Lesson from a Mouse Ball

Effectively Inefficient

The old mouse ball. Don’t really miss it.

The Backstory

There are some technologies whose value is underestimated and unappreciated. Sometimes advancements even go unnoticed.

I ordered a new mouse a few months ago… the latest in the series of the best mouse on the market in my opinion —the Logitech MX Master — the successor to the Logitech MX Performance mouse, which I have had for many years.

I am on a computer almost all day for my job, so even the littlest improvements in equipment I use make a big difference. I used to have to move the mouse around a lot throughout the day wearing down mouse pads with endless rolling… it’s a waste of time, energy, and wrist wear-and-tear (yup, it’s a first-world problem, I know), so I have the sensitivity of mouse set very high and take full advantage of the mouse’s button controls. Same goes with scrolling… it’s annoying and a time waste to spin the wheel excessively to view web pages and documents. I have to have smooth, super scroll — the faster I spin the wheel, the faster the page moves. Aahhh… efficiency and simplicity. Sounds silly, but you’ll think differently once you try it. At any rate…

All of this admiration about the importance of computer mouse ergonomics is interesting, but I realized that I have always been like this with computer mice. During college and early days of work, I would often help people clean their mice for the smoothest cursor movement and handling. A little cleaning goes a long way. But what about the appreciation for how far this simple technology has come, and what can we learn from it?

The Object

Left: A solid steel mouse ball surrounded in rubber. Right: Uncovered in all its glory.

Enter the infamous mouse ball. There’s an odd nostalgic quality to the mechanical mouse ball.

Year 1998. In a college computer lab. The mouse was acting up on the mouse pad, and the cursor was jumping around. So, what do I do? I turned the mouse over, twisted open the cover that holds the ball, and took a look.

Compacted dust on the ball guide rollers, again. Sheesh.

I pull out my pocket knife and begin scraping the dust off of the rollers. People look at me like I’m nuts (yes, pocket knives have many uses), but just you wait. You’re life will get better soon. I still remember how rewarding it was to find compacted dust to scrape off of an old mouse, especially for people who had no idea how to fix the issue of a cursor’s rough handling. For some odd reason, it was an accomplishment in making something more efficient and ergonomic that provided satisfaction. Somebody’s life is getting better one, clean mouse at a time. It was liberating to go from rough, jaded movements to smooth sailing and freedom. Call me crazy. You’re welcome.

What’s inside the mouse ball?

Of course over time, my curiosity got the best of me one day. I needed to take an entire mouse apart. Even the mouse ball. Turns out, inside the mouse ball was a solid steel ball wrapped or dipped in rubber. It has some weight to it and may get confused for a marble. It is interesting to me that the mechanical prodigies and designs of our past are becoming less and less appreciated, as digital technology continues to erase nostalgic milestones of our technical past.

I still have the mouse ball in my desk drawer. Someday, nobody will know what it was used for, which saddens me just thinking about it. Oh, soon-to-be-forgotten mouse ball, what can we learn from thee?

The Lesson

It’s never ending battle… keeping up with the advancement of technology and the way in which we all interact with one another and with machines. As more and more people seek to invent and advance, the rate of product obsolescence will increase exponentially.

The old, steel mouse ball teaches us…

  • Becoming obsolete in inevitable.
  • Respect the past, but reject the status quo. Always question how something could be done better.
  • Always seek to change, refine, and improve processes and systems.
  • The future is built upon the struggles of our past.

To this day, I make sure all of my organization’s staff have the best equipment. Ergonomic, easy-to-use, and efficient. Being comfortable doing your job increases job productivity and leads to overall greater job happiness… which leads to greater loyalty, happier customers, and more revenue. Technology needs to enable good work… not get in the way. Yes, it really does make a difference. People don’t know how good life can be until they experience smooth cursor movement and scrolling.

To change a cheesy quote… life’s too good to use a poor handling mouse.

The mechanical mouse ball replaced by optics and now laser dark field technology.

BONUS… is clicking the mouse button a waste of time? Here’s the old Dontclick.it website that demonstrates clicking is not necessary. Too bad it’s built using Flash.

Written by Shaun Holloway.