tools and familiarity

Software options proliferate extremely easily, too easily in fact, because too many options create tools that can't ever be used intuitively. Intuitive actions confine the detail work to a dedicated part of the brain, leaving the rest of one's mind free to respond with attention and sensitivity to the changing texture of the moment. With tools, we crave intimacy. This appetite for emotional resonance explains why users - when given a choice - prefer deep rapport over endless options. You can't have a relationship with a device whose limits are unknown to you, because without limits it keeps becoming something else.

Indeed, familiarity breeds content. When you use familiar tools, you draw upon a long cultural conversation - a whole shared history of usage - as your backdrop, as the canvas to juxtapose your work. The deeper and more widely shared the conversation, the more subtle its inflections can be.

This is the revenge of traditional media. Even the "weaknesses" or the limits of these tools become part of the vocabulary of culture. I'm thinking of such stuff as Marshall guitar amps and black-and-white film - what was once thought most undesirable about these tools became their cherished trademark.
//Brian Eno: @The Revenge of the Intuitive@
Somebody at Apple probably read this one.

On the other hand, a lack of familiarity with the tool can be interesting too. The most interesting moments with any new tool almost always happen in the first couple of weeks, while you\re still discovering its limits. I\m having a period like that //it\s lasted a few months now// trying to learn InDesign and Photoshop, and starting to understand what those tools can do. Or just last week, trying to learn the ropes of Mikkel B\s camera, while shooting pictures of his book launch *which, btw, I should post sometime soon). Looking over the results later, I realised I\d taken a lot of pictures which I thought I would never have taken normally.

I think a lot of people, especially artists, actively pursue that feeling on unfamiliarity with their tools, or try to encourage a mix of familiarity and unfamiliarity. Like tuning your guitar in ways it\s not supposed to be tuned. Like if you change the EADGBE tuning to a CGDF#BF or something, and just play things you\d normally play. Suddenly you get all these crazy sounds that don\t sound anything like what you normally play. Eventually you find some riff that you think sounds cool which you\re certain you\ve never played anything like. And then you sit down and analyse the chords and notes and find out you\re just playing a completely ordinary chord progression you use all the time, you just happen to be playing it using timbres and rhythms you wouldn\t normally play it in.

I think about this now, because I stumbled on the Eno article, and because I\ve suddenly had a lot of tools gone restrictive on me> the guitar in the house only has three working strings, my cell phone charger has gone AWOL and I have no way of getting in touch with anyone, and my keyboard seems to be going through a phase, creating all the @interesting@ punctuation you see here.

Also, I can feel a fit of blogorrhea coming on. I\ve been unable to think out loud for months now. But I can\t write about a presidential hairdo with this crazy keyboard. That demands some dignity.


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