Have we side-tracked from the goal of everyman/woman computing?

Note: I have never done this before, but this is a shared post with my amybeachandme.com/blog as it covers information apropos of both blogs. I have edited it a bit for this blog.

Studio back together – ready to start creating again!

One of the down sides of working with art and technology is that technology has to be tended to a lot, and it is not all that fun. There are days when I just want to create my riffing blog, my Amy Beach book, compose music, make some digital art or a new media piece, but I can’t create because I have to tend to technology.

I am always grateful that I can take care of my own technology – that our digital world has evolved to the point that I can create independently in a technological world – but the technology itself is still an inhibiting feature of creativity. And I do have concern that current software and hardware creators are not keeping their eye on the goal of making technology easier over time, not more difficult.

That sometimes feels like the Lost Goal lately.

Let me give an example. I recently purchased a new computer. Way more powerful, lots of great features, but, as with every computer up-grade, there was a great deal of time consuming technical work involved before I could get back to creating. I had to transfer all my software, connect all my hardware peripherals, deal with items that were incompatible with the new system, on an on.

I discovered last week that my sound hardware was not talking to my music/sound software. I wasted a whole precious creative day in an attempt to fix this problem. I was not able to.

Idea for software and hardware developers: when you create software that allows the user to write code, you always put those little windows that allow us to troubleshoot all our lines of code. You highlight the bad code in red, you sometimes even give us suggestions about where we went wrong and what we might try to correct the problem. How about doing the same for users of hardware and software?

My sound problem was not a really complex one (tech problems seldom are!) I had set up my audio capture interface device to be recognized by my hardware and software, but I had forgotten to make the actual software connections to it. Imagine if the software developer had simply written a check into the set-up process that gave me a specific error message: “Terry, you forgot to set-up your VST connections” (I like the idea of personalizing those error messages, too, for it softens the blow to our ego that we made a mistake in the first place!) and then gave me step by step instructions on how to do make the connections, or told me what page in the manual to look at?

But, no. There I was alone in my studio the first week-end, in a pretty bad mood, aimlessly wandering through my system wondering why there was no sound. Reading manuals, checking cables, plugging things in and out in different orders, changing system settings. Ayeeeeee. And growing more and more frustrated – both that I could not get the hardware to work and that I was wasting precious creation hours.

The following week, I broke out the manual again, and figured out my problem in less than an hour. But, still, it was an hour that I could have been creating – if only that little error message and corrective advice had been built in.

Lessons I learned:

1. Don’t attempt to troubleshoot if you have just lost a loved one, suffered a heartbreak, or experienced some great disappointment. I was in one of those states last week, and found that I went in circles for a wasted 6 hours one day, never solving my problem. Yesterday morning, a week later, in a much better frame of mind, I figured it out in less than an hour.

2. Take some time between tech work and creative work. When I am in the studio, I can sometimes actually feel the tug in my brain as I shift from one side of it, used to set up my hardware and software, mics, etc., and move to the creative side of it to write, animate, sing, play my guitar, compose, etc. I now force myself to put some space-time in-between those two acts.

3. If hardware and software developers consulted more often with creators and designers, technology could be made more user friendly and we could evolve a world where creators could devote more of their time to creating and less to technology. That was the dream of early adopter designers when Steve Jobs burst on the scene with his easy to use Apple Mac. “User Friendly” was the motto, and his theme was all about computers for everyone. That was the point of his user interface, too, take it away from the geeks, make it an Everyman (and Woman, please) Machine.

I do have concern that some of those ideals are being lost of late. Jobs keeps talking to the geeks, and about how they are so special (e.g. iPhone app developers). He has made derogatory remarks about people who are not smart enough to develop (read: “program/code in C++) and how his app world is not for them anyway. Well, I for one hope he and his staff come back to their senses and remember that the Dream was computing for everyone. Adobe’s Flash was an example of this new battle between computing for everyone and for only the programming elite.

My Amy Beach book is filled with Flash. Flash is a great tool for a designer to create interactive content with a minimum of programming learning headaches. But Apple has banned Flash from the iPhone and iPad, making it necessary for designers to learn more sophisticated programming languages, or hire professional programmers, if they want to make animated and interactive content apps. And using the WEB coding tools available outside of Flash (read:html 5), the designer is quite limited.

Well, at least I have it all working again now. I can get back to the work of creating. And I will just make myself think of the technology time as my mixing paint before painting in oils time, and my cleaning brushes after painting in oils time (even though those were chores I happily relinquished for more actual painting – read: “creative time” – when I moved from painting in oils to digital painting years ago!)

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