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Tools vs Toys vs Crutches

From Usable vs. Useful and Re: "Usability in One Easy Step"
we can extract the following definitions.


An object or system that helps the user meet their expectations.


An object or system that is lacking in usefulness or useability (in the case of a sadistic toy).


An object or system that helps the user create expectations *in excess* of what they expected being able to do.


Now, some people will try to argue around to blur the distinction between a tool and a crutch. But the distinction is out there, in reality.

A tool is something that people love to use. A crutch is something people resent using, something they learn to despise as a symbol of their infirmity.

It doesn't even matter whether are or are not infirm. Paraplegics are infirm and they need wheelchairs. That doesn't prevent the newly paraplegic from resenting having to use a wheelchair and learning to despise it as a symbol.

And it applies to software as well. Even if, for the sake of argument, most users are so mentally deficient that they need an "animated assistant" (eg, the Paperclip), they will resent the need to use it and they will learn to despise it as a symbol of their infirmity.

Note also that this distinction is upheld by the PGA. Golfers are allowed to use crutches, but they're not allowed to use tools (such as electric scooters) that would give them capabilities beyond those of the unaided.
Richard Send private email
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
I agree that the distinction between a crutch and a tool is largely psychological. However, I do not think the criteria of "resent" verses "appreciate" adequately covers all of the possibilities.

For example, addictions would be classified as tools in this regard; consider cups of coffee. It's a tool in the sense that it makes people feel more energetic than they would (plus, they enjoy drinking it). It's a crutch in the sense that it's an artificial stimulant and some people believe that they just can't function without it. The flaw is that these definitions rely upon people's subjective expectations. I'm content to be productive 8 hours a day. The guy next door to me wants to be productive 10 hours a day. What I consider a crutch, he would consider a tool.

Richard mentioned the PGA. I think he was thinking of Casey Martin who asked if he could travel the course in a golf cart because he suffers from a birth defect resulting in a bad leg. (Ultimately he prevailed.) If this is indeed the example Richard was thinking of - Martin had to sue for that... crutch because many of his fellow golfers and the PGA considered it a tool. Their thinking was that being able to walk the course was integral to the game.

I would say a crutch is a tool (or rather a subset of tools) that you use because you are not able to, or do not want to execute better options. Coffee would be considered a tool and a crutch because you're relying upon it instead of a good night's sleep.
Wednesday, March 08, 2006
>That doesn't prevent the newly paraplegic from resenting having to use a wheelchair and learning to despise it as a symbol.

Whoa, baby!!!

Do you have a story to share?  What about the guy working to provide wheelchairs to poor people who makes the seat out of white plastic lawn chairs?  (Aiming to hit a $40 cost)  Seems his clients are pretty happy to get them...  (Help me out here, Wired mag a few issues ago?)  John Hockenberry has written about the stand-up wheelchair by the Segway guy, too--it's not resentment.

Am. Heritage says, "Anything depended on for support."  It's our current fixation on self-reliance that makes this derogatory, but it's not intrinsically there in the definition.
Ideophoric Send private email
Thursday, March 09, 2006

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