She stared at the screen for five minutes.
In that space of time, entire Twitter trends came and went. I swear I missed the whole Jay-Z hashtag incident (you know the one), and probably at least four e-mails and a few Facebook posts. Google invented a new search engine algorithm, published it, upgraded it, and removed it.
“What do you do?” she said.
“Well, let me show you a few tips on this here thingie,” I said. “You drag up from the screen like this. That’s how you unlock.”
Cold stone silence.
“You drag up with your finger?” she asked, perplexed.
“Why do you need to do that?”
“I don’t know, that’s something you will have to ask Microsoft.”
Eventually, my wife unlocked the screen. She was using the new Windows Surface RT tablet. She asked about why you drag down from the top to close something. She asked about the difference between an app and a screen. She asked me what we were having for lunch.
The whole episode was starting to remind me of the drunk Jennifer using Windows 8 video. Or the other one involving a drunk guy using Windows 8. Or just getting drunk.
“How do you start an app?”
“Well, you have to swipe over to the right.”
“How do you shut down?”
This went on for about 30 minutes. Honestly, I don’t blame Microsoft. I blame the immigrants. You know the type. They were born when an IP address was something only a lawyer could love. The information superhighway was a phone book. When they posted something, it was on a fence post or at the grocery store. I’m talking about the immigrants who came to the Web as adults. Natives, per the Gartner Group terminology, are those who were born when the Web was alive and kicking.
I’m saying “they” but I mean “we” of course. I’m a hybrid. In college, I remember installing Windows 1.0 using 5.25-inch floppy disks, which is embarrassing to admit in public. The faint whirring sound you hear when you install a program from a 5.25-inch disk is a bit like the sound of your ego being crushed. Even at the time, I viewed this process as archaic and mind-numbing.
Natives understand Windows 8 just fine. Put one in the hands of a Tumblr aficionado and they will start flicking all over the place, pressing the brightly colored tiles and texting at the same time. Their synapses are wired differently. They use terms like lol and brb, and that’s when they speak out loud. Little flurries of neutrons spike in their brains and fill a vortex of gray matter when they use Windows 8. There is no “usability” of interface design for a native. There are multicolored tiles and you press on them.
I can relate to some of this. Like Jennifer from the Windows 8 drunk video says, I’m a cyborg. My immigrant brain has been partially rewired to understand technology. I actually like Bluetooth and near-field communication. If a speech recognition system falters a bit, I smile and say “nice try speech recognition programmers” and keep trying. I feel I’m standing at a golden archway, the intersection of natives and immigrants, with a pretty good handle of what it means to live in both realms.
At the same time, I understand why Microsoft made the switch to the colored tiles. Some of us just don’t understand what it is like to post on Tumblr and follow a Twitter trend at the same time. We were not born that way. And that’s why I don’t mind being left out. There’s a new generation of computer users. For them, this is all a natural progression. I don’t mind if Microsoft confuses me a little, as long as the natives are happy. Someday, they will drive me back and forth from the senior center.