User-advocates adn engineers

Subject: User-advocates adn engineers
From: Daniel John Brinegar <6545 -at- EF -dot- GC -dot- MARICOPA -dot- EDU>
Date: Mon, 3 May 1993 13:10:46 -0700

Saturday, Norm wrote me in e-mail.... (This message has been revised
to the list with his permission, thanks Norm!)
(I think the topic of my e-mail to him was "User-advocacy" and my plans to
infiltrate a workshop on educational technology this month.... it
appears I'll be the only t/c there.... Believe it or don't, I got invited
by a freshman English instructor!
Topic of the workshop is: "We have all the tools in place, what do we do
with them?"

Author :na-bor <NPARRY -at- CENTER -dot- COLGATE -dot- EDU> To (*) : Daniel John Brinegar
Written : 05/01/93.07:00am


It occurs to me that the perspectives of librarians are coming of age.
Sterotyped for years as retentive rather than expansive, librarians can, if
they chose, play an important role in the future of information

Librarians are experienced reevers, sifters of information. The functions
of selection, organization and control are second nature to them. What
we need now is not more information but better access and sorting.

Librarians know how users behave, how they go about the business of
obtaining information, and therefore should play a major role in defining
the focus of future system design, particularly at the user
interface level. We have the computer scientists and system engineers
to thank for the first three or four levels of the ISO/OSI model, and it is
no real criticism of them that they are not expert in the behavior of
human information seekers.

It is understandable, but not to be tolerated, that those who have built
the mechanical parts of the machine feel threatented by the users. It's
the James Bond thing, where the tech guy designs these
neat gadets for Bond to use, and he
immediately goes out and destroys them in the field.

"Oh, do be careful with the new car, James, I poured my blood and soul
into building it."

Bond, of course, is not interested in technology; he's interested in saving
his butt, Which is exactly what students want of the library when they
come in two days before the 20 page paper is due. They don't give a
rat's how nifty the system is. They want to get the paper done.

Like most users, they're in a hurry. They don't have time to stop and
smell the operating system.

System design and construction is hard work, but it is comparitively
clean work. System use is hard, dirty work, involving people, who do not
have a clearly defined set of specifications.

There's another sense of the word "fuzzy" here, in the difference
between the "warm and fuzzy" sciences, and the hard sciences. If, as
we see in the recent discussion on techwr-l, if there is
a gulf between the writers and the engineers, it is that they are working
with very different definitions of success. The engineers' definition is
relatively clear-cut. Does it do what it was designed to do? The tech-
writer's definition of success must involve that messy and fuzzy people

If we see the engineers as intolerant and unwilling to cooperate with the
human interface people, perhaps we are seeing them (wisely, for their
peace of mind) avoiding getting involved with the messy end of the

The argument that science is more rigorous, and more demanding than
the humanities and social sciences, a widely held view, is false. There
is nothing more demanding than the job of trying to figure out the
behavior of human beings, the most complex systems we know of.
Compared to social science, psychology and biology, rocket science is a
game of checkers.

There is no cause for the tech-writer or psychologist to feel inferior to the
electrical engineer. It is, by comparison, easy to build a locomotive.
The hard thing is to get the trains to run on time.

Best regards,

| Research Droid Glendale Community College |
| 6545 -at- ef -dot- gc -dot- maricopa -dot- edu Electronic Forum, Glendale, AZ |
| *Student Member, Society for Technical Communications |

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