Earlier this week I was with a group of young to older aged friends, all seated around a table, turn-taking reading aloud as we listened to each individual’s original written prose, poetry, and plays. During that experience we share the broad spectrum of feelings associated with accounts of real life experiences, and fictionalized stories. The reading content ranges from serious drama through ridiculous farce, satire with the humor bringing forth subtle chuckles, broad smiles, and deep stomach-aching laughter.
This particular evening we began to notice a periodic brief faint chiming sound. This erratically repeating tone interspersed with long pauses between the chimes eventually caused us to begin focusing on determining the source. One of our number commented this could be a communication directed to her from a loved one who she discerned entered a different dimension long ago, but has followed her about during the ensuing years.
A small grand piano situated 10to12 feet away from us in an open adjoining room was suggested by another friend to possibly be the communicator’s instrument. We all maintained an open curious mind in deference to anyone present who readily attributes these sort of unusual immediately unexplainable events to more mysterious ethereal causes. We continued our activity with one ear attuned to listening for another chime. Not long after we heard that chime and just as we thought there would be no more an additional faint chime was heard.
Noticing a four-legged furry creature suddenly scurrying about the room there was some speculation this elegant resident and active cat might have ventured into the piano’s interior, possibly flipping it’s tail or using a paw in such a manner as to strum one of the strings. We all agreed the cat could cause the musical sound with that scenario.
This prompted story-telling time as some began relating tales of cat accomplishments including felines learning to use a commode, and actually being able to flush the unit, skills usually reserved for humans. I recalled a delightfully funny video a musician friend sent of a cat perched on a piano stool, reaching out with a paw to play individual white and black piano keys, cocking its head from one side to the other, very aware of cause and effect, quite intrigued with the differing musical sounds being produced.
A short time passed during which the cat in our midst was also in our sight, no where near the piano, and we were aware of exactly what he was doing – throwing his toy into the air and making a flying leap capturing it in flight. Suddenly, the magical tone chimed exonerating the cat, but leaving some of us who were seeking logical scientific explanations even more perplexed. A couple others seemed quite satisfied there likely wasn’t any such explanation.
Our increasing interest in locating the chiming sound source escalated as this mysterious tone persisted. In an afterthought I reached for my purse sitting on the floor by my chair situated closest to the piano room and next to the person who believed her other worldly relative probably was trying to communicate with her. Simultaneously, as I was extracting my relatively new, unfamiliar cell phone from my purses exterior side pocket the little black rectangle cried out a now familiar chime signaling the battery was low. We all experienced and “Aha!” moment, perhaps feeling a mixture of relief, reassurance and maybe even a little disappointment there actually had been a logical explanation accounting for this mysterious sound.
I cradled my dear little possession in my hands, promised I would reinvigorate it’s life when we returned home if only it would quiet. I gently handed it across the table to the middle aged male tech-employed expert who took one short look, punched a key or two, handed the crying phone back saying he didn’t know how to turn it off. Once again in my grasp, I just kept pushing that “End” button and suddenly with one loud musical gasp the screen went black, the musical spirit to temporary sleep.
I guess I’m long overdue to take time to read the complex operational “quick” book and even the much longer master guide. I always used to religiously read operational books and instructions for everything I purchased. In the beginning with the advent of digital I continued to do so with clocks, radios, portable phones, answering machines, coffeemakers, microwave ovens, CD players, VCR and DVD players.
I wonder if the day will ever come when there will be more standardization in the digital tech world, or maybe we’ll all prefer there not be and we’ll each have a broad choice of same but different items from which we can select.
In recent years I’ve been challenged by our old sprinkler watering systems -- two-same-but-different ones. Then I’ve begun to notice with the washing machine, dryer, regular/convection oven, digital camera, old cell phone and even more so this new cell phone, the greater complexity and size of these “how to use” instructional books. They come close to being epistle length, are often not that clearly written, are either too concise or not specific enough, and skip some of the very basic basics for newbie users like me. Some may have contradictory directions and use language often subject to different interpretations, much like that about which many groups argue over politics, religion and philosophy.
My approach to using some of this technology has frequently become one of resorting to personal operational trial and error. I combine my actions with referencing these technical bibles for a specific answer needed at the time, instead of trying to understand and be able perform every function before I use the item. Integrating the myriad functions gradually into my knowledge base seems to work best for my “how to” retention.
Soon after I began using the computer a few years ago and shortly after my husband’s death a tech friend of his/ours recommended to me a book titled “The Laws of Simplicity.” He had come in contact with the author described in this Harvard Book Store “Scholarly Highlights” interview feature “…John Maeda is a world-renowned graphic designer, visual artist, and computer scientist at the MIT Media Lab, and is a founding voice for "simplicity" in the digital age.”
I enthusiastically purchased a copy and even had one sent to a technology-interested friend. Disappointingly, I never learned of that person’s reaction or opinion of the book’s contents but I never pressed when I didn’t receive a response. I have on rare occasion sent relatively inexpensive books to select friends, but have concluded in recent years to discontinue that practice, or, at least to be more selective about to whom they’re sent.
After I read this thin short book which incorporates the authors wonder, recognition, and descriptive accounting when he notices the simplicity associated with the behaviors of his young child, I have been particularly interested in a reaction to the book’s contents from some other person I know with a background other than my own.
The reason I say that is, my therapy intervention training is steeped in simplification, breaking down actions, behaviors into the most basic steps and then simplifying them even more, if possible. Educators also would likely note effective teaching methods, acquiring new skills in any profession or job setting are most successful when they approach new information building from the simple to the complex. Certainly that has been the case in all other employment business settings I’ve experienced or in which others I’ve known have engaged.
So, when I read this book primarily directed at a variety of technically oriented professions I was intrigued that they required prodding to simplify, that such an admonition from one of their own within their circle of expertise was reportedly regarded as having enlightened them with such a profoundly new insight, or maybe he was just reminding them of something they already knew, or should know.
These impressionable readers are the highly intelligent engineers I respect who design all of this equipment that continues to become prevalent in ever-expanding areas of our lives. The readers also include many of the graphic artists, computer scientists such as this author John Maeda and other creators, professionally related technicians from whom we seek technical answers when our complex machines, tools, soft and hardware programs breakdown, malfunction, or just go kaflooey (or as the Spanish say, kontera.)
I was quite surprised to read accounts this book had such a significant impact on their thinking. I have labored under the false perception most of my life that simplicity was just the nature of things, guiding most of us in just about everything. I can only hope all those who continue to create the future technical innovations we’re all going to be using at least remember John Maeda’s message and follow his laws of simplicity.
Better yet, maybe they should remember how a patient, former career military man, once paraphrased my genteel carefully worded instructions to him for producing more intelligible speech:
He said, “Oh, you mean KISS!”
My puzzled response was: “What?”
He replied, “You know! Keep It Simple Stupid.” :