Subject: BURRS_&_SPURS
From: na-bor <NPARRY -at- COLGATEU -dot- BITNET>
Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1993 18:57:52 -0400

The current discussion regarding user faults, stupidity, laziness, etc., is
fascinating, and not a little disturbing, considering the obvious technical
competence of the members of this list: fascinating because it is such a
critical issue, disturbing because the one group of professionals we might
expect to take up the cause of the user/newcomer/novice, is calling them the
great techlogically unwashed proles.

They're only people, after all, not discrete and definable sub-routines of our
way of earning a living. There are as many different kinds of people as there
are software
and hardware uses, motives, needs. No system will suit everyone. Not everyone
can use all systems. People have different ways of solving problems. Some
read their way to a solution. Some like to talk their way through. Some like
to learn by trial and error, and so on.

I'm a librarian. I face the same kinds of problems dealing with the
variability and unpredictability of users as the writers of this group
encounter. Because I'm as human as my customers, and as limited, I sometimes
get irritated and frustrated on hearing the same reference question the 25th
time in a day.

But how many "stupid" questions does it take before we begin to suspect the
system/documatation/instructions, and not the users? Let me offer a simple
(and exasperating) example. In the library the public access terminals blank
their screens after a few minutes idle. Pressing the space key repaints the
screen. After responding to maybe a thousand questions, one of us information
technology experts decided a sign on the machine would eliminate the "machine's
broken" reports. So we put a little sign next to the terminal. It said "press
the space bar to activate screen."

I'll make a long story short: that didn't work, so:

We made a bigger sign,
then reworded the sign,
then put the sign on the keyboard,
made a colored sign,
drew a picture on the sign,
and were just about ready to paint the message on the screen, before the system
technician stopped us, and suggested that she could rework the operating system
so that the screen repainted when ANY key was pressed.

How many "stupid" people does it take to teach *us* something about our work?

There's no magic heuristic for this; if there were, expert systems would be
more reality than the vapid-ware they are today.

Alan Turing's universal computing machine is still a distant goal. Until that
goal is reached, and we can no longer tell a machine from a human, we are the
only answer, imperfect as we are. Aren't we?

Norm Parry
npArry -at- colgateu -dot- bitnet

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