In addition to eucalyptus leaves, rice is also a staple for me. Today I gained a new understanding about a feature on my rice cooker that also shed some light on how my own brain thinks and how new technology can be non-intuitive for existing users.

The feature in question is the timer. While this feature is not new (I’ve used it many times before), I learned today that I’ve been using it incorrectly.

Here’s how I (incorrectly) operated the timer: I set a time, press start, and expect the rice to start cooking at the set time. I know how long the rice cooker roughly needs to cook the amount of rice that I need, so this mode of operation seemed intuitive to me.

What the timer feature actually does is that it finishes cooking the rice at the time you specify. This makes a ton of sense because that is what the user cares about and you wouldn’t expect the user to know how long the cooking takes, especially for different amounts of rice.

The more interesting question is why I was operating the rice cooker in the way I did. My hypothesis is that growing up my family had a rice cooker without a timer, so I perceived all rice cookers as needing an explicit start signal. In this sense, I’m part of the “old generation” of rice cooker users, unaccustomed to the new features of modern rice cookers.

I think this lesson generalizes to technology in general - when improving an existing product, legacy users can be confused by some of the new features, even if those features have been designed with usability in mind.