Abstraction plays a significant part in virtually every aspect of our lives, but
especially so in the world of computer programming. Its implementation focuses on exposing oneself
(or within the systems that govern oneself's body or mind) or others (users, customers, etc.) to what
is necessary to complete a particular process or task while hiding the other underlying complexities.
For example, when I push the brake pedal in my car, I know (hopefully) that the vehicle will begin to slow down and eventually stop if needed. However, the intricate series of mechanical events that go on while pushing down on the brake pedal is abstracted away from me, the vehicle's driver.
Of course, many drivers know the complexities involved with this system from start to finish. The point is that with abstraction, one does not have to understand the procedural complexities for the braking process to happen.
Abstraction, as far as I know, makes life possible, especially for us human beings. Otherwise, the enormous amount of required learning would crush us! That said, abstraction allows me to be strategic with the time I spend learning about the complexities that make up my areas of interest, such as the career field I'm in (executive assistant), exercising, and computers. For that, I am very grateful.
I think this notion of abstraction, especially the skillful and strategic implementation in modern operating systems and applications, plays a central role in this fascinating article by Monica Chin for The Verge. The piece explores a thought-provoking trend that's been showing up in Professor Catherine Garland's astrophysics classroom over the past couple of years, where more and more of her students, when asked, could not identify where saved files were on their computers. In some cases, her students couldn't even understand the question.
While this may startle some readers, it doesn't surprise me one bit. After all, reading from, writing to, and accessing files on modern operating systems has been abstracted to the max. It was a different story in previous decades. Nowadays, users, or students, in this case, choose whether or not to learn about the underlying complexities instead of simply interacting with interfaces.
While this trend might not be in societies best interest, I don't think this is cause for grave concern, nor do I think social media (Instagram, Facebook, TikTok, etc.) is to blame. If anything, it's a representation of how advanced we are at implementing the concept of abstraction, and I don't think it's going to change anytime soon. However, if a change were needed, I'd say we'd have to reevaluate the notion and prioritization of a frictionless user experiences within systems development.
What do you think?
Until next time,