The magic of preferences

One of the basic differences between computers and older technologies is that a computer can remember how you like things to work.
This is a folder of files on one of my Windows computers.  Every time I've set up a user account since Windows 98, I've told it all my folders should be presented in "details" view and sorted by date modified.  My eyes automatically go to the bottom of the list for the last few things I worked on.  Sometimes I change the view, and it's kind enough to stay changed the next time I open the folder.
This is the dashboard of my car.  I consider myself lucky that it remembers I like the cruse control on all the time.  But why can't it remember what speed I was going if I shut the car off?  Why can't it remember that I close all the windows when I'm going faster than 50?

And while we're at it, why do my bank's ATMs keep asking me if I prefer English?  I already told them once - do they think I might change my mind?  Would an ATM really be the ideal place for me to practice learning a second language?

Something with preferences is customizable:  it's yours.  I'm not talking about trivial cosmetic mods like skinning a media player application, I'm talking about changing how information is presented to you.  Different learning styles are rewarded by different organizational schemes. 

In a way, it's like developing a relationship with a vendor or a customer.  At first, you're feeling each other out, just guessing what the other person needs you to tell them.  After a while, you develop a working process, and it requires a lot less effort to get work done.  Having 'preferences' in your interaction with a computer, or a car, or anything, makes it more like a partnership and less like using a tool.

1 comment:

  1. Kind of like how Itunes gets to know you and then starts trying to guess what you "might" like based on your listening habits? Or rather Tivo who started recording westerns for me because I once watched one Clint Eastwood movie. I'm not sure that intuitive programming is really for the better. However, I do like my friend's car that remembers (at the touch of a button) how he likes his seat adjusted as opposed to how his wife likes hers.