Thursday, October 13, 2011

Monkeys & iPads

So today I asked twitter for a blog topic. This can be a dangerous thing, guys, but my brain is mush and I figured it could be an interesting, interactive experience. Maybe I'll keep it on as a new feature (aka: a new way to be lazy).

Matt Delman was the first to reply, and he requested monkeys.

The first thing I thought of was this news piece on orangutans using iPads. I know, right? It's kind of cool to think this technology could help animals have a better quality of life. Oh, Steve Jobs, did you know you'd be helping monkeys?

But then I can't help thinking, dude, a monkey can use an iPad. That's one seriously user friendly interface. Like, what if there's someone out there who can't figure out an iPad? Hmm. Except I doubt that, because my toddler could use it just fine as well. It's basically the most accessible computer EVER.

Even a monkey could use it! Haha.

But accessibility is an interesting thing, because it gives the illusion of expertise. Just because a monkey can use an iPad doesn't mean that monkey knows much about computers, networks, and technology in general. My husband is in tech support, and I can't tell you how many times he comes home frustrated about people claiming they KNOW HOW TO USE COMPUTERS (I use caps because I imagine them saying this in a very loud voice.). And yet here they are calling tech support, because their website isn't working like they want it to. Hmm.

See, the thing is, computers have become kind of like the English language to people. You hear it all the time—I KNOW how to speak English, so of course I know how to write. People think just because they can use Word, email, and Facebook that they know how to work a computer, when really it's those clever programmers who've made computer technology accessible enough that the average person CAN use a computer without having to deal with code and databases and networks and whatever else (I don't actually know—but at least I KNOW that I don't know.).

So I don't know what I'm really saying here. Don't be the monkey with the iPad? Don't confuse accessibility for real understanding? Hey, it was a random topic, we're lucky I got this far sounding moderately intelligent.

I guess if we're going for the writing bent I could say that knowing how to speak English is like being a monkey with an iPad (oh dear, that sounds both hilarious AND insulting). I mean, just because you can talk doesn't mean you have a complete mastery of writing and storytelling. There is much, much more to it, as I'm sure most of you clearly understand. And yet the irony there is that we as writers must make our novels accessible to even the monkeys among us, especially in genre fiction.

I suppose that's why people are always saying, "I could write that better. Writing isn't that hard. Even a monkey could do it!" They've made the same mistake some make with computers—they've confused accessibility with true knowledge.

Or something.

That was fun. We'll have to do this again sometime.


  1. I am pleased with the result of my random suggestion. :)

    I like your analogy though -- that the best among us, be it writers or computer programmers, can make something so complex seem easy enough that a monkey can do it.

  2. Well, I'm a monkey with a mac, so I figure I can at least write for my peers ;)

  3. Isn't there a proverb saying if you give a million moneys iPads they will eventually write the works of Shakespeare? I might have that wrong...

  4. The funny thing is, the best writing is so seamless that it LOOKS easy, but in actuality it's painstaking. "So easy a monkey could do it," indeed. There's a reason monkeys don't write books!

  5. Yes to this post! I once had a friend who claimed he didn't need to take English classes because he already spoke English. Drove me crazy.

  6. Oh yeah... I agree with you there. Computer is very much an assumed language, but I remember when I was a kid my sister and I used to make lists of our friends who *had* computers so that we knew whose house we wanted to spend the night at.

  7. This post (and Jessica's comment) made me think of this quote by Nathaniel Hawthorne:
    "Easy reading is damn hard writing."

    Fun post, Natalie! Loved it.

  8. This reminds me of checking out Lois Lowry's NUMBER THE STARS to find that someone had marked it up, scribbling out things they didn't like, trying to clarify things that were plain. Ugh.

    I don't speak Computer, so I appreciate the user friendly stuff.

  9. A thousand monkeys keying away at a thousand twitter accounts will, eventually, create a political speech.