Have you ever noticed how people on television always manage to interact with their technology effortlessly? We, by contrast, get tangled up in software, type in the wrong PIN number, get lost in airports and despair at ever understanding our latest gadget. From our day-to-day dealings with technical systems, we all have a rough idea of what a good user experience means. What factors determine whether a product makes it very easy, hard or impossible for us to do what we want to do? What options are available for systematically addressing these factors during the development process? It is questions like these which user-centred engineering aims to address.
I grew up Muslim so never really celebrated the gift-giving aspect of Christmas until adulthood. Now that I think of it, there aren\u2019t many personalized gift-giving holidays in Islam. There is Eid-ul-Fitr, in which younger people receive money from older people, and Eid-ul-Adha, in which people sacrifice an animal and then send choice cuts to family and friends\u2014but nothing like the personalized giving of Christmas. (Is this strange? Or is Christmas strange?) I did, of course, receive gifts on my birthday as a child, but no one does that with adult birthdays, so sadly that too has come to an end. But I love gift-giving and receiving, and wish I had more excuses to do it. I love that giving gifts forces me to think deeply about another person, to consider what might bring them joy, and to anticipate their enjoyment. I\u2019m too scatterbrained to do that regularly, but every time I stop and meditate on my loved ones, I feel lighter afterwards.
I can only remember being given two books in my lifetime. One from an old boyfriend\u2014a copy of The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh in latin (\u201CWinnie Ille Pu\u201D), from the original 1960s print. It wasn\u2019t expensive, but I was delighted by the gesture. He knew I loved Pooh1 and that I took latin seriously because I was a big Rome nerd. (Fun fact: this is the only book in latin that has ever made it to the New York Times bestseller list.) Then there was the time before that. I was 10 or so, and had completed my first full reading of the Quran. As a gift, a cousin of mine gave me her copy, a large and magnificently-decorated tome, with translations of the Arabic text in Urdu and English. Since I was a believer at the time, I felt this was sure to be a source of profound wisdom, and was thoroughly in awe of it.
That\u2019s it, that\u2019s the list of books this book-lover has received. Woe is me. :( But now that I think about it, I can think of some good reasons why people might avoid giving me books. First, is the obvious: I already have a small library\u2019s worth, so there is a risk of getting me something I already have. But I think there is also another. Have you ever shown someone something you think is funny\u2014a video, a movie, a meme\u2014that you think they might like too, but they clearly do not? That feeling of anticipation turning into mild embarrassment as you wait and wait for their face to break out into a chortle or even a smile\u2026but it never comes? No matter how polite they are, or skilled at breaking through the awkwardness\u2014it is always a bit crushing, like a personal rejection.
I once recommended a book about the art of writing to a young man I was sort-of mentoring. He read it, but scoffed it off\u2014declaring that he knew everything in it already, and further, that he finds these kinds of \u201Cself-help\u201D books to be a waste of time and money. Now, if I wasn\u2019t 1) in a position of superiority 2) a person of remarkably thick skin 3) confident in my own intellect, I might have found his remarks to be more than just insulting\u2014I would find them hurtful. In his rejection, he was implying that my own knowledge or intelligence or skill was limited in a way his was not. And through the act of recommending, I was admitting to being impressed by something decidedly unimpressive. Recommendations are one thing, gifts are far more fraught. You want the receiver to actually enjoy the gift\u2014you\u2019ve spent the money after all\u2014and hopefully to think better of you after. Give a bad clothing item, and one might think you have bad style. Give a bad book, and one might think you are an idiot. This is partially why I find \u201Ctop book recommendations\u201D from famous people to be unbelievable and fairly useless. Bill Gates, for example, is brilliant and reads quite a lot, and reviews some of these books on his website. But I would bet the content of my bank account that what he chooses to highlight on his site is, for the most part, not the reading that was actually most valuable to him. But rather, the books on his site are those he thinks would benefit the public the most, the books he wants to be seen as reading for various signaling purposes, or favors he is doing for author friends. Does he really think that Trever Noah\u2019s memoir is worthy of highlighting (or, for that matter, that Noah\u2019s Daily Show is \u201Cevery bit\u201D as good as Jon Stewart\u2019s, as he claims in his review)? Did he even write the thing himself? Doubtful. 2b1af7f3a8