There was a time when I kept up to date with technology. Through the 1980s, I learned what there was to know about the Apple II and Commodore 64. Through the 1990s, I learned everything I could about MSDOS, Windows, MacOS, AmigaOS, and the respective machines upon which they ran. I was able to upgrade my hardware to keep up with the times. After the turn of the century, I no longer had two things that I needed to keep up.
By 2002, I had neither the funds nor the desire to keep up. In the 80s and 90s, every technological advance was an exciting leap forward. Now, there is an app for everything on a mobile device that does everything. Nothing is a giant leap in technology anymore. Nothing in the world of technology excites. As my excitement over new technology evaporated, so did my desire for the latest thing. In addition, I was not able to get a great paying career after college and Seminary. I no longer had the funds to keep up with the latest and greatest technology.
You Will Be Upgraded or Deleted
Around 2008, my wife wanted to be able to keep in contact with me while I was at my place of employment. So, I bought a basic cell phone. I used the 2G cell phone until it could no longer reliably connect to the network. I then upgraded to a 3G basic cell phone. I used it until I could no longer read text messages from people who were texting me from a smart phone with multimedia features. So, last year I finally bought a smart phone. I was very reluctant to purchase a smart phone, because of my experience with touchscreens. I knew that I would have to get used to touchscreens, because all hardware manufacturers are moving away from mice and keyboards. My own office has threatened that they will eventually be replacing our PC’s with tablets. Yet, my experience with touchscreens makes me cringe at the prospect that I will one day have to use them or be out of a job.
Incompatible Human Interface
A few years before I got my smart phone, my non-verbal autistic daughter was given an iPad to help her communicate. She could type, swipe, and select things on the screen. My wife could type, swipe, and select things on the screen. I could not easily type, swipe, or select anything. When I would try to type, it would either select the wrong letters, or not read my finger at all. When trying to swipe, it would either select, or not read my finger. When I would try to select, the crazy thing would flip screens, or not read my finger… at all. My wife thought that I was being an old fogey.
When I began shopping for a smart phone, I stopped by the local Radio Shack to talk to a Sprint representative for a recommendation. I told the rep about my inability to use touchscreens. I asked if there was such a thing as a smart phone without a touchscreen. The rep, assuming that I was some backwoods hick who had never used technology in his life, told me to get used to using touchscreens. In his opinion, I must have been using it wrong. He assumed it was an ID10T error. This was also the opinion of many of my relatives and friends who had no problems using touchscreens. They were all of the opinion that I was doing something wrong, and needing to learn how to use touchscreens. I eventually bought a Blackberry Q10 with a physical keyboard. The keyboard was small, but far easier to use than a touchscreen keyboard.
Although my wife had been teasing me up to this point, she came across an article1 that described my problem. I have a condition called zombie finger. According to the article, people with high electrical resistance or calloused fingertips can not interface with a capacitive touchscreen. The article suggested that people suffering from zombie finger should lick their fingers before touching the screen to complete the necessary circuit. After spending a week licking my finger for every swipe and select, getting funny looks from people wherever I went, I bought a Lynktec stylus.The stylus helped me to select and swipe on the screen; yet, every once in a while a stylus swipe will still select, and a select will swipe. Touchscreens are still hard for me to use.
Hard on the Eyes
Even if it was easy for me to select and swipe on a touchscreen, I don’t like putting my finger or a stylus in front of something I am trying to see. A touchscreen by nature requires one to block the view of what one wants to do. It is a visual interface that requires one to partially block the interface. One may argue that a mouse pointer blocks a portion of a computer screen; yet, mouse pointers are far smaller than a finger. In addition, the pointer disappears while typing. It would be frightening if your finger disappeared while typing. Another thing that is visually unpleasant is the recent trend in graphic user interface design.
It is the habit of some interface designers to follow the lead of MS Office 2013, which has a bright white background, light gray buttons, and medium gray text. Such interfaces are extremely hard to read and use. I have been on sites where I don’t know where the buttons and text boxes are. I can barely use Office 2013 because I can’t read the damn text without turning the monitor brightness down enough so that I can’t see anything else. When the contrast is up enough to see everything else, the white level is bright enough to give me a headache. In addition, I edit photographs at work. Adjusting the brightness and contrast for readability hampers my ability to do my job.
A Desperate Plea to Technology Companies
Complaining does little to alleviate these problems; so, I have come up with a few suggestions for app developers, OS designers, and device manufacturers.
1. Stop designing OSs, apps, and websites that have light gray text against a white background dammit! At least give the user the option to use different color schemes, or create custom color schemes for the interface.
2. Read Commodore User Interface Style Guide.2 It may be an old book from an old company that only old people who use old computers know, but it has good ideas about user interface design.
3. Put scroll bars in smart phone interfaces. I am not talking about the tawny scrawny MacOS scroll bars, but wide scroll bars that are easy to select with something as wide as a pinkie finger. A scroll bar would eliminate the problem of selecting when trying to swipe.
4. Make limited runs of smart phones with real keyboards and tactile selector devices. I recognize that keyboard phones are more expensive to make, and do not sell as well as smart phones without keyboards. However, there is a market. People still buy Blackberries with keyboards.
5. If you don’t want to make phones with keyboards and a selection device, ditch the touchscreen interface altogether in favor of an improved speech-activated assistant (SIRI, Assistant, Cortana, etc.). The Blackberry assistant can not understand anything I say. Speech-activated assistants should be able to understand a “thick Ohio accent.”
A Final Plea to Hyperion and A-Eon Technology
I am certain that there are Amiga users who have been whining for AmigaOS to drop keyboards and mice in favor of a touchscreen interface. If AmigaOS goes down this route, I ask that it keep legacy support for physical keyboards and selection devices. AmigaOS may tap into a market of people who suffer from zombie finger, who hate touchscreen interfaces, and who might just like a well designed user interface. If Hyperion does ditch the traditional Amiga user interface, I ask that they skip over touchscreen interfaces for a CVI (Command Voice Interface). Instead of a CLI (Command Line Interface), let the user speak the commands and paths to the Amiga, which will respond via a new version of the narrator device.
Devices and user interfaces have gone in a direction that is hard for people like me to follow. It is my hope that technology companies will come up with better human interfaces than existing capacitive touchscreens, better GUIs than Office 2013, and better options for people who are effectively disabled by a technology. Until then, people like me will continue to struggle with unusable user interfaces and torturous touchscreens. May people with zombie finger not become a new disabled class of people unable to keep up with technology.