Human-Computer Interaction — Make Mine a Mactini

I once Googled ‘unusual mactini recipes‘ instead of ‘martini’ & my mistake sucked me down an internet rabbit hole…

It all started when I clicked upon the 2008 BBC comedy The New Mactini to find John (cue rimless specs and lego man haircut) giving me a guided tour of “the latest revolution in computer technology…the Mactini.”

After his intro, the camera cuts to a postage-stamp-sized laptop that John calls “the smallest computer in the world.” It soon becomes clear the target of the parody is Steve Jobs’ Apple.

I immediately fall in love with the Mactini’s unique selling point: a single key that “performs all the functions of a regular keyboard.” To type each letter of the alphabet, the user must press the keyboard the same number of times as that letter’s position in the alphabet — once for A, twice for B, thrice for C, and so on. Beautifully simple Human-Computer Interaction but utter madness.

The video finishes with John telling us during a commercial that he has already released an even smaller product, the crumb-sized Mactini Nano, making the Mactini obsolete. Brilliant!

Chuckling, I closed my conveniently laptop-sized laptop, feeling awfully grateful for the advanced state of HCI today. I confess it also made me feel a bit sad, remembering those fantastic Apple product launches, with the digital world stopping to see what amazing innovation Steve Jobs had cooked up this time. Now there was a visionary!

I truly appreciate HCI as we know it today. Like many others, I recall the very first days of personal computing when screens were black and text green — as they say, it was respectable in the 80s. And I recall these days both fondly and with a shudder.

Once the realm of computing grew beyond the IT experts and enthusiasts, poor usability became a real bugbear. As is the case with many innovations, it took anger and impatience to give rise to change. And that’s how HCI came to be a thing, with professionals from varying areas of expertise coming together to make the experience of interacting with a computer more pleasant and efficient. And look where we are now!

For anyone who finds The New Mactini funny because it reflects their own acute tech peeves, trust me when I tell you: we’ve never had it so good — not that there isn’t always room for improvement. Oh, that reminds me, I think I will take a classic dry martini after all — unlike our interactions with technology, we shouldn’t tinker with perfection!

Behavioural psychologist; AI-quisitive; EY UK&I Client Technology & Innovation Officer. Views my own & don't represent EY’s position. catrionacampbell.com

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