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Chapter 2. Cognitive Friction > Behavior Unconnected to Physical Forces

Behavior Unconnected to Physical Forces

Having just left the industrial age behind, we are standing at the threshold of the information age with an obsolete set of tools. In the industrial age, engineers were able to solve each new problem placed before them. Working in steel and concrete, they made bridges, cars, skyscrapers, and moon rockets that worked well and satisfied their human users. As we tiptoe into the information age, we are working increasingly in software, and we have once again brought our best engineers to the task. But unlike in the past, things haven't turned out so well. The computer boxes are fast and powerful, and the programs are generally reliable, but we have encountered a previously unseen dimension of frustrated, dissatisfied, unhappy, and unproductive users.

Today's engineers are no less capable than ever, so I must deduce from this that, for the first time, they have encountered a problem qualitatively different from any they confronted in the industrial age. Otherwise, their old tools would work as well as they ever did. For lack of a better term, I have labeled this new problem substance cognitive friction. It is the resistance encountered by a human intellect when it engages with a complex system of rules that change as the problem changes. Software interaction is very high in cognitive friction. Interaction with physical devices, however complex, tends to be low in cognitive friction because mechanical devices tend to stay in a narrow range of states comparable to their inputs.


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