Making Technology Visible

I have begun to sour on the “invisible technology” description. Truly invisible technologies include what Don Norman describes as “information appliances,” computer aided cars, refrigerators, and so on that we don’t even realize have become computerized. The approach taken by leading software vendors is anything but invisible. In a race to outdo each other with new features, leading companies such as Microsoft, Apple, and Adobe trumpet the latest features to which everyone must adapt. Each successive version is more complicated than the previous and requires definite attention. So, the desire to make technology invisible seems at odds with the marketing strategies of the companies that provide our software.

I prefer to characterize technology as a bicycle. In an ideal world, you learn how to ride a bicycle so well that the act of riding is driven increasingly by reflex. If one learns to ride a bicycle early enough in life, you may become a bicycle “native,” doing so effortlessly what beginners struggle to master. Yet how often have you nearly crashed on a bicycle because your attention to the road and handlebars began to drift? Bicycles also require regular maintenance and care. You have to check the tires for pressure and the brake cables for wear. Mountain bikes ride better on dirt, racing bikes better on smooth asphalt. The bicycle never becomes invisible. It does become familiar.

I fear that the quest for invisible technology encourages the user to declaim responsibility for making informed choices among available technologies and taking care of their equipment and software. Awareness of security, knowledge of where data is located, proper backup procedure, the pros and cons of different software applications, and prioritizing system stability over features all require the attention of the individual user.


  1. Bob Irving says:

    Great point, Richard. I’ve often said that to teachers that tech should be invisible. But I think the bike analogy is truer. We may be setting ourselves up for failure by promising that technology can become invisible. Maybe it’s just another chapter in our "lifelong learning"…

  2. Jim Heynderickx says:

    But doesn’t it make it more difficult to "blame technology" when we’re in the responsibility loop?


    Jim H

  3. Alex Ragone says:

    I couldn’t agree more. I think this goes to accountability and expectations. At a school, our administrators need to hold faculty as accountabible our faculty holds our students. Thanks for the thoughtful post, Richard.