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Technology: Making Wrong Things The Right Thing to Do

Warning – This is NOT a post on ethics. Apologies if you were expecting one. If you don’t mind a then and now technology post, read on.

Today I witnessed something that took me back to the late 1990s. I told someone to click something on the screen and he reached out his hand and touched the line that I indicated. We don’t have touch screens at my library so I introduced him to the mouse. Today, in most libraries, trying to touch the screen is useless and some librarians will this happens.

Flashback to 1998 when the library I worked at had some of the earlier web browsers. We’d routinely get called over to the two dialup (yes, dialup) patron internet workstations for someone to tell us the browser was broken. When we looked it turned out the patron had typed a search into the address bar. We would let them know that the address bar was only for URLs. Then we’d ask them to type http://www.yahoo.com or maybe that newfangled http://www.google.com into the address bar. When the search engine came up, we’d have them type their search into the search box in the middle of the screen. While we were at it, we’d reiterate that the address box was NOT for searching.

These days, people still type their searches into the address bars of browsers. But now they get search results. Several years back the browser makers decided it was better to design their software to reflect how people actually used it and we all benefited.

Back to the present. Once I got over my cringing at someone so inexperienced that they tried to click the screen of a public internet terminal with their finger, I remembered the business of typing searches into address bar. I also remembered that touch screens are becoming more common. Putting the two together I thought that 5-10 years from now perhaps most screens will be touch screens and tapping the screen to begin will be the most natural thing for patrons and library staff alike. 

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