20011208: Norman, Soft and hard technology


Norman, D. (1999). Chapter 9: Soft and hard technology (p. 221-242).
     In _Things that make us smart_. Cambridge: Perseus Books.

Norman distinguishes between hard and soft technologies. Hard
technologies are technologies where the human must conform to the
rules of the technology. Soft technology is more flexible and
adaptive. This is a nice idea for augmenting technologies but Norman
is being a bit too general (or perhaps I'm being a bit too hard (in
the technology sense) on him).

Perspective lead to understanding and ideas of how things can be used
so it is important to have perspectives that are both fulfilling and
accurate. Technology cannot be soft. It is, by its very nature hard,
it is rule driven, exacting, not very adaptable. Technology
implementations, though, can be soft. If we keep this distinction in
mind and make it clear to everyone invovled then how we develop
technology can proceed more effectively. When designing technology if
we understand that we are working with hard building blocks that can
be arranged (by us) in different ways we are able to manipulate the
technology more effectively.

Consider this little bit of speculation about the future:


Because we are experts at adapting our language we need to expose the
language of the computer, both programmatically and physically, then
we can manipulate it. That's the power of language: persuasion.

Norman solidifies my point about the distinction between hard and soft
implementations when talking about the Rabbit software. He
acknowledges that the internal representation that Rabbit uses is
hard, as it has to be. It is the surface representation which is, to
him, soft. It isn't really soft, it just appears that way.

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