
So here are some of my experiences with changing technology, both hardware and software. Many will recognise some of these experiences, but the combination is probably unique to me, influenced by when I was born, the family I grew up in, the schools and university I went to, and the places I’ve worked.
Often when using BPBible I needed to find the particular verse I was thinking of (exactly what search is designed for). Unfortunately, though, I didn’t always remember the exact wording of the verse, and even when I did the words I used might have been from a different version from the one I was searching. Nowadays, I’m much more likely to turn to Google to help me, since it turns out that with the help of the Internet they have solved the problem pretty well.
Recently, I reflected on my experience speaking at BibleTech in 2010. The key starting point for my talk was that lots of people were doing Bible study using paper Bibles, word processors, and other general tools. Why weren’t they using our specially designed Bible software? Was there something wrong in the way we designed software? Or were our users wrong for not realising how much better our software was?
I think this mind-set illustrates a key problem with technology-led solutions. It’s very tempting as a software developer to think that if we take an existing process and replicate it exactly in software it will end up better. But what we actually find is that we were unable to replicate it exactly. Sometimes this leads to complaints, other times the system we build is just ignored.
While both Bible software and technology have changed a lot since 2010, I think the key usability principles I talked about then still apply.
Last Saturday I climbed Feathertop (the second tallest mountain in Victoria). This is a fairly remote peak, with few signs of civilisation other than the trail that had brought us to the top.
Up there, I found a family taking lots of different group pictures on various cameras and phones. They particularly caught my attention when one of them said: Has your phone got coverage? Good. Send that photo to your brother and wish him a happy birthday from on top of the world.
For many years I have relied on electronic maps to help me understand the world, to discover new places to visit, and to find my way around. One stereotype of today’s generation is that we just use a satnav to get from A to B and accept whatever it gives us without really understanding where we are going. But that is not my experience.