Thursday 29 October 2020

Writing with a pencil taped to a brick

Someone writing with a pencil with a house brick taped to it.
"One way of explaining to somebody why it could make a significant difference if you can do things faster, is to provide a counter example. So, I had them write with a brick taped to their pencil , because it's only a matter of happenstance that the scale of our body and our tools and such lets us write as fast as we can. What if it were slow and tedious to write? A person doesn't have to work that way very long before starting to realize that our academic work, our books - a great deal would change in our world if that's how hard it had been to write."
The Augmented Knowledge Workshop

This quote and photo was posted today by a friend who was talking about the NLS workstation. It immediately resonated with me as a metaphor for how I feel when writing and I wondered if it worked as generalised metaphor for accessibility in digital tools. We have ensured everyone has access to and can use the pencil, are we trying to measure the relative performance users are getting out of the pencil.

One of the things that hands the pencil to me[1] is a spell checker. What removes the masonry is it actually being any good. This is surprisingly difficult to find trait, for example it is top of the list of things that keeps me paying to use MS Office over some otherwise excellent free alternatives. For those wondering, the difference is in how good they are are trying to work out what the jumble of letters I have input is supposed to be, excellence is the right word being suggested for all but the most egregious errors.  Bad is I have to switch to googling to find the right answer. Terrible (and here I am convinced that the one built into Android has got markedly worse recently) is not getting the obvious one letter mistakes.

I know that this is hardly radical and in terms of my accessibility and usability expert friends I am not so much preaching to the choir but humming Bach to the organist but I feel it is a good reminder for us generalists. I'll now sit back and wait for someone to find a typo.

[1]I am aware that I am in a place of huge privilege here in how low the barrier is to my participation, but I find it easier to write from my personal experience.


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