Entirely on the suggestion of @modernsusan, I’ve been using Google’s Chrome browser for the last few days as an attempt to streamline the way I interact with the web. Chrome’s compact, blazing fast, now has some interesting extensions, and is almost entirely immune to tab explosions because of the way tabs are handled. It’s an interesting difference from my usual use of Firefox, but I’m noticing I’m having some issues with getting my head around the use of it that have larger scope than just Firefox versus Chrome.
What I saw in Susan’s use of Chrome was a hyper-efficient method I hadn’t seen before.
Watching Susan use the web was almost mystifying, at first because the methodology was so foreign. I thought I had it figured out – but seeing Firefox open with six or seven staple tabs almost entirely as a background process, and then Chrome up with so many tabs all you can see is a Maginot line of favicons… You’d expect navigation paralysis, but it’s not there.
Then I looked at my own browsing habits. For the sake of screen real estate, I use a bunch of Firefox add-ons that shrink the browser’s chrome, as well as a faviconize tab feature, and a permanent tab add-on, which basically leaves me with a half dozen utility tabs hidden at the left edge of my screen (email, reader, Wave, Project Bubble and so on) and then there’s the tabs I actually jump about the web with, as many as needed, which I attempt to keep below about six.
Where’s the disconnect? It’s simple; while I can adopt just about any skill given enough time and exposure, shifting gears between these two methods of browsing is difficult. Firefox is great for accessing whatever you put in front of yourself very quickly, but Chrome is a multitasker’s godsend. It’s not about accessibility with Chrome, it’s about an instant, wide, systematic approach to tasks on the web.
Now that I’ve recognized this, Chrome just became my best friend.
This isn’t because I found a new extension for it, or because it’s a better performing browser; it’s because I’ve switched gears now that I know what the gap was before. If I had a tab up in Firefox, I felt obligated to do something with it. With Chrome, the tabs are just there (I now have twelve and counting) and, now that I know this, I feel a little more comfortable not worrying about tab explosions, monitoring my time on single pages, or any of the other junk that – for reasons I can’t even express – the reductionist usage of Firefox led me to worry over.
But what does this have to do with real life problems?
Like a lot of other people, I get caught up in minutiae when I’m researching a new thing. It’s great that someone showed me a toy, gave me a few features to check out, and did a slick demo. But until you can bridge the gap between how you’re accustomed to doing things, and a practical approach to whatever the new tool is, you’re not going to be able to make full use of its capabilities. Either you’re running into the problem of trying to hammer screws into a wall, or thinking a good screwdriver can pound nails because it’s heavy and blunt.
There are few replacements for seeing a real life use of a skill, or a tool, or a process.
This is why so many attempts to teach people anything fail. We know so thoroughly the things that we know, that unless we’re willing to help prepare people to see what a new thing really is at its core, the demo will just look shiny, and you’re risking dissatisfaction with whatever wisdom it is you’re trying to impart to those you’re trying (and, if a dose of reality is lacking; failing) to teach.