[OT] Text Editor vs IDE aka ctrl-s froze VI

Levi Pearson levi at cold.org
Fri Oct 14 15:41:42 MDT 2005

On Oct 14, 2005, at 3:20 PM, Corey Edwards wrote:

> On Fri, 2005-10-14 at 15:06 -0600, Barry Roberts wrote:
>> On Fri, Oct 14, 2005 at 02:11:24PM -0600, Michael Torrie wrote:
>>> Again, intuitiveness is relative.
>> I disagree.  No computer user interface is intuitive.  I like the old
>> (in Internet years) saying that the only "intuitive" interface is the
>> nipple.  Everything else is learned.
> And I further disagree with your disagreement. Neither of my two kids
> has /just known/ how to nurse. It took a lot of patience and hard work
> to teach them. The most recent one had this annoying habit of keeping
> his tongue on top of his mouth which prevented him from getting any
> milk. I had to feed him with a tube taped to my finger and force his
> tongue into the right position before he learned how the deal works.
> Sorry if that was TMI for anybody, but it's not fair to trivialize the
> hard work that women put into breast feeding.

You're right; no interface is intuitive in the sense that everyone  
automatically knows how to use it.  Therefore, if the word is to be  
useful at all, we must consider a different meaning for it.  Let's  
drop into semantic reasoning mode and see if we can find one.

Intuitive is derived from intuition.  And what is intuition?  My  
dictionary says it's the ability to understand something without  
conscious reasoning.  That sounds good to me, but now we have to  
consider what the ramifications of that are.

How does one understand something /without/ conscious reasoning?  It  
must be through some unconscious process.  How do unconscious  
processes work?  Well, they must either operate on knowledge somehow  
already wired into the brain or put there through divine  
inspiration. :)  Since divine inspiration doesn't seem like a good  
basis for 'intuition' in the context of user interfaces, I think we  
can discard that one for this discussion.  As for information wired  
into the brain, it had to be either genetically-encoded (instinct) or  
wired-in through experience.

Since we've discarded instinct as a useful basis for determining the  
basis of intuitiveness (see the nipple argument above), it falls back  
to experience.  And since we all have experiences that are--to some  
degree--common, and--to some other degree--different, we must  
conclude that intuitiveness is indeed relative to our experience.

To the programmers who created vi and emacs, who were steeped in  
experience with non-visual command line editors, I believe vi and  
emacs must have been very intuitive indeed.  To people who grew up in  
the Macintosh/Windows generation, they will be quite far from  
intuitive; there will be no experiences wired into their brains for  
the subconscious processes to work with.

I don't believe this reduces their ultimate utility at all; once  
conscious processes are applied and the techniques are internalized,  
there's no difference.  It just means they aren't immediately useful,  
while programs with intuitive interfaces are.


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