Community Comment On The Way We Interact With Technology

09-24-2013 04:34 PM

In Podcast 82 in our discussion on control surfaces following the Avid S6 launch, Mike talked about changing workflows. Community member Julian Rodgers got in touch and we thought it would be better to publish his thoughts in full so we can continue the discussion on this hot topic. Julian says….
Mike’s comment in Podcast 82 about the new generation of people for whom interacting with software through a touchscreen is natural and the idea of using hardware knobs and faders is foreign. It’s an uncomfortable thought but I think Mike is right that large format hardware control surfaces are tools principally made for people who started out using tape and mixers. Some of those people are now the people who hold senior positions in the companies which perceive a demand for such devices. I’m sure they spend the appropriate amount of time and energy making sure they gather the views of a suitable cross-section of their customers and prospective customers, but people being people I’m sure they will tend to gather with their peers and 40+ year old established professionals are going to perceive the world in a different way to a 20 yr old fresh out of college. I teach those people and I am only too aware of this. It is easy for me to tell myself that these people will “grow out of it” and their half-formed opinions will eventually concur with my own, but at the same time I know only too well that the world they will have careers in will be significantly different to today. Face it, you’re halfway to being a dinosaur, stick in the mud, call it what you will.
I often despair when I see a student moving a fader on screen with a trackball while the “real” (at least to me) fader on the D Control moves next to them. Maybe this is the perfect illustration of the fact that while hardware control is important to the people who grew up in a hardware world, to a whole generation of digital natives they just don’t see what the fuss is about.
I have seen students go to extraordinary lengths trying to solve in software, problems which could be solved in hardware in a moment. I recall a recent discussion on the podcast about running audio from two applications, the solution to which was to run an optical out from the built in output on the mac in question into an interface and mixing the outputs there.
This is a very familiar scenario to me: How it often does not occur to younger people that there might be a solution to software issues anywhere other than in software? I am put in mind of an old Digidesign video I have on VHS somewhere. (Probably PT5, Black face 888s, someone with a pony tail in front of a 21” CRT). In it the software is constantly being compared to tape, there are frequent references to a lack of rewind time as a “feature”. It all seems comically old fashioned now but is completely understandable and appropriate for the time. Is that where we are now working in a hardware control paradigm? I sincerely hope not as I like faders. The old criticism of only one control at a time with a mouse doesn’t really apply to multitouch touch screens. While I don’t want to see a day when mixing on faders is as rare as recording to tape I can see that day eventually being here.
I recently had an interesting experience which illustrates just this. I grew up using mixers and I have always shared the commonly held belief that it helps to have experience of a hardware mixer to understand all the audio software which borrows the basic design of a mixer in some way. I was teaching live sound to a group of students. I have always taught signal flow using a large format analogue desk. When introducing digital mixers I would typically set up the digital mixer next to the analogue mixer and demonstrate the features by referring back to their equivalent on the analogue board. At the end of this session one of the students thanked me for the session, explaining that seeing things explained on the digital mixer really helped him understand “that confusing analogue board”. Proof to me that we see the world in different ways if ever I needed it.
Far be it from me to suggest that anyone younger than me is an iPad-toting, feckless ,manual-dodger and all us grown-ups sit around with our fingers in our ears as a default response to anything made after 1975 - I’m only 42 and some of my students are so old-school I feel like I’m trying to drag them into the 21st century but Mike’s comments had an all too familiar ring of truth to them and I thought I would share my thoughts.
When Russ researched what key industry practitioners thought of the Avid S6, several said they were planning to go for the Slate Raven MTi. I have to say, that having seen the recent videos from Steven Slate, I am very taken with it. But what do you think?