My experience with software started, and still largely sits, at the user end. More often than not, interacting with another's design. One thing I have learned from the user experience is that truly great interfaces are engineered to stay out of the way. The interface is only a skin atop the real work that software does underneath — taking inputs, applying operations, producing outputs. I'd say most users of computers don't know how to compute without an interface. I'm trying to break free from that camp.
In The dangers of default disdain, I wrote about the power and control that the technology designer has over his users. A kind of tunnel is imposed that restricts the choices for interacting with data. And for me, maybe for you as well, the tunnel has been a welcome structure, directing my focus towards that distant point; the narrow aperture invokes at least some forward motion. I've unknowingly embraced the tunnel vision as a means of interacting without substantial choices, without risk, without wavering digressions. I think it's fair to say that without this tunnel, most travellers would find themselves stuck, incapacitated by the hard graft of touring over or around the mountain.
Tour guides instead of tunnels
But there is nothing to do inside the tunnel, no scenery to observe, just a black void between input and output. For some tasks, taking the tunnel is the only obvious and economic choice — all you want is to get stuff done. But choosing the tunnel means you will be missing things along the way. It's a trade off.
For getting from A to B, there are engineers to build tunnels, there are travellers to travel the tunnels, and there is a third kind of person altogether: tour guides take the scenic route. Building your own tunnel is a grand task, only worthwhile if you can find enough passengers to use it. The scenic route isn't just a casual lackadaisical approach. It's necessary for understanding the landscape; by taking it the traveler becomes connected with the territory. The challenge for software and technology companies is to expose people to the richness of their environment while moving them through at an acceptable pace. Is it possible to have a tunnel with windows?
Oil and gas operating companies are good at purchasing the tunnel access pass, but are not very good at building a robust set of tools to navigate the landscape of their data environment. After all, that is the thing that we travellers need to be in constant contact with. Touring or tunneling? The two approaches may or may not arrive at the same destination and they have different costs along the way, making it different business.