The Dragon, the Mouse, and Interfacing with Life

A few weeks ago I read an article in Scientific American about how people tend to retain more information when they read a physical book or magazine than when they read on the screen. I felt justified in my appreciation for the book as a physical object and fascinated by the article’s suggestion that our brains read books similar to the way in which they read landscapes around us, by creating a map of the terrain (where text appears on the page, how many pages come before it, etc.). But the thing that initially caught my eye and has held my fascination about this article was the opening anecdote about a young child who thought she should read a magazine by poking and swiping it with her finger (see a video version of the anecdote here). In other words, having grown up around iPads and smart phones she assumed a paper magazine would work the same way.

This made me curious. How has technology changed the way we interface with the world around us? How have our expectations changed?

I’ve had a similar experience to that of the child. I sometimes find myself tapping the screen of my laptop with my finger and wondering why it isn’t working. When I realize that it’s not a touchscreen and never has been, I’m surprised by how easily I expect each technological device to interact the way I want it to. But I’ve also had this experience with Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Not surprisingly, I often speak voice commands to my computer before I’ve turned Dragon on for the day. And I’ve also found myself using voice commands with the iPad. While the iPad has dictation options in every window, it does not respond to voice commands (unless you buy and download a particular Dragon app which I have not done). So when I’m finished dictating an email and then I say “click send” and nothing happens, I’m immediately disappointed and then called back to the reality that not every device is going to obey me.

A related phenomenon is the infiltration of formatting commands into my everyday speech. I recall one particularly embarrassing moment when teaching a class a year ago. In a moment of excitement about the material we were covering I ended my sentence by audibly saying “exclamation point.” I found myself inserting commas into sentences that I speak and using capitalization commands to indicate proper nouns or words at the beginning of sentences. Socially this creates moments of laughter with those around me, but it also reminds me that as we become increasingly surrounded by technology and as we interface with it in more and more convenient ways, our expectations about how we interact with the world around us change.

Question of the week: How has technology changed the way you interface with the world around you? What does it mean when technology shapes our expectations about how we interact with our environment?