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Railing against Lion’s "natural scrolling" is a waste of time

It’s a new Christmakkuh (that’s the mashup of Christmas & Hanukkah; if you add Kwanzaa, it’s Christmakkuhzaa), & there have been oodles of posts over the last couple of days titled along the lines of “Setting up your new Mac” or “First things for the new Mac owner”. I’ve noticed that many of these posts—even from sites I otherwise generally find useful—are giving the same bad advice: how to turn off Lion’s natural scrolling1.

Look, here’s the thing: once Apple decides on a direction, it almost always goes in that direction for good. Sure, there have been the occasional reversals2, but those are rare. So when Apple sets the default in Lion to natural scrolling, you can be assured that natural scrolling is going to be around for a long time going forward. Fighting against it is fighting against the tide3. You’re just wasting your time.

But beyond that, there’s a bigger reason that natural scrolling should be left on: it’s better! Cognitively, it makes sense. Of course you scroll up to push the page up! Now, granted, I’m using a trackpad at home & a Magic TrackPad at work, but even mouse-users will find that natural scrolling feels, well, natural.

It took me about a day to adjust myself, and now I can’t imagine going back. Sitting down to use a friend’s Mac running Snow Leopard or (gasp!) Leopard and trying to scroll just feels wrong. Same thing with Windows, during my weekly gaming sessions. And the day it took me to adjust has been played out with other Mac users I know as well. My wife took a few days, for instance, but now she’s totally down with natural scrolling. My business partners are the same way. Same thing with students in my classes who are using Lion.

Natural scrolling is an easy thing for bloggers to complain about—it’s different, after all—but telling users to turn it off just does a disservice to those very users they’re trying to help. Better instead to encourage weathering the change, which won’t be that long anyway, and adopt the new, better method instead.

But if you think about it (or if you use an iPad or iPhone or iPod Touch), that traditional system makes no sense. If you’re scrolling up you should be pushing the page up, which means you should see content below your current position, and if you’re scrolling down you should be pushing the page down, which means you should see content above your current position. Natural scrolling on the Mac mimics scrolling on Apple’s iDevices: scroll up to push up, & scroll down to push down.

Those are the ones I can think of off the top of my skull. Note that virtually all the switches Apple made were from the wrong thing to the right thing, which is at least a bit reassuring.

  1. “Natural scrolling” basically means that Apple has reversed the scrolling directions we’ve been using since 1984’s original Macintosh. Before, you scrolled up to go up (& see content above your current position) & you scrolled down to go down (& see content below your current position).

  2. I can think of a few:

  3. Yes, obviously you can turn off natural scrolling now, so in that sense Apple has given you an out, but how long do you think that’s going to last? I predict that the ability to turn off natural scrolling will be gone not in the successor to Lion, but in the release after that, in Lion’s grandchild, in other words.

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