My Computer is a Microsoft Pentium
I am an Electric Monk. I can hold conflicting beliefs in my head without falling over. Today, the conflicting thoughts I've been holding in my head have been:
What is it with people who don't take the time to learn how to use a computer? It's not as if it's terribly hard. Seriously. Hit the big Start button. No, the Start button. It's big. It's green. It's in the bottom left hand corner of your screen. What do you mean you don't know what the difference is between RAM and HD space? You don't know what processor you've got? No, it's not "Windows".
Computers don't work yet. Don't bother too hard trying to understand what's going on inside them. It's of no consequence. When computers work, you won't need to know. They'll let you do what you want to do.
I side with the latter more than the former. I don't, and shouldn't have to know what processor I have inside my computer any more than I should have to know what IC is inside my phone. I use my phone to call people with. I don't care what operating system my phone uses. It's irrelevant. It helps me to make calls. I don't know what IC is inside my calculator, but it does a whole bunch of stuff. It doesn't not work. It just does it.
The point being: whenever a disrupting technology comes about, when you're an early adopter, whenever this disrupting technology has not yet matured, there is a need to--albeit only a temporary need--to be somewhat knowledgeable about internals. However, that temporary need soon disappears--witness the phone example.
Things I don't need to know about, because they Just Work: televisions, phones, mobile phones (less so, and depending on where on the technology curve the phone is) cars, watches, calculators, dvd players (slightly less than the rest), cd players, walkmen.
I am dependent on all of these things (to the extent that I could be dependent on things like television and walkmen). My mobile phone(s) are an integral part of my life. I organise my social life with them, I organise my work life with them. Everything in between, I organise with them. If my phone broke, I would have to do something about it. Most likely, use the other one, or get it replaced. There is nothing user-serviceable. There should be nothing user-serviceable: the mantra, again, is it Just Works, and if it doesn't work, it's Not My Problem.
Computers don't Just Work. People, though, quite rightly believe that they should. Why hold this belief? Because computers are everywhere. Because we are dependent on them, and because they've started to blend into the environment, the background.
At every other time in history, blending into the background has been an indicator of maturity: mobile phones in Europe and East Asia are ubiquitous and mature, telecoms itself is ubiquitous and even more mature. Microprocessor controlled traffic lights are everywhere and work without fail (because they have to), and the countless cars they shuttle the world over enjoy a far higher reliability rate than computers. "Computing" is nowhere near mature. Computing will be mature when it doesn't break, when it's ubiquitous, when everything is networked and we can honestly believe that it Just Works.
If you have no idea what's going on inside your computer, there's nothing wrong with you. It's to be expected. We've been told that they are tools that will help you, and tools aren't supposed to be quite so unreliable. When every other item of "high technology" manages to work without fail, you can be forgiven for being surprised that someone wants to know what operating system your desktop is using, because you'd be as surprised if someone wanted to know what chipset your DVD player used to decode DVD video (and if your eyes glazed over at "chipset", that's not a problem, either).
41 comments and trackbacks
Speaking as someone who will be out of a job when computers, like microwaves or refrigerators, more oft than not just work, I can say that I'd like for you to be right. Dealing with Users is the most frustrating part of my job.
But then again, if my mom can learn how to use a computer to the point where it's her profession, anyone can. It's not like she's dumb, not the case in the slightest, She's just picked it up. Why? Because she wanted to.
We have to make people want to learn. That is our problem. I work with an organization of 150 people. About 50 of them have made it their business to learn about their machines and what to do with them. About 50 more are inobtrusive users, for basic things, they need no help whatsoever, and for 95% of the time that's what they're doing. Email, Word, Excel, Quark, IE 5.1. Those apps all work pretty well for generic purposes. The problem for us though, is the other 50 users. They don't want to learn to use their machines, they just want them to work.
Posted by: Tom Bridge on November 25, 2002 03:41 PM
I think the thing to remember is that while one hopes that computers WILL someday "Just Work," right now they DON'T, and if you have any hope at all of using one successfully you've got to get off your arse and learn to use it. I don't care if it SHOULD work, it DOESN'T work, but you still have to use it. So learn it. Mofo.
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