The Good Old Days

Jared Spool was in DC recently as part of his UIE Roadshow.  He always puts on an entertaining and informative show.  You should think about going simply for the magic tricks.

No, I’m not kidding.

Jared  can read minds.  It’s wicked.

A portion of his talk was a walk down memory lane.  Let’s take a stroll…

Unlike most of the kids on my block we had a home computer.

It was a huge tower that was almost as tall as the desk it sat under.  I have fond memories of my friends and I playing a DOS game called Willy the Worm before heading off to the bus stop. I was around 8 or 9 years old.

Willy the Worm

Willy the Worm

Willy the Worm was basically a capital ‘S. You used the arrow keys and space bar to make your capital ‘S’ jump and climb up ladders while dodging different objects–it must have been based on Donkey Kong.  As computers got faster, so did Willy the Worm.  Eventually the capital ‘S‘ flew across the screen so fast you couldn’t play the game anymore.


Jared took me back to the good ol’ days when he asked, “Remember, WordStar?”

YES!  I do!  Once upon a time, I loved to write creative stories.  By the time WordPerfect for DOS came around, I was a word processing wiz.

Jared compared how these two programs dealt with features.

In the WordStar days, features were very limited.  But if you wanted to underline some text it was easy to do because the commmand was right there on the screen.  And it was *always* on the screen.  In fact, half the screen real estate was devoted to the commands.

When WordPerfect came along they added tons of features.  It was much more powerful.  You had to use a combination of the shift, control, alt and function keys to invoke the various commands.  And there were so many commands and combinations that you couldn’t possibly display them on the screen.   Someone made  a fortune creating these cardboard, sticky backed keyboard templates that would sit across the top of the keyboard.

And then Jared said something to the effect of, “It was so hard to use and everyone had to get training.”

Oddly, I don’t remember it being difficult at all.  No one sent me to training.  My parents probably did little more than show me how to start the program and where to save my files.  With my cardboard reference thingy, which doubled as a ruler in a pickle, it was no different from WordStar posting the commands on the screen.  And with time, I didn’t need the cardword reference thingy.

Why don’t I remember WordPerfect for DOS being hard to use?

  • Does being young and curious make you more likely to readily learn a new thing?
  • Was it ‘easy’ because I had all the time in the world to fearlessly experiment?
  • Did I only use a tenth of the available commands so there was less to learn?

Human Factors International asked a similar question:  Do age and experience impact interaction with devices?

One of their findings suggested that older individuals felt more time pressure, and I can relate to that now that I’m older.

As I get older, will I find it harder to learn new technologies and devices because of the time pressure?

Maybe we need to adopt the model that playing is the best way to learn.  What do you think?

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