“Smartphones and laptops seem so ubiquitous to us all,” writes experience designer Jinsoo An. “But in reality, the ubiquitousness we experience every day is based on a series of learned behaviors. Someone once said that, ‘The only intuitive interface is the nipple. Everything else is learned.'” This, he points out, holds for the simple magazine as much as it does for the computer mouse — a device which certain generations use even more intuitively than they do anything involving the printed word. But, many computer users found the mouse, just a few years before it achieved ubiquity, hardly intuitive at all. “If you can point, you can use a Macintosh,” insisted an early Apple ad for that innovative desktop computer.
If, convinced, you went on to buy a Mac of your own, and you received with it a printed manual including a section explaining the mechanics of mouse usage. “Every move you make with the mouse moves the pointer in exactly the same way,” goes one of its sentences that would now seem comically unnecessary. “Usually the pointer is shaped like an arrow, but it changes shape depending on what you’re doing.”And for those who found the book too intimidating, Apple also included a cassette tape containing a production called “A Guided Tour of Macintosh,” in which friendly voices explain such important subjects as “Mousing Around,” “What’s the Finder?,” and “Why Do I Have Windows?” to a soundtrack by artists from the powerhouse new-age music label Wyndham Hill.
An’s post includes the audio of this techno-educational journey, and at the top of the post you can watch it synchronized with video of the accompanying application that came onboard the computer. We can all have a good laugh at this sort of thing now that we’ve fully internalized once-confusing concepts like windows, the finder, and the mouse — but isn’t it more startling, in this era when so few people even consider reading manuals that many companies seem to have stopped printing them entirely, to imagine anyone, before they dare use their new computer, popping in a tape?
Colin Marshall hosts and produces Notebook on Cities and Culture and writes essays on cities, language, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Angeles, A Los Angeles Primer. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.