Too many keys

Something happens to me about three times a week: I’m composing an email message to someone in Microsoft Outlook and, while happily typing away, I mistakenly hit some combination of keys and send the email out before I’m finished. I think the keys I hit are CONTROL and ENTER, but of course I’m not paying attention at the time, so I can’t say for sure.

I think this points out a deep failure in our current approach to using computers which is that, at any given point in time it’s far more possible to do the wrong (or at least unintended) thing than it is to do the right thing.

While I’m typing in this note, for example, there are innumerable things I could do with my keyboard or mouse that would cause problems: close the program, erase what I’m typing, turn off the computer. For example, one of the most common technical support calls I get from friends and family is the problem of people hitting CONTROL and A (which is the shortcut for Select All in Windows) instead of SHIFT and A. When they do this, and then blindly keep typing, their entire document gets erased. This can happen so easily, and so quickly, that it’s hard not to thing that your computer is broken.

And that’s only one example.

If you think of successful common everyday devices, the really useful ones are those that don’t have this problem. A push-button phone, for example: pick it up, press the buttons. You can mistakenly press the wrong button, but it’s usually pretty obvious that you’re doing that. It’s hard to accidentally call Hong Kong unless you want to, and there’s really not much you can do with a phone by accident that will make it disappear.

I wonder if it’s possible to create a different computing environment, one where it’s easier to do the right thing at any given time than it is to cause havoc.

I’m not sure if such a system would have to be really, really complex, or really, really simple.