I have three screens in front of me as I consider writing about The Best Interface Is No Interface by Golden Krishna, a book whose main thesis maintains that our world is populated by too many screens. Looking at my many screens, I think: He’s not wrong. Part tongue-in-cheek, part satire, part diatribe, all analysis of our screen-saturated culture, TBINI is a thought-provoking exploration of what could be done differently to curb the proliferation of screens.
Krishna’s premise will resonate with anyone attempting to pursue library school in our age of information overload. We are bombarded with information, responsibilities, distractions, and obligations. How do we as students, who often work in our chosen or related fields, figure out where to put our focus? While screens, or graphical user interfaces, are not the only issue, they are a key source of distraction: just look at your smartphone (if you have one). It (or a tablet, or a laptop, to lesser degrees) constantly demands your attention with notifications or even just its very existence as a pull to look up more information online.
TBINI considers what it would like if we stopped adding screens to things or stopped requiring accessing of a screen to complete a task. A significant example in the book is in modern-day interactions with cars. Krishna decries the desire of car manufacturers to slap a screen into every vehicle as though that will make it safer (spoilers: something else to look at in the car doesn’t help) or the inclination to use apps on a phone to perform car-related processes like unlocking or opening doors. It’s an exploration of this latter type of example that is fascinating:
For example, recently, a few Ford designers observed that when some drivers returned to their car trunks with their hands full — with things like grocery bags or coolers — they stuck out a leg to try to open the trunk. An impossible task. Well, until Ford designers embraced their customer’s typical process and put in a set of sensors under the bumper to detect a shin and then a leg kick, which opened the trunk. When customers first tried that experience it felt like magic, and when it eventually shipped, the cheap sensor set became one of the most requested features of certain Ford models.
A trunk that drove in more sales. Impressive. And much better than another app with swipes and taps to open your trunk. (https://www.justinmind.com/blog/the-best-interface-is-no-interface-tea-time-with-golden-krishna-part-2/)
Solutions don’t have to be shiny, fancy, or screen-based to be effective and efficient. In fact, according to Krishna, solutions are better without that distracting addition of a screen.
I no longer remember the provenance of my discovery of this book. My printed copy was from an interlibrary loan-type service that my public library system uses, so I know I must have sought it out specifically at some point (it’s been in a pile for….months; I promise I renewed it faithfully!). I also know I’m fascinated by design, information technology, Silicon valley, and how all of that relates back to library and information studies even as I sometimes feel as though I barely understand what any of it means. Krishna or someone related to him must have been on a list of experts in my classes last spring semester on Information Technology, because I often go on a search for more information after a class has finished when I finally feel I have a little margin to search beyond the borders of the class. (Can you tell that not remembering my own information search behavior that led to finding this book makes me mildly uncomfortable?)
You never know where what inspires you in library school will take you. Oftentimes, as is the case here, you might not remember what inspired you in the first place. The worlds of modern technology design and library/information studies are closely connected even if it might not seem so at first glance. As current and future information professionals, we connect people to information which is a task made more difficult in a screen- and information-saturated world. It is our responsibility to consider these challenges and work to find ways to bridge those gaps and help avoid information overwhelm.
What small step can you take to help a user/customer/yourself with screen-related information overwhelm?
Sarah Davis is a Bilingual Youth Librarian at a public library in Oklahoma and an MLIS student at the University of Oklahoma-Tulsa.
This post is part of an occasional series discussing how non-library-school-specific books and materials are relevant to library school students. To read others in this series, check out the tag Reviews.