Como argumenta esta serie de artículos publicada en The Economist, mas que contar con computadoras cada vez más poderosas, lo que necesitamos es que sean más fáciles de usar (no que sean más simples; la complejidad sigue, pero no la notamos).
Estoy totalmente de acuerdo. Mi primera computadora, una Commodre 64 (sí, soy viejo), tenía precisamente 64 kilobytes de memoria y hacer cualquier cosa requería horas. Hoy día, hasta los hornos de microondas tienen más poder de procesamiento. En este sentido, en 20 años las capacidades de las máquinas han crecido infinitamente. Pero el único avance notable en la facilidad de uso fue la introducción del sistema operativo con interfase gráfico (íconos), primero por Apple para la Mac (creo que en 1986) y después adoptado por Windows de Microsoft. En aplicaciones más grandes y complejas, como los sistemas de informática de empresas enteras, las cosas tampoco han mejorado mucho.
La buena noticia es que la historia ofrece razones para ser optimista. Muchos inventos eran increíblemente difíciles de usar al principio, hasta que los emprendedores encontraron formas de facilitar su uso. The Economist ofrece varios ejemplos interesantes:
Joe Corn, a history professor at Stanford University, believes that the
first example of a complex consumer technology was clocks, which arrived in the
1820s. Clocks were sold with user manuals, which featured entries such as ?How
to erect and regulate your device?. When sewing machines appeared in the 1840s,
they came with 40-page manuals full of detailed instructions. Discouragingly, it
took two generations until a trade publication was able to declare in the 1880s
that ?every woman now knows how to use one.?
At about the same time, the increase in technological complexity
gathered pace. With electricity came new appliances, such as the phonograph,
invented in 1877 by Thomas Alva Edison. According to Mr Norman, the
computer-design guru, despite Mr Edison's genius for engineering he was a
marketing moron, and his first phonograph was all but unusable (in fact,
initially he had no particular uses in mind for it). For decades, Mr Edison
fiddled with his technology, always going for the most impressive engineering
solution. For instance, he chose cylinders over discs as the recording medium.
It took a generation and the entry of a new rival, Emile Berliner, to prepare
the phonograph for the mass market by making it easier to use (introducing discs
instead of cylinders) and giving it a purpose (playing music)......
Another complex technology, with an even bigger impact, was the car. The first cars, in the early 1900s, were ?mostly a burden and a challenge?, says Mr Corn. Driving one required skill in lubricating various moving parts, sending oil manually to the transmission, adjusting the spark plug, setting the choke, opening the throttle, wielding the crank and knowing what to do when the car broke down, which it invariably did. People at the time hired chauffeurs, says Mr Corn, mostly because they needed to have a mechanic at hand to fix the car, just as firms today need IT staff and households need teenagers to sort out their computers.
By the 1930s, however, the car had become more user-friendly and ready for the mass market. Two things in particular had made this possible. The first was the rise, spread and eventual ubiquity of a support infrastructure for cars. This included a network of decent roads and motorways, and of petrol stations and garages for repair. The second was the makers' increasing skill at hiding the technology from drivers. Ford proved particularly good at this. Ironically, it meant that cars got hugely more complex on the inside, because most of the tasks that had previously been carried out by drivers now had to be done automatically. This presented drivers with a radically simplified surface, or ?interface? in today's jargon, so that all they had to do was turn the ignition key, put their foot on the accelerator, brake, steer and change gear?and after 1940, when automatic transmissions were introduced, even gear-shifting became optional.
¿Entonces conviene vender acciones de Microsoft, el villano de la complejidad, y comprar acciones de Apple, la gran simplificadora? Quizá a muy largo plazo sea una buena idea. Pero la diferencia entre las TI y otras tecnologías del pasado es que las primeras dependen mucho de estándares. Simplificar a las PC de forma importante probablemente requiera un cambio de Windows/Office a algo mejor, pero va a ser difícil persuadir a los usuarios si eso implica que no podrán utilizar buena parte de su información almacenada.