That’s how I scroll

Muscle memory is an odd term. Unlike our real muscles which need to be exercised regularly if we are to build them up, muscle memory is gained through the repetitive motion of minimal effort.

We computer slaves lazily build up our muscle memory, getting our minds ripped without even noticing, building up muscles on top of muscles, muscles in places where most users don’t even have places… Keyboard shortcuts, gestures on trackpads and even physically opening the lid of your laptop. We have no need of steroids and maxi-muscle whey supplements, mere time is the catalyst to getting our minds buffed.

I realised today that I could open the lid of my Macbook Air, enter my username and password, then quickly jump into Mission Control in almost a single motion, and without any conscious effort. I don’t need to think about how much pressure to use with the lid in order to open it without lifting the base off the desk at the same time, or look at the keys to see what I am typing, or think about how many fingers I am using to make the appropriate gesture etc. It just happens. I’ve spent enough time with my computer to build up the muscle memory to impressive proportions.

This sounds like a good thing, experience and time alone help to speed up the everyday things we do, meaning we expend less effort, both physically and mentally, which presumably frees you up to expend that elsewhere, on the new stuff, on the things that you actually need to concentrate on in order to do them. But, like all good things there is a downside, one that allows the 6 stone weakling users who still have to methodically and consciously direct their thoughts at normal thinking speed to kick sand in the faces of us, we the Charles Atlases of computing, and that is this: Unlike real muscle, failing to use muscle memory does not make it less effective over time.

But surely this is a good thing? It can be, if your usage for those muscles never changes, but when it does, when you need to learn something different, rather than something new, it causes mayhem with our suddenly puny minds.

I first noticed this when switching to use Firefox on my work laptop. Having shunned I.E. for anything that wasn’t work related I had used Opera for many years. It did the job, and I never had an issue with it. At home, I would use Safari on my Mac, and likewise be happy enough. Then, for whatever reason, I had to swap Opera out for Firefox, and a battle has begun with my own mind that I am in no way close to ever winning.

You see, in both Opera and Safari, when right clicking on a link within a webpage the first option would be ‘Open in new Window’, followed by ‘Open in New Tab’. I couldn’t tell you which order they were in until I checked a few seconds ago, but get me surfing around and throwing a few links into background tabs and I just do it, I know what to press, I never read the words on the context sensitive menu that pops up immediately after right clicking, I just do what I have learned to do after years of repetitive motion. Enter Firefox. The menu items are the other way around.

Now, I know they are the other way around, I know approximately a tenth of a second after I finish clicking that I have just done it wrong, but in no way can I stop myself from opening those links in windows instead of tabs. I cannot do it. The actions takes place, the realisation that I have just done it wrong AGAIN occurs, and I immediately close the new window that has arrived to mock me and do it again, this time reading the menu. It drives me mad. I have been using Firefox for almost 3 months now, and I am not sure I will ever manage to train myself out of this ridiculous dance. I think it’s because it’s not so much a change, but a deviance from the norm. If Safari changed to match, I would probably get it in the end.

Which brings me to Mac OS X 10.7. The roar of the mighty lion is insignificant to that heard when I scroll backwards in a document by accident. However, this time I have a fix. Like the relative order of the menu items across my browser software, the problem isn’t so much one of change, but one of deviance from the memory. Whilst my work PC scrolls one way, and my Mac now scrolls the other I seem doomed to frustration. The simple fix is to switch off the so called ‘natural’ scrolling on the Mac. A more complex fix might be to do the opposite, and hack Windows to swap the direction.

But I had a better idea. One that would leave me free to leave them both different, but still retain that muscle memory in such a way that would allow me to use both systems frustration free.

I binned my mouse.

That is to say, I took my mouse to work, replaced the slightly erratic and elderly work supplied one with it, and refuse to use one any more at home. on Windows, I scroll with a mouse. On my Mac I have graduated solely to a trackpad, both on the Macbook and with an external Magic Trackpad for the iMac. It’s genius. My iPhone has trained me to touch scroll that way without ever even realising it was different to using the scroll wheel on a mouse. I never get it wrong, on either machine.

And that, is how I scroll.