Slipstems

Slipstems
Picture by Drawing Machine 1, c. 1960
"I type with one hesitant finger regardless of the keypad."

We now possess what we firmly believe to be a well-developed understanding of systems. It's systems this and systems that, everything spoken of in systemic terms. I, myself, sometimes seem little more than a minor node within some vast collection of interrelated nodes, probably contributing some essential element to achieving some unknowable. We have ample systems where the leg bone's quite obviously connected to the hip bone, and innumerable essentially unconceivable systems where mysterious viruses invade in mysterious ways. We do not seem to have a well-developed theory of unconceivable systems, though, other than to complain about so-and-so seeming to not be much of a systems thinker, and I think we suffer under this absence. I refer to these mysterious systems as Slipstems, for their subtleties seem to slip right by us. We perceive them as materially different from what they might actually be, and behave accordingly, coping poorly with the resulting feedback.

I think of systems as unforgiving monsters tamed only by understanding.
The ones we do not yet understand seem dedicated to humiliating us until we come to understand them, producing the most humbling learning experiences. I might well blame The Gods when a Slipstem bites me, with me unable to understand how those seemingly random bits relate to each other and, indeed, how they'd prefer for me to relate to them, for interacting with any system seems much more relational than transactional in nature. I might well comprehend the generalized system of driving a car, but set me inside a Buick, and all my knowledge and experience distills to naught. Some excel at chess while others stifle yawns when watching others play. If everything's a system now, the majority of those so-called systems amount to Slipstems to me.

Further, I seem fully capable of nurturing deep misunderstandings about the systems I interact with. I employ lame stories to explain how they seem to work without actually understanding much about them at all. I do not purchase much online because every site seems designed to prevent me from ordering anything. I eventually, long ago, just abandoned those systems as reliably unreliably, useful if I hankered to waste an hour or two failing to accomplish anything, but otherwise best avoided. I explain to the checkout clerk that I could not figure out how to load their app onto my iPhone and she looks at me as if I were the idiot I apparently am. Their sophisticated system amounts to a Slipstem to me. It fails to cognitively come together. I find it most useful to consider most so-called systems as if they were actually Slipstems, since I find that I cannot reliably tell the difference between those I comprehend and those I do not. I've grown to believe that assuming myself a naive user seems to best protect me from the effects of my own hubris. I type with one hesitant finger regardless of the keypad.

System designers seem to have little understanding of us avowed naive users. It might be that one cannot retain the necessary innocence to competently design a system for naive use while maintaining an intuition for the naive user's perspective. This condition results in systems exhibiting a certain arrogance, insisting upon a wholly unreasonable level of competence as the price for entrance into its realm. Password parsers fully satisfy this description, for no more reliable means of denying access to naive users was ever envisioned. That it's become the apparent standard initial user interface destines each would be system into Slipstem status, essentially unusable due to its user hostile entry protocol. This backward design ethic extends far beyond and predates computer system design, and might well be the fundamental paradigm of system design throughout history. I am not a mechanic because mechanical things are inevitably designed to satisfy their designers, not their naive users. Novel fasteners must fascinate designing engineers. They offend even the more sophisticated naive user.

I have learned that much of this world must not have been designed with me in mind, and were I not so enlightened, I might have come to feel slighted by this feature. Instead, I've grown into a barely begrudging acceptance. I hardly even notice when another Slipstem chases me away. I know when I'm not wanted. I'm no longer so hungry for knowledge or acceptance that I feel in any way compelled to figure out the more mysterious things. I can and do comfortably thrive surrounded with mysteries. I might be just stupid enough to accept what's so obviously not intended for me to ever understand, like Target's® checkout stands. (Who designed those and for what purpose?) I know when I'm not wanted. Boo hoo, I'll never be a chess master or enjoy a spirited game of Go, or come to know the subtle joys of shopping online with Amazon. I have my simple systems to entertain me, and a few I think might be incomprehensible, even to you. All so-called systems seem to be Slipstems until proven otherwise, and perhaps even then, too, for they each seem to hold mysteries beyond the conscious comprehension of anyone, probably even including their designers.

©2020 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved








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