Wednesday, March 02, 2005


heroes I don't get

Jef Raskin's death has received amazing attention -- a link on Google's homepage, frontpage treatment of the Guardian. For me, Raskin is like Gregory Bateson or Buckminster Fuller: someone many other people idolize, other people I respect, but someone who's significance and practical application escapes me entirely.

I read The Humane Interface when it first appeared 5 years ago. I recall thinking, here is yet someone else claiming to have invented the Apple Mac interface. At least he had no competition with the Canon Cat. His message was so old school HCI: all about modes of operation. At a discussion last year on the future of interfaces at AIGA London, speakers said Raskin's newest ideas were curious but irrelevant.

One thing I agreed with Raskin about: we both like the design of the Sony 2010 shortwave radio.

I guess I'm not surprised, but I've never understood the glowing love and unyielding respect that Jef has always received. Here in Silicon Valley he's been part of the UI community, speaking at local BayCHI events, or participating in online discussions which of course needn't be local but in this case were).

When I saw him speak, I was greatly disappointed and even frustrated and angered. The tone was how his way was the best way; there was still residual bitterness over his departure from the Mac team. In recent times the email discussion groups horrified me. He was rude, closed-minded, pointing to his own wide range of experience as often as possible when it wasn't really germane. He acted like an egotistical bully.

When I commented about this to someone in the local UI world, they had a similar impression, but without any of the negative reactions - they felt he had earned the right to carry on however he wanted to. I guess I just didn't see that.

So many of the tributes have been glowing about his work and loving about the man. Although I acknowledge and admire his place in history, I felt very negatively about the way he acted and treated others and always had questions about the value of what he was putting out there today, especially when filtered through the persona.

And I may be transgressing mightily here, speaking ill of someone who has passed, especially when the feelings are running so very high in the other direction. I'll defend pre-emptively by saying this was my experience with Jef and my feelings about it; I'm not denying anyone else their own admiration or sense of loss.

Jef was a powerful symbol; he was a part of Silicon Valley history that we could all touch and interact with, he represented the ideals of good interaction design and in that way no doubt held meaning for all of us.

And he was a guy that had family and friends and obvious impact in his community (Pacifica, my neighboring town, has clearly been proud of him for a long time; that much was very obvious once I moved to the SF Bay Area coast), and naturally his death is sad.
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