9.430 inappropriateness

Humanist (mccarty@phoenix.Princeton.EDU)
Thu, 4 Jan 1996 19:25:06 -0500 (EST)

Humanist Discussion Group, Vol. 9, No. 430.
Center for Electronic Texts in the Humanities (Princeton/Rutgers)

[1] From: Willard McCarty <Willard.McCarty@utoronto.ca> (35)
Subject: The Case for Inappropriateness

In Toronto we are blessed with a free computer magazine called <t>The
Computer Paper</t>, which I find consistently to have items of interest. In
the latest issue (January 96), for example, is an article entitled "The Case
for Inappropriateness" by Tzvi Freeman. The subject is design of software
for children, but it has important implications for the kinds of programs
that we use.

Freeman points out that "inappropriateness is a vital element" in how very
young children learn about the world. "Basically, what it means is that a
child can pick up any object and try anything with it. Mud can be a cake. A
block of wood can be a doll. Underpants can be a hat. This is life and its
discoveries in a pristine state." What makes it our special concern as
adults is the fact that "no matter what stage of life, its always been that
talent for inaptness that's separated the maverick genius from the
run-of-the-mill.... Only a smattering of individuals manage to escape [the
loss of this ability], preserving their sense of inappropriateness into
adulthood. I don't know how fortunate it is for those individuals -- or for
the people who have to live with them" Freeman writes, "but for humanity,
the dividends are bountiful."

Unfortunately, Freeman observes, "Software just doesn't lend itself to this
sort of thing. Programmers don't like users who just muck about. We like to
design controlled environments, where the user becomes just another fairly
predictable object. When you stop to think about it, little kids are a real
pain for all of us in this industry.... What we need is not nice software
for good kids. We need great software for rotten brats. We need stuff where
kids can discover that by doing the completely unexpected and most
inappropriate, you can get real nifty things to happen. We need software
where the best solution to a problem is the craziest one.

"After all, isn't that just what good ol' Albert did when he decided that
everything is relative except for the speed of light, that mass and energy
are really the same thing, and time is just another dimension? Sounds pretty
crazy to me. No wonder he did so lousy in school. He'd do even worse on
Reader Rabbit."

Anyone care to make an inappropriate comment?