Personality and usability

group Masha Danilova
Photo courtesy of Masha Danilova

I love to categorize. It’s arguably not a good habit, but it makes me think I understand more than I do. Groping around on the increasingly interactive Web, I keep bumping into two types of users. People who love to explore, are fascinated by variety, and don’t care to be limited by anything remotely proprietary or closed are also the people who resist hierarchies and confinement. On the other hand, those who are comforted by rituals and familiarity are inclined to congregate and identify themselves as groups, which can seem quaint or exclusive to outsiders.

When I’m required to register on a site, it feels like the first step toward joining a group, which is a bit of a deterrent for me. Groups sometimes employ unwritten protocols or use imposing jargon to deflect casual participation. Once accepted as a member, a person can feel protected or even privileged. It’s an adaptive strategy, but it can also tend to promote hostility toward non-members.

Avoiding groups is a challenge. Those who try may gain breadth of knowledge at the expense of finesse. They may discover new things more readily and reject what they see as arbitrary cultural barriers. They aren’t necessarily wiser or happier, just different.

People choose how to spend their time, online or offline, according to their personality types. I haven’t read any new research indicating a unilateral personality type is evolving.

Variations are clearly still useful.

The wrong side of the chasm

chasm Daniel Burka
Photo courtesy of Daniel Burka

I’m looking forward to a visit with my nephew. He graduates from high school in two weeks and will be headed to Michigan Tech in the fall. I’ll help him set up and customize a blog to which he can upload the videos for which he’s becoming well known. It’s delightful to imagine where he might take his new project. He’ll catch on quickly, and soon I’ll be hounding him for advice about adding features to my blog.

The ease with which the under-forty crowd can discuss all things Web-related contrasts forlornly with the arguments that ensue when I reveal to my peers any enthusiasm for new technology and ways of doing business. It’s not just that people closer to my age are sometimes unwilling to face the economic facts; it often seems they’re completely oblivious to the facts. “How can that be?” I keep asking myself. These are intelligent individuals.

It feels as though I lost my old friends when I crossed the digital divide. It didn’t happen suddenly. The gap widened, not imperceptibly but gradually, over the past decade. Now, it’s a chasm I can’t seem to get back across.

In my younger days, it was sensible to perfect a skill in the expectation that you could profit from expertise. Today, it’s impossible to predict how long a particular aptitude will be of service to anyone.

A dazzling amount of information (and entertainment) is readily available to any person with access to the Internet and the willingness to search for it. To turn away from the gift out of frustration, apathy, fear, or pride is to become voluntarily impoverished. Learning how to learn is the only knowledge destined to retain value. My professors taught me so…

…and then they seemed to forget.