The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

August § The Common Test / 2016-02-16 21:04:46
Robin § Unforgotten / 2016-01-08 21:19:16
MsFitNZ § Towards A Theory of Secondary Literacy / 2015-11-03 21:23:21
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 18:39:56
Jon Schultz § Bless the toolmakers / 2015-05-04 16:32:50
Matt § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-05 01:49:12
Greg Linch § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 18:05:52
Robin § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 05:11:02
P. Renaud § A leaky rocketship / 2014-11-04 04:13:09
Bob Stepno § The structure of journalism today / 2014-03-10 18:42:32

Clive Thompson, Gay Talese, and Laundry Board

Two reasons to love this post over on Clive’s blog:

  1. Ruminations on writers’ tools and processes
  2. WTF is “laundry board”??
February 18, 2009 / Uncategorized


You totally beat me to blogging this! Anyways, _I_ know what laundry board is… I commented on Clive’s post but it’s probably held up by a spam-bot.

It’s the cardboard sheet that comes with dress shirts to keep them pressed and folded. It usually has one end that’s sort of brightly colored and a little glossy, which makes it smoother (and easier to read) than stock cardboard. If you’ve bought a dress shirt, it usually has one in it — nicer dry cleaners give you one each time they clean a shirt.

Cheap, stiff, discardable — perfect for ephemeral note-taking.

The laundryboard question reminds me of a failed interactive exhibit at the Smithsonian American History Museum in which visitors are challenged to wring out clothes as quickly as possible. The wringer (a two-piece pole compressed by twisting handles at either end) had no instructions on it, and people had no idea that they had to turn the handles in opposite directions to wring the clothes–they would just spin the handles in one direction as fast as possible and get confused.

Which either means:

1. We don’t know how to hand-dry clothes anymore, or

2. People can’t figure out how simple machines work. They just do, unthinkingly.

Sadly, I think it’s both.

Aw, but I don’t think that’s fair. Because if I passed my iPhone to a Sloan of a hundred years ago (fluent in the fine art of the clothes-wringer, no doubt) he would probably be stumped.

We’ve traded fluency w/ one set of interfaces for fluency w/ another.

And besides, everybody knows the way to dry clothes is to spin ’em around really fast. If it was me in the museum I would have tried to light a fire underneath them, too 😉

But is it fair to say (as Nina does) that the set of interfaces with which we’re fluent no longer includes “simple” machines? That the set of interfaces we “naturally” understand are an additional degree (or ten) away from the action?

I agree with Robin that we can’t say that people are dumb but also with Nina that something important has changed / is changing / continues to change.

Also, having been to a handful of different museums with Robin, I can testify that his first reaction to EVERY exhibit is “That’s really cool! Let’s try to light a fire under it.”

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