Yup. I finally broke down and got myself an iPod. Kathy has had one for about two years now but I was holding out for two more developments. First, I wanted enough disk space--at least 20 gigs--to carry a significant amount of data as well as my music, since I intended to use it as my cross-platform portable hard drive. Second, I wanted the 20 gig size not to be the biggest iPod available so I didn't have to pay a premium for getting the biggest baddest. With the release of the new version, where the bottom-of-the-line 20-gig is only ("only"!) $300, I figured it was time.
Boy, does this baby solve a lot of problems for me. I was thinking about getting a Treo 600 now that Verizon offers it but now I'll hold off. I can store my calendar and address book on the iPod and it's not obvious to me that I need to be able to input information away from my computer. And since I don't have a compelling need for email away from my laptop, the reasons for the smart phone have pretty much evaporated.
But the most delightful aspect of the device (as any iPod owner knows) is how rat simple it is to use for its core function of playing music. There is literally no learning curve and almost no attention required to operate it. This is the essence of what Gary Dickelman and others call "Performance-Centered Design." Rather than forcing the user to learn how to use the device, we figure out how to make the function as easy and intuitive as humanly possible first. After all, who wants to waste time and brain space learning how to use a device? What we really want to do is access our music (or trade a stock, or pick up our voicemail messages, or whatever it is we are trying to do with a piece of technology). Performance-Centered Design (PCD) pushes the priority of lowering the cognitive load on the user as much as possible first and only teaching when absolutely necessary. The iPod is a pleasure to use because I never have to think about how to use it.
Industrial design guru and fellow e-Learn Magazine Advisory Board member Don Norman calls the things that a device makes easy to do "affordances." If you have not read his classic book The Design of Everyday Things then run, don't walk, to your nearest book store or library. Every human being who has to function in the modern world should read this book and try to acquire just a little bit of Don Norman's crankiness and ornery refusal to put up with badly designed tools.