Complications When Out Of Context

It was this time in the transatlantic flight: I finished most of the food on the tray, breaking my promise to myself to avoid airline food... The little piece of cheese I actually hate, smiled at me from under the organized mess of plastic containers, carefully refolded napkins (to save space, don't you know...) and food leftovers. The temptation was hard to resist, the promising red glow of Cellophane under which hiding a soft yellow cheese I hoped to like this time!

In front of me set an older genteman whoes face I could not see, and I noriced, through the tiny space between the seats, that he was intensely reviewing his sophisticated looking soft cheese token.

I instantly lost interest in my cheese and focused on him and his cheese, trying to predict next steps. Clearly, I thought, this person does not fly often. Perhaps even, this is his first flight! So to him, everything is new, sophisticated looking and even frightening.

After a little while the man unwrapped the cellophane, but little did he know how complicated life can be: He was now turning between his fingers a round red piece of something. He turned it left, and right, up and down for a few long seconds.

Finally he just took a bit into the wax and immediately put the thing on his tray. I could not see his expression.

OK - So he did not figure out that in odrer to get to the cheese, one is supposed to pull on a string that's embedded in the layer of red wax, peel the wax and undress the hidden treasure - the soft yellow cheese. It is a bit of culinary striptease at 40K high in the sky, and I can not get this instance out of my mind, especially when thinking about interaction models and task design...

User's possible thought process:

  1. What is this food? He assumes it IS food: was part of the meal, no ?!

  2. Ask a fellow traveler? - perhaps too embarrassed, shy or mute.

  3. Experiment! -- try out -- how bad can it be?! The risk is low.
Perhaps, complex, unfamiliar settings (being on an airplane for the first time + contact with unfamiliar food item) ignite some instinctive over-thinking that tends to lead to unexpected results. This is different then regular exploration, where the user IS in a mode of expecting the unexpected.Or, perhaps the person actually liked eating his cheese with the wax, but upon taking the first bite, decided to stick with his promise not to eat airline food...

Ezra SchwartzComment