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The Donster Responds Posted on 12/17/2002.

I emailed Don Norman about the UI Generation Gap (which I wrote about here). He's allowing me to post his reply.


I have indeed written about this, but I don't know where. I write too
much to be able to find things again. But I am certain it is in one (or
more) of my books.

I believe that kids appear to be better at a lot of new technologies
than adults because:

1. They are fearless. Adults are hesitant, afraid they might break
something. Kids have no such fears, so they experiment much more -- and
thereby learn more.

Mind you, the adult fear is well founded. Kids break a lot of the things
they interact with.

2. They spend more time at it. Most adults give up after a short time.
SMS is a good example. It isn't that kids are inherently better at SMS
than adults, it is simply that they find that the virtues are so
compelling (instant contact with their gang) that they will master the
typing. But adults have matured to the point that being in continual,
instant contacts, with your close group of friends is no longer
required. Adults know that life is more than that. But guess what --
more and more adults are also mastering SMS as they figure out ways it
can add value to their lives. But also guess what, a lot of adults are
opting for full keyboards. I use SMS a lot, but I do it on my Handspring
Treo, which has a full keyboard. Similarly for the great success of the
RIM devices: keyboards win. (I will occasionally use SMS on a regular
cell keypad, but ugh, why waste my life with that? Keyboard or nothing.)

3. Kids aren't yet burned out. I have learned about a dozen word
processors in my life. I don't want to learn another one. Similarly with
the complex details of working my automobile or my home theater
equipment. I used to read the manuals. I used to experiment. With
today's autos, the number of variables is so large, that the hell with
it. I refuse to spend the energy. I have better things to do with my
life. (The new BMW lets you control around 700 variables. What were they
thinking of? Clueless German Engineers. Will kids plow through all those
variables? Sure, let them do it. Keeps them out of trouble. But adults
are too smart to fall for that crap.

Adults are the smart ones here. Let the technology come to us, on our

Kids haven't yet reached this point of satiation. They will.

4. Kids don't have a clue about how things work. Sure, kids can whiz
through a lot of menus and commands, etc. But I understand what is
happening underneath -- they are clueless. This bothers me. Society
seems to think that because kids have memorized the actions required to
get something working that they understand it. "My kid is a whiz at
technology," they brag. This scares me. This is why China will become
the dominant nation and the US will fall behind. We don't understand
that true knowledge is more than learning how to push the buttons. In
fact, those with true knowledge are not necessarily adept at using the
stuff. Let's not confuse one with the other.


And from now on, I will call him "The Donster."

7 comments so far. Add a comment.

Previous entry: "Who'll Be The Next In Line?"
Next entry: "Holiday Movie Report."


"Kids break a lot of things they interact with."

Posted by phreakydude @ 12/18/2002 04:16 AM PST [link to this comment]

A very good perspective on the subject.
Posted by BJMe @ 12/19/2002 10:59 AM PST [link to this comment]

The best commentary on this was the _Wired_ article about Finnish kids a few years ago. The "Nokia generation."
It was wild.
Posted by FruitieBottoms @ 12/19/2002 07:11 PM PST [link to this comment]

"The new BMW lets you control around 700 variables. What were they
thinking of? Clueless German Engineers."

There's an interesting NYT article about this here including a few comments from The Donster himself.
Posted by Graham Hicks @ 12/20/2002 03:23 PM PST [link to this comment]

If I didn't know better I'd think you were kissing the Donster's ass ;-) He pretty much restated what everyone else said in the comments area of your previous post on the subject.
Posted by MeV @ 12/23/2002 07:37 AM PST [link to this comment]

Adults didn't grow up playing video games.

There's no old-school equivalent of video games. Either you grew up learning to rapidly model new environments in your head by playing video games, or you didn't. Before the 80s, very few people got that kind of training in their developmental years.

There may be other minimal factors, but I think this is the significant one, and the simplest explanation. I invoke Occam's Razor on this point.
Posted by Travis @ 12/23/2002 09:42 PM PST [link to this comment]

In the interests of balancing The Donster's slam of "Clueless German Engineers", it's worth noting that BMW hired a Boston-based firm, Design Continuum - "a well-regarded Boston product-development firm" - to do the research, and who proposed the system based around haptic, rather than visual, feedback. As seen in the NYT article Graham mentioned above.
Posted by dan @ 01/13/2003 01:32 AM PST [link to this comment]

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