Friday, February 27, 2009

Why We Hack: All is Still Not Right with the World

Checkout at the local supermarket. The food conveyor belt is one that works automatically but stops when an object is detected by the little eye at the end of it. A marvel in engineering?

Apparently not, since the cashier, like all cashiers everywhere I guess, uses the top remainders after a pack of plastic shopping bags is torn off as a manual stop control for the belt. When he wants it to move, he slides the plastic wedge to the side. When he wants it to stop, he slides it forward.

When he takes your credit card, if it doesn't work, he wraps a small piece of receipt paper around the card and slides it through the machine again. It works. "Use some tape on the magnetic stripe to clean it off," he then tells the customer.

After I finish with my groceries, I go outside and unleash my dog from the shopping cart guard rails. To do this, I have to unhook the dog, take off the chain which I wrapped around and then threaded through the ring above the clasp, and re-hook the dog.

We hack because we must hack. Because all is not right with the design of our everyday things. Sometimes this is on purpose: a manufacturer thinks they know better than us, or a corporate policy has been substantiated into a physical barrier that is supposed to prevent us from doing things "the wrong way". Sometimes it's just by accident: the item was cheap, not available, we haven't figured it out yet, haven't got enough market for it, or haven't noticed that everyone else is struggling with the same nonsense that we are. Or maybe we just like hacking.

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