TMO Short Take: Ozzy Osbourne, I. T. Job Security & The ?Ease of Use? Myth

Since I been in show business and got some money, I bought a house. First house I ever had, and those [expletive delete] can kill ya. Everything be $500 when [repairmen and salesmen] come to your house:

"What you want is $500."

I said, "I ainit even told you what I..."

"I donit give a [expletive deleted]; itis 500."

Richard Pryor: Live in Concert (1978)

It seems like only yesterday that I was crying over the demise of "Married With Children" -- the best American documentary that ever posed as lowbrow situation comedy. You remember them: Al Bundy, the dirty old patriarch; Kelly, the tramp daughter; Bud, the oversexed virgin son; and Peg, the matriarch of Clan Bundy, as well as being the familyis other tramp.

Since it was deemed the longest-running sitcom ever, Iim sure that Iim not the only one missing its perverted portrayal of American family life

Thankfully, MTV is filling the void nowadays with "The Osbournes," an unscripted reality TV show centered around rock star Ozzy Osbourneis demented family. I couldnit name one of his songs, but I do know that Osbourne is a rock-and-roller who has probably snorted enough cocaine to buy Peru, as evidenced by his mumbled speech and other mannerisms indicative of years of imbibing "extracurricular pharmaceuticals." The show chronicles the hapless Osbournes as they move into a Beverly Hills home, complete with maid, wife, son and daughter. Oh, the trouble they make.

There goes the neighborhood.

Al Bundyis family looks like "The Brady Bunch" by comparison -- hell, Ozzy makes Al looks like he is Ward Cleaver, doling out sage advice to Wally and The Beav.

Okay, hereis the Mac angle: the only episode of "The Osbournes" that Iive seen shows Ozzy trying to negotiate his way through a TV remote that looks like a keyboard. He utters a profanity and throws down the keyboard in frustration. Then, just like any normal American father, calls his kid to show him how to operate the piece of puzzling technology, and show him he does.

Similar to MSNBCis Michael Rogers, I also saw a link between Ozzy Osbourneis microcosmic inability to grasp modern tech and the technology industryis ever-elusive goal of "ease of use."

Rogers made the argument that ease of use will never come into being because the people who create our "easy-to-use" technology (Microsoft, for example) wouldnit know ease of use if it bit them you-know-where. What they call "ease of use" has the average user cowering in fear as he pores over a skimpy instruction manual.

I can agree with that argument. I also believe that technology, particularly computers, may not get any easier to use in the near future because the I.T. service industry has a vested interested in you not being able to fathom your new PC. For example, your ignorance keeps them gainfully employed as sys admins and PC techs.

When I first read Rogersi column, my initial response was to write a knee-jerk column arguing how the Mac is making great strides towards ease-of-use nirvana. I was going to brag about OS X -- but then I remembered that there is Unix involved now. Then I thought of how the Mac GUI hasnit really changed that much, Aqua notwithstanding.

So, I was left without a Mac-defensive argument.

Today, we can make many assumptions in the computer market, mainly that the average educated person will be exposed to computers, enabling them to be able to figure out other consumer technology. Worst-case scenario, the newbie user will be able to receive computer training from somewhere, enabling them with a similar fund of basic knowledge. I extrapolate this reasoning from the analogy of learning to drive a car. Todayis cars are easier to use than the original automobile, but there is still a learning curve involved. Ditto for the modern computer.

Maybe working with technology on a daily basis has jaded me on the idea of a brave new world centered on the PC. Sure, there will be more and ever more gadgets in our futures, but, I can agree with Rogers when he says:

If history repeats itself, nobody is going to be able to figure out how to make those devices work either. And that, I guess, is good news for the next generation of gurus—as well as kind of a guaranteed-employment act for technology journalists.
There were times when I had extreme prejudice toward Windows and the Windows PC, but today, I realize that in many ways, the Mac isnit always that much easier than the PC. There are ways in which the Mac really isnit always that much more intuitive: for example, we say that elements of the OS, like the Apple Menu in classic Mac OS, is in the logical place for easy access to its contents; well, how do we explain the location of, say, the Control Strip? But, thatis just one, tiny example, so I know we can debate this back and forth.

My point is that todayis user is savvier than those in the past -- notwithstanding newbies -- so software and hardware doesnit always have to be easily accessible to the lowest-common denominator.

Sure, even ease-of-use champions like Apple should always strive to advance its technology to the point where it truly can be quickly mastered by the "rest of us," and users should demand it, but, actually achieving the pinnacle of ease of use?

Letis be realistic. Since, it hasnit happened in all of these years, I expect to see ease of use -- true ease of use -- at about the same time that I purchase my first flying car.

Rodney O. Lain is a hypocritical Luddite: he despises technology and is writing a book espousing his views. He keeps notes for his epic on an iBook; he researches his forthcoming masterpiece via his AirPort Internet connection. When he isnit jotting down Luddite witticisms on his Handspring Visor Prism, he writes his "iBrotha" column for The Mac Observer. Rodney lives in Minnesota.