Why things the way they are? Are they supposed to be that way?
Our behaviour depends on our knowledge. Knowledge includes conceptual models; cultural, semantic, and logical constraints on behavior; and analogies between the current situation and previous experiences with other situations.
That knowledge and experience that we gather from our family, society and different situations, help us form scripts. So when we face a similar situation, we will use that script and resolve this situation much faster.
No invention came from nowhere, it’s a long process that should explain to us our behaviour. People change technology and technology changes peoples.
The original “tools” for counting were hands, logically since hands have their limitations, items like pebbles, sea shells and twigs were used for counting. We can imagine how hard it should be counting with rocks. That will take out a lot of time and space.
So The Salamis Tablet was invented(around 300 B.C.). It brought structure, saved time and space.
It is counting board with a grouping that helped use one pebble but mean 5, 10, 20, etc. The Salamis Tablet used the previous experience of using pebbles to count while making this experience more efficient.
Based on that invention abacuses were made. Again using same old experience with pebbles. Comparing to the Salamis tablet, it was more portable.
People at that time could relate to that experience and quickly identify how they should use an abacus.
Around 12th-century numerical system starts to gain popularity. That was influencing all future inventions.
Until the 20th century, most of the invented machines were large and weighed a lot. They didn’t have much in common with previous experience people had with counting. To learn how to count with that machines would involve some training. With available technology, it was hard to mimic the real-world experience of counting. These machines were used primarily by scientists.
Even if it seems that there is nothing in common between this inventions and calculator that we have now, they still are there. You can see that they all have some kind of keyboard and “screen” where we can see input and output. So in their logic, they not so far away from what we have now.
The slide rule, for example, had other logic behind interaction. To make calculations you needed to slide parts of the rule accordingly. The original idea dates back to 1878 invention by George Fuller. Later, based on that idea, different kinds of slide rules were created and that tool became popular in the 20th century.
A lot of this inventions didn’t use symbols like Plus(+) and minus(-). This symbols appeared around the 16th century and wasn’t commonly used.
In the 1940’s, 1950’s and early 1960’s calculators mainly complicated motor-assisted mechanical adding machines.
It seems like an inspiration for this type of calculator was drown from typewriters.
In 1961 first electronic calculator was introduced.
Then in 1970’s era of hand-held calculator began.
Sharp QT-8D (seen on the left) had an unusual and difficult way of multiplying and dividing. To do so, you will need to press [×÷] button then at the end [+=] to multiply or [−=] to divide. It’s not a natural way of performing these operations. But what I like here is a clear separation between numbers and operations.
Canon Pocketronic (seen on the right) had moder placement of buttons, from most commonly used = and +, to less common ÷. This button placement we see through most of the current calculators.
Every invention has a long history behind it. This history combines technology, culture, semantic and constraints. If other technologies were available, if we’ve used different symbols for numbers or arithmetical operations, If we revert all this process and start again from scratch will we get the same result?