RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?

Subject: RE: Have We Entered a Post-Literate Technological Age?
From: Chris Despopoulos <despopoulos_chriss -at- yahoo -dot- com>
To: techwr-l -at- lists -dot- techwr-l -dot- com
Date: Fri, 21 Aug 2009 07:45:40 -0700 (PDT)

A few points...

If you stopped the same people in Times Square and asked them what make of taxi they last rode in, you'd get similar answers. What MPG rating did it have? Is it an automatic? (probably can answer that one because American taxis are always automatic.) What was the material for the upholstery? How much luggage space does it have? Who cares?

I agree, the car/computer analogy doesn't work. More like engine/computer. There are many different types of engines (electric, steam, internal combustion -- different ratings, etc.), and there are many different types of computers (pc, wrist watch, video game, kindle, etc.). A car is an elaborate system that incorporates an engine. So is a hot-air popcorn popper (well, not so elaborate -- also I admit to conflating engine and motor). The car is analogous to software, not the computer. People who only ride in taxis don't know too much about cars. People who spend hours in the garage polishing the valve covers, waxing the finish, treating the leather seats, adjusting the suspension... they probably know more. So what?

This story illustrates the ubiquity of browsing and email. People who do more with their computers have deeper understanding. Probably a more telling story would focus on people's hard drives. Have you de-fragged lately? (Have *you*?) Do you have a reasonable system for organizing your files? Or do you just let them all land in the MyStuff directory, and use Google to find them when you need them?

But the ubiquity of the technology leads to something I really want to discuss... Is it finally time to kill task-oriented docs and get down to explaining what the various GUI fields actually *mean*? Who needs to be told to click OK when done -- isn't that just a waste of syllables? When documenting a screen/page/report, why not just say, "This page accomplishes X" and then describe the meaning of each field? If there's a work flow or "task" to be described, it's probably along the lines of opening a series of pages in a specific order. Isn't it time to change our assumptions about how to document software?

In other words, has the *information* presented by the GUI finally crossed a threshold of abstraction? Are we taking advantage of that leap?

Finally, I'm surprised that nobody mentioned the most important point of the article... Google Wave looks really hot. It could very well change the way we do our jobs.



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