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Understand your Mac, spatially

By January 27, 2011People+Technology

I think I finally understand why some people are naturally adept with their technology, and some are less so.

Don’t worry, you can learn.

People love things to be solid, safe, and known. We walk into a room for the first time and the first thing we usually do is look around, checking for weak floorboards and tigers.

What’s in this space? Where are all the objects? Where are the threats? If I need a glass or a fork, where would I look? If I need to lie down, what options do I have?

Now, walk into a dark room I’ve never entered before, and it’s a very different story.

I will generally stop dead in my tracks with the door still open, check the wall for a light switch, and failing that, bust out my iPhone and activate the “Flashlight” app. I am rather afraid of the dark, but that’s beside the point.

In general, I think we need to understand the physics of our reality as much as possible to feel safe and productive within its solidity. (And yes, quantum physicists, I realize that nothing is truly solid, thank you.)

Now, how does this relate back to technology?

The operating system and file/folder hierarchy of a Mac, the configuration interface of a VCR, the scroll wheel navigation system in an iPod, and the slideshow option in your Canon camera all have one thing in common. They all rely on people having a solid understanding of the inner system software layout of that particular system. Its physics, reality, and internal structure.

Where am I, where is everything else in relation to me, and how do I navigate effectively within the system?

Let’s say I’m a Mac user and I’m not 100% sure exactly where things should go, how to move around, or exactly how to do the work I need to do.

It would be very similar to walking into a pitch black room I’ve never entered before, with the need to do certain work within that room. One bookshelf in the corner is well lit, one table in the opposite corner is well lit (with photos and documents strewn all over it), and there is a strange looking rack in the middle of the room that has multiple brightly-colored friendly looking tools hanging from it.

If I’ve been in the room a few times over the years, I usually know where a few other things are as well, but the layout and objects just aren’t fully formed in my mind.

What do I do in a situation like that?

Well, I’d walk carefully in a straight line to each area, not really knowing what I might bump into and not really having any idea how to find something that isn’t immediately obvious. I’d cope with minor stress and frustration, getting work done the best way I know how.

To feel completely at ease with our technology, we need to have a spatial understanding of the system software.

We need to map out its layout in our mind, solidify it, and make it the reality of that system in our mind’s eye. Then, we just need to have a few different ways to do the work we need to get done.

It’s like turning on the light in the dark room to find a wealth of other tools and working spaces, a view of the mountains, file folders and Ikea shelving, ready to accept and store all our creations in very logical places. Sounds pretty good, right?

Feels good, too.  😉

Some more info on spatial intelligence:

“Spatial intelligence, identified by Gardner (1983) as one of the seven intelligences, involves “picturing things in the head” and includes the abilities to imagine folding and turning an object, to visualize the three-dimensional object associated with a two-dimensional drawing, and to recognize pictures of the same object drawn from different perspectives. Boys often perform better on tests of spatial intelligence than girls do. Researchers speculate that boys’ performance may result from their play preferences, such as building with blocks, negotiating computer environments, and so on, which give them more opportunities to practice this kind of thinking. NCTM’s Principles and Standards for School Mathematics (2000) points out the importance of giving children the opportunity to develop visualization and spatial reasoning through work with concrete objects.” – copy/pasted from this website.

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