Frank Chimero has written up and posted a version of a talk he recently gave, called "What Screens Want."
His talk was (ostensibly?) aimed at web developers, but there's no way you need to fit into that slot to follow it, or to love it.
Just for example, how's this for empathy, for every plain ol' computer user out there?
Computers, after all, are just shaky towers of nested abstractions: from the code that tells them what to do, to the interfaces that suggest to the user what’s possible to do with them. Each level of abstraction becomes an opportunity to make work more efficient, communicate more clearly, and assist understanding. Of course, abstractions also become chances to complicate what was clear, slow down what was fast, and fuck up what was perfectly fine.
So what is the answer? I found this quote by Ted Nelson, the man who invented hypertext. He’s one of the original rebel technologists, so he has a lot of things to say about our current situation. Nelson:
The world is not yet finished, but everyone is behaving as if everything was known. This is not true. In fact, the computer world as we know it is based upon one tradition that has been waddling along for the last fifty years, growing in size and ungainliness, and is essentially defining the way we do everything. My view is that today’s computer world is based on techie misunderstandings of human thought and human life. And the imposition of inappropriate structures throughout the computer is the imposition of inappropriate structures on the things we want to do in the human world.
Emphasis mine. [...]
Also, to illustrate some of what he's saying, Frank has clips from James Burke's Connections, Eadweard Muybridge's work with horses, and The West Wing. Featuring CJ. I mean, the shared nerd porn interests alone ought to do it, don't you think?
[Added] Of course the first blockquote above reminded me of one of the classics from the mesozoic (when we had just evolved from hamsters running along wires strung between tin cans, and thence onto typewriter keyboards, and were suddenly able to sign up for Automatically Delivered Email Newsletters), Joel Spolsky's
post "article," The Law of Leaky Abstractions. Joel does eventually get into specific programming examples, but don't let those throw you, if you're not a programmer. The opening, the general ideas, and most importantly, the view of what today's programmers face when trying to relate to non-programmers are well worth your time, especially if you liked Frank Chimero's piece. Even if the words are more than *gasp* ten years old.