Me speak no PC

April 12, 2011

This was a new one to me. I was listening to an industry-leading expert talk about upcoming technology, and heard this statement uttered when difficulty was encountered changing file manager settings on the Windows-based computer driving the projector:

“I don’t know what I’m looking at because this is PC stuff.”

Wait. What?!?

The majority of the world’s computer users are on Windows-based PCs, and an expert invited to provide insight and training doesn’t know anything about one? What’s going on?

I’m not a big proponent of the Mac vs. PC sort of battle. Truly, I don’t care that much about which one is “better,” (meaning “better for everyone,” though I do have my opinion on which is now better for newcomers). But it does surprise me when an industry-leading speaker can’t figure out how to use a basic feature of Windows because she spends all her time on a Mac. (No, she didn’t work for Apple.)

Trust me, there are differences between those operating systems, but they shouldn’t be that monumental. So what’s going on? You die-hard Mac users out there, help me out on this one. Would you really be unable to figure out how to move files from one folder to another if you had to use a non-Mac platform?

Don’t get me wrong. File management concepts are something to which I dedicate most of an entire chapter of The Ultimate PC Primer. But I didn’t think Windows Explorer and Mac OS Finder were all that different once the core concepts of file management were understood. So, speaking of core concepts…

Could this be another case of core concepts never understood? (It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve witnessed a speaker baffled by a PC during a presentation.)

My inner Ted Nelson

October 4, 2010

I’ve recently been reading quotes by Theodor Nelson, the early computer technology thinker, and finding some of his thoughts remarkably similar to (and yet others at odds with) my ideas on core concepts, interfaces, and the rationale behind The Ultimate PC Primer. Some people read Ted’s statements and dismiss him as a curmudgeon in modern times. I don’t subscribe wholesale to all of his ideas, but I definitely think he has a great number of insightful perspectives on technology and the state of computing that we can learn from.

Ted’s motto is allegedly:

A user interface should be so simple that a beginner in an emergency can understand it within ten seconds.

I largely agree with the intention behind the motto, and I think there are two ways to approach that issue. Read the rest of this entry »

I don’t think, therefore I am not…

September 20, 2010

… able to do my job? …able to stay employed?

I’m increasingly encountering computer users who want me to help them learn how to do exactly one thing. It’s the thing they need to know at the given moment. The problem with helping them is, two weeks later, they’re back wanting to know how to do exactly one more thing. Usually it’s because these people lack the understanding of a core concept.

There is a minor and major problem to giving these people exactly what they request. First, I won’t be around as their consultant forever. After a favor or two, I realize I’m being used as a crutch. I refuse to give fish, so I switch to a different tactic and try to address the major issue: why they’re not able to think through the unexpected. These folks don’t understand the root problem behind their inability to continue working when the road forward hasn’t already been thoroughly marked with instructive signs. They’re slaves to hand-holding people, guides, tutorials, and job aids. As a result, they’re not fully self-sufficient and have drastically reduced productivity. Why?

Knowing a procedure isn’t the same as knowing why the procedure works, and computer use, as I say in my book, is inherently a thinking activity. Those thoughts must be based on something, and the best computer users I know base their problem solving on general principles and wholistic patterns, not specific procedural guides. How-tos and step-by-step instructions become obsolete relatively quickly. Core concepts rarely do. What happens for the user who knows only a step-by-step software process when a step in that process changes due to a software upgrade/update? I’ve witnessed the same result many times over. Every time such users encounter a break in the process — unfamiliar territory with no street signs in sight — they halt. They simply can’t continue. They’re lost. Unable to solve their own “problem,” productivity grinds to a halt.

Clark Quinn confirms Read the rest of this entry »

Forgotten medicine: Core concepts

September 16, 2010

Have you ever forgotten to take your medicine? Did you notice the effects immediately, or was it after some time that you realized the cumulative effect? We’ve all been in that situation at one time or another: there was something you should have done (but didn’t) which would have made a big difference if you had.

I don’t spend a lot of time training large groups directly, but every once in a while I find myself at the front of a lecture room providing a formal session on some technology.  I had this opportunity recently, and this was the best part of the whole deal: Read the rest of this entry »

ET’s Predictions (Year 2)

August 18, 2010

In keeping with Explain Technology’s anniversary tradition, it’s time to make some predictions about the technology market as it impacts new users of technology and how we who explain technology may need to acclimate. From my perspective, the future looks pretty sweet, and so this can be pretty short… Read the rest of this entry »