09 March 2016

The Backwards Brain Bicycle

I can remember when "intuitive" was an adjective used to describe someone who seemed to understand what other people felt--or just things in general--without conscious reasoning.  Perhaps you have a mother, friend, partner, spouse or someone else in your life who "gets" you in that way.  Or, perhaps, you can sense situations before they happen, as police officers who have spent a lot of time on the streets often can.

Somewhere along the way--in the '80's or '90's, I reckon--it became a marketing buzzword for "any idiot can use it."  Like most marketing buzzwords, it is misleading if not downright deceptive.  The "intuitive" product or system might have made perfect sense to whoever designed it, but that doesn't always mean it will make sense to someone who doesn't have a PhD.  (I have an M.F.A.)

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, let me tell you about most product designers (and software developers, and IT people):  They are different from you and me.  I have come to the conclusion that they are more interested in the complexity (or mere complicatedness) or efficiency of the machines or systems they create than in how readily people can use them.  At least, I feel that way every time I try to use a current phone to, um, make or answer a call or a camera to, how can I explain this?, take a picture.

Maybe what they're trying to do is to get rubes like me to "think out of the box".  You know, to forget everything we've ever learned, no matter how empirically-based it may be, and follow the "logic" of whatever they've designed.  Perhaps the inventor of the QWERTY keyboard had that in mind.  I guess I should be thankful to that person, and to anyone who's ever created a system in which I have to enter my students' grades under "HR/Campus Solutions" rather than under anything having to do with students, courses, grades or students' records.

At least the folks who came up with the Backwards Brain Bicycle were joking--I think:

Turn your bars right to steer left.  And vice versa.  Going left to go right, and going right to go left.  Hmm...That sounds like the "reasoning" behind those people who say they would vote for Donald Trump (or any other Republican nominee) if the Democrats don't nominate Bernie Sanders as their presidential candidate.  As for how such logic works in bicycle steering systems--well, all you have to do is look at the video!


  1. Yes, you are right! I hadn't really realized it. The word "intuitive" has shifted in meaning, right from under us. Seems to me however that the word "intuition" has not shifted along with it. However non-PC the expression might be, I am sure everybody would understand "woman's intuition". "Intuitive woman" exists in a strange sort of limbo these days and has almost lost any meaning. Strange.

    Sort of like the saga of "sophisicated", which shifted in meaning from "overblown, false" to "complex and efficient, high techy" sometime in the early 50's, it seems to me. "Sophisticate" remains, but in the same sort of limbo.


  2. Leo--Maybe I'm traveling in the wrong circles, but I haven't heard anyone refer to anyone else as a "sophisticate" in a long time. I'm not even sure that term is used in "New Yorker" magazine articles.

    As for women's intuition: I know, people think it's un-PC to say. But lots of women say it among themselves. I am one.

    1. What a golden opportunity for an off-topic comment!!!

      I run across the word "sophisticate" on-line sometimes. There are several firms and advertisers that use the term, mostly in the fashion industry. There are several lines of "kinky" lingerie that are self-styled as for the sophisticate. There is one men's fashion house that uses it. Their products are sort of retro, very expensive. It is a double layered nostalgia, nostalgia not for the 30's, but for the 30's nostalgia of the 80's (!). There is also a travel agency (who "curate" trips) for the global sophisticate. I cannot come up with a consistent definition of the word that fits all the uses these people put the word to.

      I looked up the word in several on-line dictionaries. Again there doesn't seem to be any solid consistency. Some say it means "to alter deciptively "(the verb form), or "to make less innocent". But I also find "experienced", "to make more complex and refined" and, to complete the circle "to become more sophisticated", with the nominative form meaning "one who is sophisticated".

      I suspect that nobody really knows what this word means because nobody uses it any more and it has accreted layers of influences from the fact that "sophisticated" has shifted in meaning. It is a word that is on it's way out of the language.

      Actually, I cannot recall EVER having heard the word in ordinary conversation.