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Introduction

Introduction

Run for your lives—the computers are invading. Awesomely powerful computers tackling ever more important tasks with awkward, old-fashioned interfaces. As these machines leak into every corner of our lives, they will annoy us, infuriate us, and even kill a few of us. In turn, we will be tempted to kill our computers, but we won't dare because we are already utterly, irreversibly dependent on these hopeful monsters that make modern life possible.

Fortunately, we have another option. We need to fundamentally rethink how humans and machines interact. And rethink the relationship in deep and novel ways, for the fault for our burgeoning problems lies not with our machines, but with us. Humans designed the interfaces we hate; humans continue to use dysfunctional machines even as the awkward interfaces strain their eyes, ache their backs, and ruin their wrist tendons. We all are, as the title of this book suggests, the inmates running the techno-asylum of our own creation.

This book is a guide to our escape. Or rather, Alan Cooper reveals that the door to the asylum lies wide open. We are free to leave any time we want, but mad as we have all become, we never noticed until now. The secret lies in redefining the way we interact with our computers in a larger context.

Alan Cooper is not merely a fellow inmate; he is also a heretic whose ideas will likely infuriate those who would want to keep us locked up. These are the engineers who built the systems we hate and who still believe the way out of this mess is to build better interfaces. But the very notion of interface is itself an artifact of an age when computers were scarce and puny, and barely able to interact with their human masters. Interface made sense when the entire interaction took place across the glass-thin no-man land of a computer screen. Now it is an utterly dangerous notion in a world where computers are slipping into every corner of our lives. Computers no longer interface with humans—they interact, and the interaction will become steadily deeper, more subtle, and more crucial to our collective sanity and ultimate survival.

Alan Cooper understands the shift from interface to interaction better than anyone I know. His ideas come from years of experience in helping design products that slip elegantly and unobtrusively into our lives. He has walked his talk for years, and now he has finally found the time to turn his practice into a lucid description of the challenge we face, and a methodology for escaping the asylum we have so lovingly built. Read on and you will find your freedom.

Paul Saffo
Director
Institute for the Future

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