Web = Magic?

As consumers of digital media, do we have a responsibility to understand the technology, even a little bit?  I guess I’m not really talking about myself here.  But I am talking about those average consumers.  People like my mom or my in-laws.  People who still don’t understand what a web browser is, or that AOL is not the internet.  My intention is not to put them down, or diminish their importance as we continue to evolve user experiences.  Instead, I’d like to encourage them to, quite simply, figure it out.  I want my mother-in-law to stop calling me whenever she can’t get on the internet because she forgot to plug the phone cord into her dial up modem.  Not because I’m not happy to help, but because the more you get about how it all works, the more you can take advantage of the advantages and efficiencies technology, or more specifically, the internet, can add to your life. We should be afraid of crossing the street against the light, or riding a motorcycle without a helmet, or eating puffer fish.  But we should not be afraid of technology.  If we use common sense, and we’re careful about the information we share, we can dive right in without fear.  You cannot break a website.  Those are words to live by.  As a user, you cannot break a site.  Fearless exploration is encouraged. 

Remember too, its called interactive technology because, in order for it to work the way it was intended, it requires your participation.  That doesn’t mean its ok to just mindlessly click random buttons.  Part of the interactive experience comes from contextual queues.  Paying attention to button text, instructional copy, visual imagery meant to guide your eye, all of this is your responsibility in the interaction.  One of the hardest messages to communicate to the fearful is really so simple.  Read.  Read what the buttons say.  Look for those helpful messages that will guide you and make your experience easier to navigate or more intuitive.  They should be there.  If they are not, well, that’s a whole other blog post.  But generally speaking, a web experience is structured around a fairly standard framework.  You should be able to get to the information you need within a click or two.  And those clicks should be clearly marked in some way or another.  Take responsibility for your experience and pay attention.  Read the page. 

Once you’ve committed to your part in the experience, its important to remember that technology is fallible.  I know. I know.  Everyone is always talking about the internet like its the cheeze whiz of the new millennium.  But please remember, it is not without it’s flaws, and it’s dependencies.  Your experience depends on a variety of things, the speed of your connection to the internet, the speed at which your pc processes information, the kind of information you are attempting to access.  Clicking into a page of text is very different than clicking into a streaming video.  Sometimes, and I know this is a terrifying consideration, you might just have to *gasp* WAIT.  Nothing boggles my mind more than watching someone click into a page and then witnessing an immediate melt-down while waiting for the page to load.  The incessant clicking that ensues is enough to make my head spin. What you might be interested in knowing is that in addition to your connection speed, your computer speed and the type of data you’re accessing, your browser may be processing many many lines of code with each of those clicks.  It could take a little while. Patience is a virtue.

I know.  I know.  I said the big bad word ‘CODE’.  Sometimes the word  ‘code’ causes people’s eyes to bleed, or roll into the back of their heads.  I am always amused by this.  You don’t have to write code to be ok with the fact that code exists.  What is code?  Simple.  It’s the thousands of lines of a foreign language, that live behind the pretty pictures, that make the pictures work.  It’s that simple.  If you’re uncomfortable with the concept of ‘programming languages’ or ‘code’ you need to get over it.  You don’t need to care any more than you do.  But don’t be intimidated by the fact that it exists.  Get this – there is a computer in your car (more than likely) and elements of how your car functions are managed by coded commands.  You never know they are there and you probably never think about them.  But they exist.  Your cell phone.  Holy smokes!  There’s code involved in how you make phone calls.  I’ve actually had clients say to me ‘. . .don’t mention code please.  Whats-her-name gets upset.’  Are you kidding me?  Don’t get upset.  Just nod knowingly in meetings where code is discussed and you’re already ahead of the competition.

I guess my point in all of this is, there is no magic here.  And whatever actually *happens* on the web is due in large part to your interaction with it.  Here’s your take-away:

Be patient.

Be fearless.

Be informed.

Be smart.

Wait.  Read. Try.