The Digital Stone Age

Ryan Mason
Feb 1 · 6 min read

Don’t worry, this isn’t an ad for Adobe.

Have you ever used Adobe’s creative cloud? If graphic design is your passion, (I found a lot of people on the internet saying graphic design is their passion for some reason) then you know all about Adobe’s collection of software like Photoshop, Illustrator, and a variety of other graphic design and photography related software.

But what does it actually do? When you go into Photoshop, what are you doing? You’re probably trying to achieve a certain effect with computer magic that you can’t do otherwise.

Say you recently had a hard breakup. Look, it happens to the best of us, but you finally decided to move on. Great! But now you’re silently sitting on photoshop in the dark at 4 AM, bathed in blue light, trying to remove their ugly, UGLY face from your pictures together so you can put them on your new Tinder profile. If you can see through the tears welling up in your eyes, you can see the whole Photoshop UI — including the scary bars either on the side or top with just too many different tools and icons to choose from.

If you’re brand new to Photoshop then you’ll be really overwhelmed. What are layers or vectors or RGB format, what the fuck? You just need to get this person out of this picture so you can move on with your life. Because that’s the goal with computers, really, isn’t it? You use them as tools so you can accomplish X task and move on with your life. Why do you have to learn how to use a whole software package just to be able to do something that the computer knows how to do very easily?

It’s like when your dog has something in its mouth and it won’t give it to you.

“Just drop the dead squirrel, why won’t you DROP IT YOU DUMB DOG.”

Too far, of course, you would never call your dog dumb, it’s a precious angel. But the point is that the computer is doing the same thing. Maybe you don’t really want a dead squirrel to use yourself (maybe you do, that’s none of my business) but you want something from something else and you don’t know how to communicate with it.

You know that it’s possible to use Photoshop in this way, but the logistics are restricting you. You know there is some combination of pointing and clicking (maybe even some keys if you’re feeling spicy) that will let you do what you want to do, but you can’t break through the barrier. How do you communicate with this thing, a computer, to get it do what you want?

The literal answer is that you learn how to use the software. What does this mean? If you’re learning for a career, it means months, maybe years of practice and learning how and when to point and click and point and click at certain pixels on the screen in order to make it look how you want. If you just want the ex out of the picture, you can google how to do it reasonably quickly, sure. But the point stands, that you had to do the work in order to figure out how to communicate with the computer. The machine was capable of it the whole time, all you had to do was point and click in the right sequence at the right places.

This is true of almost any software out there. Graphic design software, statistics software, things like CAD and 3D printing for actually making real, physical things, even down to word processors and spreadsheets. Some might be more intuitive than others, but there is still a level of communication required so you can tell the computer what you want to do. And this is just software. This is just learning how to communicate with something another person has already built into a machine. The group that knows how to communicate with computers directly (coders) is even smaller, not to mention the hardware people who probably look at coders the same way coders look at the average person trying to airbrush their ex out of a picture.

But that’s the problem. If computers are great tools for us, why do we have to learn entirely new skill sets just to use functions that are already built into a software package? The problem here is that computers are sitting up there in a tower somewhere like Rapunzel and only a select group can actually climb up her hair to get to the top of the tower.

Hey Rapunzel, why don’t you just…walk down the stairs? Why are we constantly learning how to talk to computers, how to code, how to point and click, how to do whatever just to get a computer to understand what we’re saying. We sometimes think that we often don’t ask enough of people and ask too much of computers, (how can they do literally everything?)

But my take is almost the opposite: we ask weird tasks of people and not nearly enough of computers. We’ve lost something of the spirit that believed computers could be anything we wanted them to be. Computers are our tools, not the other way around. Enough of the increasingly better point and click with more aesthetically pleasing UI’s.

We can move from Adobe Illustrator to Canva, but it’s still a lateral move. I want a vertical move. I don’t want to move a rung up the ladder here, I want to fly to the fucking moon. I don’t want to learn how to communicate better with computers, I want computers to learn how to better communicate with us. Is this not still our world? Who exactly is in charge here?

The fact is, most people don’t think like computers. Look at how older (or younger) people with no exposure to computers think they work. Computers need to work for an idiot. If your software can’t be picked up and used by a five year old, I’m sorry, but it’s not good enough. (The irony of writing this as somebody who can barely code a page in HTML is not lost on me.)

I say this not to crack the whip and make software engineers get marginally better at their jobs (the average software engineer has a level of work ethic and intelligence probably above mine) I say this because I think I can see what computers can be. We think we’re living in a luxuriously high tech era right now — we might be, relatively. But the truth is, the curve of progress gets steeper. What will people think of us in 100 years? What will they think of us in 500 years? 1000?

Barbarians. Living in a digital stone age.

Too dumb to master a computer. They’ll look at us as Oliver Twist — constantly going to the computer and asking for more, we’re trying to speak its language, when the computers should be the ones asking us questions.

Imagine Photoshop in a world where computers catered to us, communicated in the way we like, rather than the other way around.

“Is that the right color? Should I move the image to the right? Should I move your ex’s ugly fucking face out of the picture?”

Just describe what you want, and the computer will do it all for you. Imagine this applied to anything. The processing power of a computer merged with the intuition of a human being. Just apply it to Excel. Instantly process and manipulate data any way you like. Remember when the developers of Excel admitted that even the best users are barely using half of the features they have to offer? The gap we have to cross here is just digital. And the other side of this gap is immense and wonderful in ways we barely dare to consider.

Take a page out of the Martians’ book and make the computers (like Samuel Conrad) speak your language.

The Shadow

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