My behaviour is the problem?

Last week I was asked for my advice concerning input devices, the keyboard mainly, and image applications, specifically the HTML5 Canvas attribute. It was an interesting conversation. One that mainly had me focused on a few aspects of what I find most useable. Nothing that I’d say was incredibly stunning or necessarily revealing, again speaking exclusively about what I wrote, but yesterday something happened that made that conversation ever more relevant.

One part of said conversation, my part, brought up OSX Lion, and it’s gestures. And how I wasn’t in any hurry to upgrade. You see I haven’t the most precise control of my fingers — spacially speaking — and I find the trackpad on my computer incredibly awkward to use, a lot of the time. I can use it to move to any spot on the screen and click, once, but as for most of the advertized gestures in Lion, or at least my impression of them, having witnessed demonstrations both on the internet and in person, I was left with the strong impression those gestures would remain largely unusable to me.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t hostile to the idea of Lion’s capabilities, as gestures are just one of many new features, or upgrading for that matter — I was planning on upgrading, eventually — but I said that on Thursday or Friday of last week, and by 8 o’clock Sunday night Lion was installed and running on my machine. I guess I should have defined what I meant by “not in a hurry.”

But I wasn’t incorrect. Lion’s gestures, for the most part, won’t work for me. At least in any consistent manner that would, even remotely, be productive. But I’m still trying. And I remain optimistic.

It’s like I’ve written here before success using a computer system is rather simply a user’s ability to adapt to compensate where any software or hardware solutions fall short. Good hardware and software developers, people who have done their homework, mitigate for the need for users to adapt. But some adaptation will always be required. It’s just the nature of the beast. Unless something is from out of nowhere, use can likely be improved with a change in approach. That’s essentially how I see it, speaking from personal experience, at least.

And this is where both the relevancy I just referred to and OS X Lion come in. One of those new gestures, which isn’t really “new,” is the way in which Lion treats scrolling — pushing forward to scroll down, pulling back to scroll up and swiping left to go right, right to go left. It’s backwards from the way it should be. That’s right I said should. Cos I meant it.

If Apple, as per their own admission, researched controlling the computer via touching the screen — which I don’t doubt they did cos their conclusions struck me as rather sound; being it’s largely impractical, from a users endurance perspective, touching your screen to control your computer would be excessively tiring — why would Lion then treat scrolling as if the mouse or trackpad were the same surface as the screen of a computer? Now I understand the latest versions of mice Apple ships, as well as the trackpad’s Apple includes on it’s entire line of laptop’s, are of a single surface, unlike that of a trackball where the old way of scrolling literally makes sense, but these input devices continue to be entirely separate entities, and therefore should act separate, from the screen you are interacting with.

Few would argue there is an inherent strength in making software and hardware behave in a way that feels natural, right? Lion’s new way of scrolling is not natural. Here’s why I think that. Yesterday I felt the unnatural urge to pull back on my wheelchair’s joystick, expecting, if only for a slit second, my chair to go forward. Now I didn’t really go so far as actually pulling it back in an effort to go forward. I don’t believe it is, or ever will become, a safety concern. But I have spent nearly 3 days fighting the “natural” urge to scroll the way I’ve always scrolled thinking it was now something I needed to correct.

But I’m not so sure my behaviour is the problem…

Addendum…

Not only has Apple allowed for a way to let a user return scrolling the “old” way in Lion — in Sytem Preferences > Trackpad > Scroll & Zoom and uncheck the “Scroll direction: natural” option — but they’ve gone ahead and labelled this new way of scrolling “natural.” I thankfully turned it off…

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