Those of us who build and inhabit systems often forget how arbitrary they are. I am reminded of this every time I go through airport security. I fly occasionally but not often, just frequently enough to be reminded of the variations in the collection of regulations and tasks that James Fallows calls “security theater”. Shoes on? Shoes off? Ring on? Off? Cell phone on? Off? Boarding pass in hand? Toiletries in a plastic bag? Shoes off? On? One trip it is one way and the next it is the opposite. Some TSA agents bark out the policies, seemingly annoyed at the fact that we’re getting it all wrong. Maybe some of these things have remained the same for years – I don’t know; it’s not my system. Just tell me what to do.
Don’t get me started on website passwords. Six characters. Eight characters. Letter and a number. Upper and a lower. Case insensitive. Special character. No special character. Different from the last ten. I don’t remember my password, so shoot me. It’s not my system. Just tell me what to do.
Windows 8. Swipe down. Swipe to the side. Scroll to the corner. Drag to the corner. Use the “share charm”. Right click. Don’t right click. It’s not my system. Just tell me what to do.
You: person who is about to build a system that I will use some day. I will never give it as much thought as you, or at least I hope not to. I am a capable guy. I’m no dummy. I just don’t care as much about the thing you built as you do. Except for certain cases where I care with an intensity that you will probably never understand, because I may miss my flight, or need to pay a bill, or need to connect to wireless. It’s not my system. It’s yours. Just tell me what to do.