Please help me find a comment December 8, 2011 4:00 AM   Subscribe

A while back on Metafilter somebody in a comment gave a name to the phenomenon where a naive computer user would go through a crazy number of steps to achieve a result that a user who knows what they're doing would get in a much more straightforward manner. So, to manipulate an image they'd found online, they might print it out, then take a photograph of it, then email the JPG file to themselves, then etc., etc... This sort of thing. Does anybody remember the comment I'm talking about, and the name it gave for this? I think it may have been a comment by one of the mods, but I can't quite remember it or find it by searching. Thanks! (I ask because I'm sure it'll be a perfect description of the map on this page.)
posted by Richard Holden to MetaFilter-Related at 4:00 AM (139 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

Well, they are on Cheapside
posted by infini at 4:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


That's the posh part of Reading. It was in that area that I was once called a 'tight c*nt' by a tramp because I only gave him a quid.
posted by veedubya at 4:35 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread (which I found by searching the site for jessamyn computer literacy) has an ongoing conversation about how non-intuitive it is to email a screenshot if you don't already know how to do it. I didn't see a comment with a name for the phenomenon but I was just skimming.
posted by bobobox at 4:48 AM on December 8, 2011


THIS SHOP OPENED APRIL 1997

To be fair, scanners were the cutting edge of computers in 1997.
posted by DU at 4:49 AM on December 8, 2011


Also, the DailyWTF calls this the "wooden table" approach, after this post.
posted by DU at 4:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


click this for man web site and menu

You have promised me men you couldn't deliver, FABRIC LAND.

Also I'm pretty sure I bought stuff there once or twice when I lived in Reading.
posted by emmtee at 5:20 AM on December 8, 2011


Ah, thanks DU, Web 0.1 was what I was thinking of! I thought I'd seen it on Metafilter, but perhaps somebody just linked to it from here. No wonder I couldn't find it.

The Fabric Land shop in Reading is pretty much the real-life equivalent of their website. Laminated Wordart signage all over the place telling you what not to do in their shop (such as put umbrellas on the counter, or bring back boas for refunds).
posted by Richard Holden at 5:49 AM on December 8, 2011


This?
posted by marimeko at 5:53 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I always refer to that as Cargo Cult Computing.
posted by Freon at 6:34 AM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


I know I've commented a number of times about the story from when I did help desk stuff for a large geographically-distributed company.

I asked the user to send me a screenshot, and what I got in e-mail was the result of:

1. User took a screen shot, pasted it into Word
2. Printed the Word document
3. Scanned the printout using the "e-mail to" function on the copier, sending it to their own inbox
4. Forwarded that e-mail to the help desk
posted by odinsdream at 7:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


And hey there it is - thanks marimeko.
posted by odinsdream at 7:07 AM on December 8, 2011


The really funny part about that story is that it proves there is a user so naive they don't even know how to send Word attachments via email. I thought "compose in Word then send as attachment" was the default dumb thing people did, but no, you have to be *educated up to* that level of not knowing how to use a computer.
posted by DU at 7:24 AM on December 8, 2011


Ooh, ooh, true story about my dad time!

I went to an astronomy camp when I was in 7th grade, back before I had an email address, so the contact email we used for the camp was my dad's work email. Last summer (many years later, now), the astronomy camp sent a huge reconnecting-with-alumni email to everyone on the old list, my dad included. Wanting to send the information along to me, he forwarded the email.

It didn't work.

Here is how he went about resolving the problem...

1) He uses the Verizon website to text me (he doesn't know how to text with his phone) saying he was having trouble sending me an email. I text him back saying "I'll call you in 5 minutes."

2) He uses the Verizon website to text me again saying "I don't know how to check my text messages."

3) I call him, and he assumes the problem with why the email won't send is that it has a PDF attachment, and that there's something "wrong" with the PDF, even though he can see it just fine on his end. He posits that it's because the PDF is 30 pages long, and that gmail can't handle something that big. (He doesn't trust google.)

4) He suggests that he will:
a) Print out the PDF
b) Scan it
c) Email me the new PDF
5) I tell him how stupid that is, so he decides that he will forward the email to my mom and have my mom forward it to me. This works just fine. Huh, wonder what was going on with that?

6) Once I finally got the email, I pored over it to figure out why there had been a problem. He spelled my email address wrong. MY EMAIL ADDRESS IS MY NAME. He spelled my name wrong. Yes.


But no...printing it out, scanning it, and re-emailing it makes way more sense than proofreading.
posted by phunniemee at 7:29 AM on December 8, 2011 [41 favorites]


xkcd
posted by iotic at 7:41 AM on December 8, 2011


Wait, wait! Here's another story about my mother (aka That Woman).

We've had email in one form or another since 1990 or so, and she got into it around 1997. She referred to the modem as the "bee boo bop boo bee boop bop" (self-explanatory).

She started taking writing classes around that time, but she couldn't figure out how to use MS Word. She DID, however, know how to use Eudora. So when she needed something done, here's how she did it:

1. Type her story for the week into an email.
2. Send it to herself.
3. Wake me up (this was invariably in the early a.m.) so I could turn the printer on for her.
4. Print the email.
5. Walk six blocks to Kinko's.
6. Cut the email header off.
7. Make a photocopy or two.

Ta daaaaaa!
posted by Madamina at 7:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Just retribution will come to all of you young mefites who are making fun of your old parents! Just you wait until you turn sixty and your grandchildren...
posted by francesca too at 7:52 AM on December 8, 2011 [9 favorites]


Oh cool, Dad stories!

3 weeks ago when my son was born, my father, a retired electrical engineer, saw the pictures I posted to Flickr and asked me if I could email them as attachments to him so he could send them to his Reply-All list (which now includes over 70 unfortunate souls whose mail boxes are hopelessly clogged with emailed WAV files, JPEGs, and most likely malware). We have had the conversation about spamming large attachments many times before and I long ago started blocking email from my father.

"Dad, they are already posted on the web, you just saw them. Cut and paste the line at the top of your browser and send that. Here, I will do it for you."

My dad then sends the link to a buddy of his back home, then asks him *print out* 14 pictures of this random newborn baby he doesn't know. Buddy scans pictures at high resolution, emails them as attachments to my dad who then forwards them to his Reply-All list.

"Dad, why did you do that? That's a horrible waste of everyone's storage space!"

"Son, you know your grandparents don't know how to use the internet."
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


will know which hand to swipe where across the tabletop...
posted by infini at 7:55 AM on December 8, 2011


I believe I have previously shared here the glorious tale of my mom's brush with rickrolling, when someone forwarded her an explanation of the rickroll in the NYC thanksgiving parade a few years back. Instead of forwarding it on to me via email, she printed it out and mailed it to me, in a holiday greeting card envelope, accidentally creating the greatest rickroll of all time.
posted by elizardbits at 8:02 AM on December 8, 2011 [67 favorites]


Presenting: an actual conversation I had with my father.

PaterCallipygos: "So, do you know how to switch our email address book from an old computer onto a new one?"

EmpressCallipygos: "Sure, you just --"

PC: "Can you just print it out and then type them all into the new one?"

EC: "...Uh...you....you can, but it'd be a lot easier a different way. It's a file in your computer, and you can just copy it from the old one and then paste that copy on the new one."

PC: "I don't want to copy all the mail, just the addresses."

EC: "I know. The computer keeps those as separate files. I can even do it for you using that flash drive."

PC: "That what?"

EC: "That doohickey I gave mom to save photos on."

PC: "Is that safe?"

EC: "Why wouldn't it be safe?"

PC: "How do you know the guy who made the doohickey didn't also put some other virus or something on there? Or the guy who made the file with the address book? Forget it, I'll just type it all in by hand."


...And the best part: their email address book was web-based anyway.

Most parents are only Luddites. My father has manged to combine that with Cold War paranoia.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:06 AM on December 8, 2011 [14 favorites]


I'm really big on helping users know and understand their computers and this thread makes me want to cry.
posted by Brainy at 8:12 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I thought "compose in Word then send as attachment" was the default dumb thing people did

I taught a class called Where Are my Files recently which was all about using the Finder [on the Mac] to find, search for, and manipulate your files. Four hours, over two weeks. The last thing we did was "what is an attachment" (because people download them and then have no idea where they go) and all everyone wanted was for me to tell them how attachments worked and explain how come they were trying to send attachments that didn't go. With explanations that were the fundamental equivalent of "Why won't my car work. It is a green Subaru and it's parked in my driveway." The reason we didn't start with it was because that's all we would have done for four straight hours.

The trend here, for people buying Macs, is for the computer store to make sure they have a gmail account and then set up Mac Mail for them to access their gmail account. I think this is because if you click a mailto link and don't have gmail notifier installed, that's what opens. And someone saw people confused and thought "This will fix it" People who are good at using computers have no idea the many layers of metaphor that we've just internalized in order to do all the fun sophisticated things that computers can do for us. I love teaching these basic computer classes, but every week I'm surprised how normally intelligent people can just fall apart when you're showing them how to attach a file and the final step includes them clicking a button labeled "Open" [as you do] and not one called "Attach"

Once we get to the point where I'm describing the steps to get an downloadable audiobook from the library, I'm not at all sure that they are the ones who are making the wacky statements. And I'm more and more a Mac person lately and I'm still not certain the best way to email someone a screen shot from a PC.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:13 AM on December 8, 2011 [16 favorites]


every week I'm surprised how normally intelligent people can just fall apart when you're showing them how to attach a file and the final step includes them clicking a button labeled "Open" [as you do] and not one called "Attach"

Actually, that doesn't make a lot of sense. Never thought of it before.


I'm still not certain the best way to email someone a screen shot from a PC.

From XP: Print-screen key, open Paint (you can just type mspaint into run window), paste, save (usually as jpg), send.

From Windows 7: use snipping tool to take screenshot, save, send.
posted by desjardins at 8:24 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


For clarification: "Snipping tool" will be in your "All Programs" menu. It's not a key.
posted by desjardins at 8:25 AM on December 8, 2011


Just retribution will come to all of you young mefites who are making fun of your old parents! Just you wait until you turn sixty and your grandchildren...

...joke about your nearly obsolete nano-implant getting stuck on entertainment mode again, leaving you groping sightlessly around your apartment until they show up to demonstrate -- yet again -- how simple it is to switch from The Price Is Right (newly popular after reinventing itself in 2022 with a focus on the price of medical procedures; there's still a big wheel to spin at the end, but the aging contestants are playing for retirement annuities now) to Standard World-Overlay by performing a hard reset. And in all honesty you know how to do it yourself; you're just afraid a reset will crash your brain stem or some other nonsense that gets hinted at on the newsfeeds these days and you'd rather someone were around to cart you to the electro-emergency room should such a need arise. In any case, they'll remind you that you could avoid these glitches if you'd just upgrade your implant for fuck's sake, but you don't want the surgery and you like it when they come by.
posted by nobody at 8:31 AM on December 8, 2011 [88 favorites]


I may have said this here before but: my dad was a car person, so all his analogies are mechanical analogies. When something goes wrong with the computer, he assumes that the problem can be explained mechanically — some part has stopped working and must be fixed. Things have to be engaged with as a whole, there's no decision tree for problem solving. This helped me communicate with about problems, once I figured that out.

In the way he is a car person, I am a Nintendo person. When something breaks, my first response (which I must resist furiously) is to take something out and blow on it.
posted by penduluum at 8:43 AM on December 8, 2011 [25 favorites]


How I sent screenshots using outlook and windows XP:

click on window I want to take shot of
hit alt-prnt scrn
start new email message
hit ctrl-v

How I have to do it using gmail:

click on window I want to take shot of
open paint.net
hit alt-prnt scrn
answer dialog about expanding the canvas
save as
answer question about color depth or whatever
start new email message
find picture I just saved and attach it


Goddamnit corporate beancounters! You fired all the exchange guys now I have to go through a bunch more steps to send screenshots!
posted by Ad hominem at 8:50 AM on December 8, 2011


I have been corresponding professionally these last weeks with an older gentleman in Australia. He clearly gets the idea of e-mail, but not the fine points. His initial communication to me was a handwritten letter sent by air mail. I responded to him by physical mail as well and included my e-mail address if he wished to communicate that way. Three weeks later, I received another envelope in the mail: he had taken the time to compose a letter in e-mail -- there was my work address in the To: field -- but then his nerve had failed him and he had printed it out without sending and then stuck the printout in an envelope to mail to me. So close.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 8:50 AM on December 8, 2011 [30 favorites]


A while back on Metafilter somebody in a comment gave a name to the phenomenon where a naive computer user would go through a crazy number of steps to achieve a result that a user who knows what they're doing would get in a much more straightforward manner. So, to manipulate an image they'd found online, they might print it out, then take a photograph of it, then email the JPG file to themselves, then etc., etc...

I'm terrible at math. In eighth grade, I was getting a low D in math. We all took a test in mathematical reasoning called the Step Test in my "team" of 120 students. At the parent-teacher conference, I insisted I was terrible at math, while my teacher insisted I wasn't working hard enough. Finally he pulled out his trump card, I had scored the highest score out of 120 people on the Step Test.

So we started going through the answers. He asked me how I came up with each answer. I had apparently done exactly what is described here, included many unnecessary steps to solve problems and basically invented massively inefficient new ways to answer the problems.

I still got crappy grades in math.
posted by Ironmouth at 8:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought "compose in Word then send as attachment" was the default dumb thing people did...

To be fair, this is actually not all that dumb in a regular user. The people I was actually thinking about were the secretaries at every single place I've ever worked. (One aspect of) their whole job is to send email to everyone. And they don't know how. I never. And I mean never get an email from a secretary (at any level in the company) that isn't an attachment. I'm lucky if the attachment is a Word document. Usually it's a PNG.

People who are good at using computers have no idea the many layers of metaphor that we've just internalized...

I have some idea. When my kids ask me a question that isn't even wrong, I explain to them how the internet works1. But that never worked with my mom. She didn't want to learn anything, she just wanted to $X (send an email/get the pictures off the camera/play a game online).

1In explaining why I wasn't going to set up a minecraft server exposed to the internet, my metaphor was set up like this:

internet : phone system
a computer : an office building
ip address : a phone number for a company
port : extension of an office
an exploitable server running there : an idiot office worker who would say "sure, I'll tell you all our company secrets!"
firewall : the secretary who knows all your tricks and won't transfer you anywhere
posted by DU at 9:07 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Heh, since I posted this request I've received a Christmas list from my mother in the form of a PDF of an upside-down scan of a handwritten list, which seems somewhat appropriate.
posted by Richard Holden at 9:30 AM on December 8, 2011 [11 favorites]


All of this pales in comparison to the security minded organization that faxed us a printout of a packet trace, 1000 pages long.
posted by dhoe at 9:39 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Once I asked someone to send me a transcript of a shell session involving some software they were having trouble with and they sent me a video.
posted by grouse at 9:58 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My dad's start page on Firefox is Google. I told him to go to a particular address. 'Type example.com into your address bar', I said. I was standing over him and pointed to the address bar. Instead, he typed GOOGLE into the Google search box, clicked on the top result, which was obviously Google, and then in the new search box typed out EXAMPLE.COM and then clicked the top search result, which was example.com. I saw him do all this.
posted by The Discredited Ape at 10:03 AM on December 8, 2011 [38 favorites]


My daughter, 16, born into the digital age, likes to quote Li'l Brudder when I refuse her help with using a new technology: "I can make it on my own!" What she doesn't know is that I do the exact same thing with my mom.
posted by MrMoonPie at 10:09 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


People here at work love to send screenshots of part numbers in EnterpriseApp{tm}. They do a control-printscreen, open Word, paste the screenshot, then email the Word doc. "Take a look at this part number, willya?" Then I have to open the Word doc, resize the image so I can read the damn part number, then manually type it into my instance of EnterpriseApp{tm}. For a short time I railed about this before giving up.

"Just send me the part number. Copy the part number and paste it into the email. Then I can copy it and paste it instead of dicking around with this stupid picture in Word."

"What, you don't like screenshots? I think screenshots are cool!"

head:desk:repeat

Most of them do the Google search URL navigation too.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:15 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


The people I was actually thinking about were the secretaries at every single place I've ever worked. (One aspect of) their whole job is to send email to everyone. And they don't know how. I never. And I mean never get an email from a secretary (at any level in the company) that isn't an attachment. I'm lucky if the attachment is a Word document. Usually it's a PNG.

This secretary knows how to email using EMAIL.

Then again, one of my bosses said in my initial job interview that I was "overqualified." Maybe that's what he meant.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:19 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


One mistake we often make when explaining something to a non-techy is to say "Open the file in $foo" where $foo is a program.

So now my mother thinks that all of her Word docs reside somewhere within this nebulous entity called "Word". So when she asked me to find one of her recipe files, I asked her where she saves her recipes. Mom: "In Word." Me: "I know you save them using Word, but where on the computer do you save them?" Mom: "Right there, IN WORD. I thought you have a master's degree?"
posted by SuperSquirrel at 10:21 AM on December 8, 2011 [31 favorites]


but you don't want the surgery and you like it when they come by.

nobody, you made me tear up a little.
posted by brainwane at 10:38 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


I think a lot of us do this, just in less obvious ways. I dabble in an extremely tentative way with some OS software that has to do with one of my hobbies. Not something a lot of people have any contact with. And I still hold my breath when I bring anything up that I think I've fixed because usually someone will be like, "Is there some reason these 40 lines are here instead of this one that does the same thing?"

It feels like the opposite of a Cargo Cult, because Cargo Cults know the steps but not how they relate to causing the result. This is like... you know a lot of steps which you have never seen directly related to the outcome you're trying to cause this time. It's the Apollo 13 CO2 filter problem: Even a genius is going to create something incredibly ungraceful when all they have are some plastic bags and tubes and cardboard report covers and they have to create an air filter adapter. The problem is that people outside the problem don't realize how limited the materials involved are.
posted by gracedissolved at 10:46 AM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Goddamnit corporate beancounters! You fired all the exchange guys now I have to go through a bunch more steps to send screenshots!

To be fair, the bean counters in this scenario, depending on the size of your company, probably saved tens of thousands of dollars a year by dropping Exchange. Literally.
posted by odinsdream at 10:50 AM on December 8, 2011


I'd be interested to hear how marimeko found the comment. I'm guessing that it somehow involved an OCR, a cuecat, and a fax machine.
posted by crunchland at 10:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think a lot of us do this.

Ugh, yes. I use MS Access a lot to play with data and for a while now I've been aware that I should just suck it up and learn SQL. This point was brought home when I learned about the existence of Union queries which for whatever reason are not an option in the Access gui. When the need came up I would do this ridiculous thing where I created a table of index IDs which were unique across each of the tables I wanted to stack, left join that to the tables, and then use if statements to fill in the appropriate data from each table. It was ridiculous and I was well aware of that, but constraining myself to Access 2003 meant I took ages to figure out the real way to do it.
posted by yarrow at 11:09 AM on December 8, 2011


So now my mother thinks that all of her Word docs reside somewhere within this nebulous entity called "Word". So when she asked me to find one of her recipe files, I asked her where she saves her recipes. Mom: "In Word." Me: "I know you save them using Word, but where on the computer do you save them?" Mom: "Right there, IN WORD. I thought you have a master's degree?"

Looking back in 10 or 20 years, we are going to agree that this is the primary contribution of iOS to the world of computing. Removing the file structure from the user's view seems overly restrictive to people who grew up with PCs, but for the pre- and post-PC generations, it is a stroke of genius.
posted by Rock Steady at 11:23 AM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I laugh at these, but if you look at some of my old bash scripts, they're the scripting equivalent of the emailed copied scanned printed word-pasted screenshot.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 11:24 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


It feels like the opposite of a Cargo Cult, because Cargo Cults know the steps but not how they relate to causing the result.

Totally! This week I switched web hosts from the place I'd been for 15 years to a new one, a box hosted by a friend. I'm techie enough to be able to set up my own mysql databases and install Wordpress and scp/sftp all the files. I even learned how to import the Wordpress database from the mysql command line, baller!

However, there were a lot of little things that I could not figure out. Some of it was the differing environment of the former place I'd been [I'd had them set up a custom 404 redirect for me, maybe a few other things] and some of it were deliberate choices that my friend had made for safety/security that I need to either learn to live with or ask him to undo. My friend is a wonderful person, basically a family member. And yet as I was emailing him a bunch of "is this you or is this me?" questions and getting back one line

#AddType text/x-server-parsed-html .html

answers, and some teasing about the ways I'd managed my website seven years ago, I was getting increasingly more and more frustrated. I wasn't sure if this line was a command to me, an explanation of what he did, a reason it wasn't working, what. I got that there was an .htaccess file and it was getting in my way. But what I wasn't sure about was how much I could fix, how much he could fix, and how much was "for security reasons, you need to live with this" In my case, I'd like to do myself what I could technically actually do and I'd like him to explain or fix the things that were outside of my actual ability.But, in many cases, it was just easier for him to fix the thing than say "This is a thing you need to do, go edit this file and change it to make it world-writeable" (or whatever) and I can see how he didn't want to spend his whole day giving me basic .htaccess explanations for something that was going to be set-it-and-forget-it once it was up and running.

So there's a sense in which we need to know not just our own level of knowledge and that of the person we're working with, but we have to know our own level of expectations and that of the person we're working with AND also whatever our relative value judgments are about those expectation levels. It is okay to just want to buy something online and not learn how to do it for next time? Is it okay to have a computer with malware and want to take up my time learning not how to remove it but work around whatever restrictions it is putting on your machine? Is it okay to send a Word attachment with an email instead of learning how and why email formatting works and fails? Is it okay to google URLs as long as no one sees you doing it? A lot of it is so relative and yet some people have drawn their lines and decided what they want is reasonable and what other people want is crazy and vice-versa. And a lot of people who are new are really grasping at understanding the whole new landscape and having negative interactions with people and machines early on the process can lead to some pretty long lasting aversions that I believe are actually becoming a cultural problem not just a technological one.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2011 [13 favorites]


It's the Apollo 13 CO2 filter problem: Even a genius is going to create something incredibly ungraceful when all they have are some plastic bags and tubes and cardboard report covers and they have to create an air filter adapter.

See, I think these are examples of inspiring ingenuity. "I can figure out how to do x using only the tools I have at my disposal."
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:25 AM on December 8, 2011


yarrow: "Ugh, yes. I use MS Access a lot to play with data and for a while now I've been aware that I should just suck it up and learn SQL. "

Or suck it up and learn R if you're doing statistical analysis (or possibly it's closed source sibling S).
posted by pharm at 11:51 AM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


My pet peeve at work is that no one knows how to use the damned Calendar app in Outlook. There's one particular project lead who has set up a recurring weekly meeting in Outlook, and yet still sends out individual (new) meeting invites ten minutes before the weekly, every week. If he needs to cancel the meeting, he sends out a new invite (for a new meeting!) but the text of the invite mentions that the meeting is canceled.

And then, immediately after sending out these invites, he'll walk over and mention we're having a meeting. Now that I have somewhere around 50 invites for the same meeting, I'm pretty well aware of when it is.
posted by backseatpilot at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2011


Or suck it up and learn R if you're doing statistical analysis (or possibly it's closed source sibling S).

Even the creator of S works on R now. I can't see a reason to start with S.
posted by grouse at 11:57 AM on December 8, 2011


jessamyn: "And a lot of people who are new are really grasping at understanding the whole new landscape and having negative interactions with people and machines early on the process can lead to some pretty long lasting aversions that I believe are actually becoming a cultural problem not just a technological one."

All of us deal in abstractions all the time, even those of us who work closely with computers are really dealing with an abstraction of the machine. It's just not possible to know in detail all the ways in which such complex devices operate. Should you know or care about how the keyboard controller has to post-process the signal from the keyswitch in order to deliver a simple keypress signal to the computer? No: we completely abstract away from such details and regard a keyboard as a black box that "just works". In this case the abstraction matches what the implementation actually delivers pretty closely, so the differences never affect us.

The really difficult problems arise when the abstractions users intuit clash with those that the programmers and designers of the systems created for them.
posted by pharm at 11:59 AM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Me: "I know you save them using Word, but where on the computer do you save them?" Mom: "Right there, IN WORD. I thought you have a master's degree?"

That's interesting, because it shows that she's built a completely different metaphor for the computer than you have. To most of us, "locations" are the "places" on the disk, like "folders". Now, this isn't right, of course; this is a metaphor that is given to us by the designers of the OS, and that we have adopted. When you say "where", that's what you mean (even though it isn't a place at all - it's a total fiction!).

She's got a different metaphor - "places" are programs. This makes sense from one perspective. Programs are like, say, businesses - places where you go to get certain things done. This metaphor has even been tried before (and failed). So when you say "where", that's what she hears. She doesn't know your metaphor, and hence, the confusion.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:09 PM on December 8, 2011 [4 favorites]


Philosopher Dirtbike, I'm with you on the metaphor problem as the source of so much confusion. The idea of metaphor use in user interface design, web design, etc. is fascinating to me because it dictates so much about, not only HOW we use our tech stuff, but WHO is able to use it and use it well. The capacity to digest computer metaphors and identify their antecedents and possible future permutations isn't a skill everyone was born with. I sometimes wonder if there is a connection to brain plasticity (and therefore age) and the ability to adapt to new metaphorical interfaces... as well as the verbal metaphors that surround, but don't always match, those interfaces.

I've only recently begun a career in training others to use computers and web tools and I'm growing increasingly convinced that this job is similar to my previous job, which was as an English instructor, in that I spend part of my day teaching people how to interpret metaphors and teaching them new vocabulary to deal with that interpretive process.

It's fascinating, really. I wish I could find more. I've been reading through these results, but I still want more!
posted by madred at 1:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Aw, Fabricland. I don't actually sew so I don't go there often, but I did get the buttons there for these mittens.
posted by Gordafarin at 1:50 PM on December 8, 2011


I laugh at these, but if you look at some of my old bash scripts, they're the scripting equivalent of the emailed copied scanned printed word-pasted screenshot.

Sure, but at least when I finish cludging something together out of incorrectly-used cat and half-screwy greps, it'll work forever - inefficiently, and it took me 2X as long to build it, but now I have a tool I can use to solve a problem repeatedly. The horrifying thing is when you watch people manually re-enact the same thirty steps, over and over and over, when they could be clicking three times.
posted by Tomorrowful at 1:51 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


My ex is a smart woman, we met at work and she showed me how to use a PC over 25 years ago and I became a programmer not long after that.

She has used a computer pretty much every day since then. She still does not know the difference between "file" and "folder" or "download" and "upload"
posted by victors at 1:55 PM on December 8, 2011


My father is fairly computer illiterate. He claims to be great in Excel because he knows how to sum things. None of his friends know how to do that. One of his friends bought -- paid money for! -- a virus scanner because a popup told him he needed it. (My father just installed one because one google result was the fake storefront. He didn't notice all the other results saying it was a virus.)

My grandparents can use the computer well enough to play bridge, check their bank statements, and send occasional emails. But my grandfather cannot figure out the iPad because he insists on double clicking with his finger. It's not as obvious as people say it is, if you have just a little bit of knowledge.

I use Access to do union queries. But you need to type out the SQL. Or you did, in Access 97, the version we use at work.
posted by jeather at 2:05 PM on December 8, 2011


I'm 47 and am really about the oldest you can be and have had any chance of having a computer in your house growing up (The Apple II came out when I was 13). So for most people my age or older, computers are still sort of foreign intruders into their lives. I was a CS major in the early eighties but most of my friends were science or agriculture majors and I was absolutely the only member of my crowd who owned a computer (C64).

I remember a friend from then asking me, "why would you want to sit in front of a computer screen all day?". It seemed like really strange and impersonal way to spend your time to him. Of course, that's probably exactly what he does all day now since that's pretty much what anyone with a white collar job does but he probably still doesn't like them. What I'm trying to say here is that if you didn't grow up with these things in your life, they always seem a little alien and mysterious.
posted by octothorpe at 2:13 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm 41 but can't play this game — I literally teethed on dad's terminal keyboards as a kid (or at least gnawed on them occasionally), and had sent at least one email before I was in kindergarten. (Typed it myself, even, although apparently I was d0ing 0dd things with certain v0wels. Dad asked me about it, since I was sitting on his lap at the time, and my reply was reportedly a firm "I like straight Os, I don't like tippy Os." On that terminal, the zero was straight up&down while the o was slanted, and that just wasn't aesthetically acceptable to mini-Lexi.) Thanks to my dad, who is way geekier than I am.
posted by Lexica at 2:44 PM on December 8, 2011 [6 favorites]


Love this thread and I agree with Jessamyn that there is an increasingly cultural divide between the computer savvy and the computer averse.

Many moons ago I wrote an article for evolt about "Getting Seniors Online" (look at that photo, I was just a pup!). Some of those things are still on the wishlist. And passwords have not gotten any easier! My grandfather never got beyond a few things and needed regular refresher courses. He tried to use his fancy fax machine but couldn't figure out why the paper he was faxing kept coming out the bottom. (His metaphor was pneumatic tubes.) I had to move his typewriter across the room because he kept getting confused about the printer. Oh. I do so miss my grandpa.

I have shifted from tech creator to tech consumer and now I find myself annoyed at things that don't just work. I had to create some whizzy tech* for my website and it took me FOREVER. If I thought I could have figured it out by taking a photo and then scanning it and pasting it into Word, I would have done it! (Except I can't get my fancy wireless scanner to wirelessly scan!)

But, people that are outside of the circle of tech, I just don't really understand how they get along anymore. I think it has to be frustrating.

*Note: not very whizzy at all and I'm probably going to have to hire some KID to do it properly.
posted by amanda at 2:54 PM on December 8, 2011


I was standing over him and pointed to the address bar. Instead, he typed GOOGLE into the Google search box, clicked on the top result, which was obviously Google, and then in the new search box typed out EXAMPLE.COM and then clicked the top search result, which was example.com. I saw him do all this.

Not remotely unusual. If you check Analytics for most sites, nobody is shocked when their largest referrer is Google. They are, however, shocked when you point out that one of the top ten search queries is their own domain name, typed into Google search.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:57 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


A friend who isn't a very good computer user, and definitely not a very good problem solver, goes to google, types "bing", and then uses bing to search for the domain name he already possesses, and then clicks on that. He's convinced google doesn't give him the results he wants, though of course they do.
posted by maxwelton at 3:12 PM on December 8, 2011


One of my cats is named Google. Another one is named Bing.

Bing is friendlier, and Google is twice his size.
posted by crunchland at 3:19 PM on December 8, 2011 [19 favorites]


They are, however, shocked when you point out that one of the top ten search queries is their own domain name, typed into Google search.

Is it really their own domain name typed into Google search, or is it their own domain name that somebody typed into the address bar but then hit Enter instead of Ctrl-Enter/Shift-Enter/Ctrl-Shift-Enter? I got pretty used to being able to type a domain name in without the extension, but one of the Firefox upgrades changed how it works and now treats that as a Google search.
posted by Lexica at 3:46 PM on December 8, 2011


I'm a volunteer at my local library- I mostly help people use the libraries pc's - logging in through any amount of fuckery that people who didn't grow up on the internet can't quite figure out. I know WAY more about computers and the internet than people who don't and WAY less than people who do. It's alternately very charming/annoying trying to explain to people how to do something on a modern desktop pc or mac without starting from zero and explaining every wonky half-baked metaphor that UI designers or programmers have come up with over the years. I had to stop and have a two minute panic attack/laughing jag last week trying to get a very smart woman's ebooks onto her Nook. She very kindly put her hand on my arm and said "Hon, I know I'm not dumb and I know you aren't inarticulate, can you just do it for me this time and we'll start from scratch next time or I'll just go back to real books?"

Ever try to teach someone how to drive stick who grew up on automatic transmission? Piece of fuckin' cake.
posted by Divine_Wino at 4:00 PM on December 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Most parents are only Luddites. My father has manged to combine that with Cold War paranoia.

Does he know that leaving his computer on while he's not sitting in front of it makes it easier for Chinese hackers to install hidden key loggers onto his hard drive?
posted by flabdablet at 4:36 PM on December 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I received quite an icy chill this Thanksgiving when my dad trotted out the "I'm too old to learn how to text" line (beloved of cantankerous seniors everywhere). And I snapped back that "You're only five years older than Steve Jobs, for chrissake."
posted by ErikaB at 5:31 PM on December 8, 2011 [5 favorites]


excel as a database
posted by seanyboy at 5:39 PM on December 8, 2011


I need to call email Skype my mum and thank her for knowing how to use a computer. She's almost 72 and needs little help with it. She, however, recently learned to not leave photos on her ISP servers and not on her own pc. Years of photos - poof! - when she got a new ISP.
posted by deborah at 6:44 PM on December 8, 2011


A few years back, I was working with our various suppliers to work with us to move to fully electronic invoicing/receiving-- very slick.

One particular vendor still sent us our invoices by fax, so I asked if we could start doing it via electronic means, plain-text, Excel, CSV, XML, whatever-- I had the tools to handle pretty much anything they could offer. After a few back and forths, we seem to come to a solution, they would send me the invoices in Excel format.

Wonderful.

What I received the next day made me really sit back and think, it seems they had:

1. Created the invoice
2. Printed it out
3. Faxed it to another department
4. That department scanned it in
5. Created an excel document
6. Loaded the image into cell A1 of the excel file
7. And emailed it to me.

The lesson being, people are very accommodating (they must have worked really hard to get to that solution), but be very, very careful what you ask for.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:23 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


PaterCallipygos is the best parental reference ever.
posted by arcticseal at 8:16 PM on December 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is brilliant.

We once had a client down the street a few blocks. They were a medium-sized print shop, doing large-format professional printing, offset and digital press. They had a client who wanted to demonstrate what they wanted changed on their weird custom intranet web site for us. (The print shop hosted white-labeled sites for their biggest clients.)

So I asked them to send over a screenshot, with their changes notated on it.

I swear to god, this is what happened:

1) Screenshot web page.
2) Paste screenshot in Word.
3) Print Word document.
4) Make notations with pen on paper.
5) Fax notated copy to courier service.
6) Actually have someone physically courier this to my office.

I swear to god this actually happened. We received a couriered delivery of an envelope of a fax of a black and white print out of a screenshot from Word, with scribbles all over it.
posted by disillusioned at 1:45 AM on December 9, 2011 [9 favorites]


I also created what I'm convinced was one of the first live blogs ever.

When the earliest version of Trillian to support word matching came out, AND plugins, I was thrilled. I had a Nokia 3390 Gold AIM phone (it had an AIM client as a face to the SMS-based AIM available at the time).

I had started a journal site with a few friends that I created on my own. One of the neat things about word matching was the ability to link it to things like next or previous track. I could set a certain code, make sure it came from myself to myself, and trigger track changes like that. My brother once called me while I was across the country to let me know that my music had been playing and my computer was locked and he knew not to touch the computer or speakers, and could I please turn it off. One AIM message later, bam.

So I had someone whip up a dirt simple Trillian plugin that, when it received a certain inbound message from myself, it would trigger a GET request with the content of the message included as a variable. The script receiving this ping would publish directly to the database, and I assigned my friend and I different prefixes.

We went on a trip to California together and launched the live blog: his on the right side, mine on the left. Each text through AIM to my computer at home through a word matching plugin on Trillian to my server that listened to the script and posted directly to the database so that the live blog entry would update was simply magical.
posted by disillusioned at 1:56 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


Annnnnd my final story of inane solutions to odd problems:

We had a client WAY back in about 2003 to whom we had completely oversold ourselves. I mean, completely. We told them we'd build an ecommerce solution that would ALSO act as their store's POS system and share an inventory. Because they sold one-off art pieces, they wanted to be able to be sure that things sold online would be pulled from inventory, and that things sold in the store would immediately be pulled online.

The real treat came when the state of Arizona's department of Weights & Measures required every retail POS system to feature a vacuum display that would show a line item of the product purchased and the amount due for that item. (Like the bright glowy green one you see at Wal Mart.)

This presented some challenges: While we had planned on essentially giving them a customized front-end for their POS that was entirely web-based (and, oh god, flashbacks, a custom, locally-hosted SEPARATE version that would be their fail-safe if the internet went down, for we dreamt so big), there was no easy way to make a web-based, server-side script talk back to a screen attached to the computer.

...or was there?

In fact, we found a USB display that would allow us to point it to a single text file and constantly poll the text file for what to display on the screen.

Okay then.

So:

1) New item is added on the web site to the POS "retail" cart.
2) Server (remotely located) is ordered to FTP a text file to the shop's desktop, where we had installed an FTP server.
3) Screen would poll the text file and display whatever was in it.
4) Server would periodically clear the screen so that it wouldn't always display the last thing purchased.

The system actually worked. It was terrifying, in its way, to have a remote server-hosted web page trigger a change on an external peripheral through such a rigamorale, but there it was, glowing and beautiful.

The POS system proper never launched. We determined that $3,500 was far too little for the project and never were able to finish it. This was probably the first client we ever had, though we ended things on good terms.

In ten days, my partner and I will celebrate eight full years developing custom web software. If I knew then what I knew now...
posted by disillusioned at 2:03 AM on December 9, 2011


I used to work for EnormousOil Company, at one of their refineries. This refinery had 5000+ people working there. At the top of the food chain was Refinery Manager, and Refinery Manager had an assistant, Powerful Secretary. Powerful Secretary makes well over $100,000 a year. Powerful Secretary used to call me up and ask me to attach a file to an email and forward it to her so that she could then forward it to Plant Manager. She knew where the file was, and would carefully explain to me how to navigate to it; she just didn't know how to attach it to an email.

$100,000+. This woman wouldn't even have qualified to be the receptionist at the company I had worked at previously.

So now you know why gas is so expensive.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:23 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


If I knew then what I knew now...
posted by disillusioned


heh
posted by infini at 3:18 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread is how great ChatFilter could be, y'all. I'm just saying.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:53 AM on December 9, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is it really their own domain name typed into Google search, or is it their own domain name that somebody typed into the address bar but then hit Enter instead of Ctrl-Enter/Shift-Enter/Ctrl-Shift-Enter?

It's really their own domain typed into search. We know this because these stats are long-standing and unchanging and consistent regardless of browser or version, and because we have masses of observational data on this. And because average users do not use keyboard commands. They hit Enter, or more commonly, click the Search button.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:22 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


*gives this mysterious Average User the hairy eyeball*

*scuttles sideways*
posted by infini at 6:46 AM on December 9, 2011


Email from my dad yesterday: "What web service did you use for Mom’s dropbox?"

I answered "Dropbox" but I'm not sure if I understood the question. I'm waiting for his response.
posted by mullacc at 7:54 AM on December 9, 2011


PaterCallipygos is the best parental reference ever.

I was going to say something about my father's butt, but I've never actually taken a good look at it (nor do I want to all that much, thanks all the same).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2011


Sounds like the basis for a revival of an old Abbot & Costello bit.
posted by crunchland at 8:08 AM on December 9, 2011


A library patron couldn't get into his email. So he filled out the form on the library website to email the library help desk. So they could email him with instructions for how to get into his email.

This was not likely to work.

This is the point at which he asked me for help, and I showed him where the address bar was on the web browser.
posted by Jeanne at 8:24 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I answered "Dropbox" but I'm not sure if I understood the question.

More importantly, I'm not sure he understood the question.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:36 AM on December 9, 2011


Can we have it so that the OP in "Please help me find/Anyone remember this" can choose a best answer? (that gets highlighted)
posted by cashman at 8:39 AM on December 9, 2011


I've written about this elsewhere, here: my father-in-law is 89. We got him a laptop last year. He had previously never, ever used a computer. He picked it up alright...he plays poker and solitaire, checks the odds so he can bet on sports, reads his local newspaper, etc.

I set it up for him and dummy-proofed it as much as I could. I put Firefox on there, hid IE and Outlook, made him icons for all his favorite sites, the whole bit. I used LogMeIn to work on it while he was still living in Hawaii and me on the East Coast, and would take care of whatever problems I could from half a world away.

But there was no way I could prepare for the zero-day flash exploit warning that Mozilla decided to broadcast when you opened the browser, which displayed a big red stop sign and a big warning to update flash right away.

Well, he saw that stop sign and lost it...he did what he thought was necessary: closed all his applications, shut down his computer, unplugged the router, unplugged the network cables, unplugged the modem, took out the coax cable and then called me to see if he needed to unplug his tv too.
posted by nevercalm at 8:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


Can we have it so that the OP in "Please help me find/Anyone remember this" can choose a best answer? (that gets highlighted)

I'm not sure if you're joking, but no, we're not going to add any best answer functionality to MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 8:56 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I have just one good one to share:

Grandma got a Windows 95 computer shortly after they came out; it was her first computer. One day, after using the computer a good two or three years, she calls me up because all of her geneaology records were gone -- GONE! -- and was very upset that she's have to do everything over. The problem was this: she had no context for finding 'files' in 'directories' -- everything she had ever worked on, all 5 things, were in her "Recent Documents" folder on the start menu. That day she had finally created her 6th document, her Christmas newsletter. Lo and behold, the lowest thing on the Recent Documents list disappeared, and as far as she knew it was completely removed from existence.
posted by AzraelBrown at 9:25 AM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


My grandmother, who passed away in June 2 weeks before her 95th birthday, started using the Internet in the late 1980s. She was a scholar and cartographer who corresponded extensively with people all over the world, and the internet was just too useful for her purposes for her to ignore it. She had a VAX shell account and used elm for her email, and she was really pretty good at it.

In 1999, her children all got together and gave her a Brand New Whiz Bang Computer, with Windows 98 and an AOL account included. So much more powerful! So much easier to use! . . . except, not so much. She was absolutely mystified and couldn't get anything to work. I finally set up a time to do a phone conference with her, and it turned out the problem was that nobody had explained "click to set focus" to her. So she was typing her email address and her password both into the email address field, because she was just moving the mouse pointer into the password field. I'm actually pretty impressed with myself that I figured out what was going on over the phone, to tell you the truth.

Once we got that sorted, things were great. She resisted upgrading with every fiber of her being, because every upgrade would change something minute and she would be lost again, so finally my uncle paid the local computer fixit guy a yearly retainer to come out and install updates and show her what had changed once a month. But she knew the difference between when her wireless router was busted vs. when the internet was out, she could troubleshoot her printer, she could adjust her screen resolution as her vision degraded so she could continue to read her email. But she still complained about how we had "made" her switch away from her "old, easy, straightforward" email -- elm on the VAX shell. "You told it what to do, and it DID it!" she'd say.
posted by KathrynT at 9:30 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


My enjoyment of this thread is tinged with concern that my resistance to the new Gmail interface means that I've hit my threshold of adaptability and am beginning the (perhaps not so) slow process of becoming the future subject of somebody's "creative computing" story.
posted by EvaDestruction at 9:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [13 favorites]


my resistance to the new Gmail interface

You know, I've also been thinking about this. I'm aware that using newer technologies [especially ones that are free and upgrade sort of randomly] means that adapting to new interfaces is sort of part of the deal. I like the older iPhoto and the older iCal. I use the new ones okay. I miss the old ones. I spend some time adjusting that is uncomfortable for me because I am a person who loves routine and I am such a speedy clickity-clicky-click person, disruptions in this feel like they are costing me valuable time. I'm also aware that this is a conceit, somewhere along these lines.

My problem with the new gmail interface isn't that it's new, it's that it's removed the ability for me to customize my interface the way I want it. Totally understand why they did it. Totally miss the ability to choose my own colors instead of pick one from a short list of [to me] uninspired options. And maybe it's time I learned to use Stylish or Greasemonkey better, or found some other place that has a nicer front end on what has been arguably one of the most powerful work-tools that I use. But yeah I'm always asking myself "Is this my blinking twelve?"
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 10:11 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm constantly worried that I am the technology user who is hovering right at that spot where I think I know what I'm doing just enough to be a major nuisance to the people trying to help me.

I'm only 26 but it's been ten years since I learned how to use DreamWeaver MX and FireWorks. I've never taken the time to learn photoshop and every change makes it less intuitive. I also have not kept up with CSS (it seems like more work to do basically the same thing).

I also know my way around VB.NET and PHP which really interferes with my group project developing a program in Java. None of the things I think should work actually do, and I am feeling more and more like just keeping my mouth shut about it.
posted by rebent at 10:22 AM on December 9, 2011


Just to back up what DarlingBri is saying because any time the topic comes up, there is always a lot of astonishment from the technically savvy: yes, it is true. Non-tech-savvy people go to Google and put the domain name in Google and then click Search and then click on the top result for that domain name. That is how they go to a website.

I build websites for non-tech-savvy small business clients as a sideline. The first few weeks after building a site is an excruciating time for them, because they "can't get to the website." (Translation: it hasn't been indexed by their favored search engine.)

I have no idea how this procedure became so entrenched in the collective mind. I have tried to un-trench it dozens of times, with no success. I have literally peered over someone's shoulder, pointed to the address bar, and walked them through the procedure of typing a URL in directly.

People seem to see this as a dangerous sort of witchcraft. There is much in the way of nervous chuckling and double-checking of what to click.

They may acknowledge that logically it saves you several steps, and that it's a more reliable way of getting to the website they want. But as soon as your back is turned, they go back to their old way of doing it (through Google) with a palpable sigh of relief.
posted by ErikaB at 10:42 AM on December 9, 2011 [6 favorites]


In defense of parents and grandparents everywhere, maybe we should just start installing Chrome for them instead of Firefox. It's not that I think Chrome had that many advantages. It's just... Then the address bar WOULD be Google.
posted by maryr at 10:54 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


maryr, I had the exact same thought after I switched to Chrome! They had the genius idea to follow what users were doing, rather than trying to teach them how to do things "the right way."
posted by ErikaB at 11:06 AM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


This thread has been lots of fun for me to read. My role has placed me in a rather interesting position at my job; I seem to act as some type of intermediary between the IT folks and our users. So I try to translate our work processes and flows and needs into terms our IT support company will understand; in turn, I try to explain to our users why certain things can't or won't work exactly the way they want. I feel, to some extent, trapped between the two worlds, unable to adequately explain issues to either side in language that they understand.

It's lead me into bizarre conversations where I have to explain to people that yes, once they unplug their network cable from the network, they will no longer have access to it (to disgusted snorts), or to programmers that having a system include a time stamp on a client form that generates from the time the file is submitted is not acceptable because the actual time we spoke with that client is likely very different from the time we complete and submit the form, and that knowing when and for how long we spoke with the client is more important to us than when the form was created (to blank stares).

Maybe it's just me, but it often feels like it's too easy to laugh at the strange ways people use their computers and their misunderstandings of the equipment instead of looking at those strange things people are doing and saying "OK, this is how it is being used - let's change things to accommodate that, rather than tell them they are wrong". At the same time, I wish I had more IT people to work with who were really willing to sit down and map out our processes with us in a way that makes it clear for them and us what the critical items for us, what won't work with respect to those in a proposed setup, and how to change/modify things to accommodate it (the true value for this for me is that I get to challenge our internal work processes and whether or not they are valuable and needed, and if they can be made better without the application of technology). I'm just coming off a new software implementation where I had someone like that to work with, and I'm missing her.

On preview - looks like Chrome has done exactly what I'm thinking about.
posted by never used baby shoes at 11:34 AM on December 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


In defense of parents and grandparents everywhere, maybe we should just start installing Chrome for them instead of Firefox. It's not that I think Chrome had that many advantages. It's just... Then the address bar WOULD be Google.

Yup, I'm with ErikaB too, that's the way to do it. It also offers a cleaner interface and way more screen real estate. I am uninterested in browser wars - use whatever works for you, I really don't care, enjoy your Emacs - but for entry level users, I think Chrome is the best of the current browser incarnations.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:41 AM on December 9, 2011


I'm not sure if you're joking, but no

I wasn't joking, sorry for the bad idea. It sounded ok in my head at first.
posted by cashman at 11:42 AM on December 9, 2011


adapting to new interfaces is sort of part of the deal

Yes, definitely, and part of what worries me a little bit is that I've adapted to a bunch of different interfaces since I started using e-mail many years ago, and I seem to be struggling the most with this particular transition.

And maybe it's time I learned to use Stylish or Greasemonkey better

You know, if I were to do this it would probably mitigate my concern that I'm fossilizing. Thanks for the idea, jessamyn.
posted by EvaDestruction at 12:39 PM on December 9, 2011


I always feel a bit Web 0.1 whenever I sit down in front of a Mac. I used to think it had something to do with just not having a lot of experience with Macs, but then I remember that my transition from Windows XP to an Ubuntu build was relatively smooth and intuitive. Put me in front of a Mac, though, and suddenly I turn into Homer Simpson operating the power plant from home, looking for the "Any" key.

On the other hand, I've noticed that Macs tend to be the system of choice for photographers and graphic designers. I'm not knocking their OS or anything, as I believe that everyone goes after the right tool for the job. This is why I don't get internet OS fights. It's like, if I were a plumber, and someone else were a carpenter, and I chided them for owning a wood plane. "Haha boy are you stupid. You can't use a wood plane to snake a toilet!"
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:57 PM on December 9, 2011 [8 favorites]


I think the strangest IT support encounter I've had was trying to help a friend in college, back around 2004. She said she was having trouble opening a file. Okay, I can fix this, right?

It was 2004 and she was maybe 18, but she used a computer like it was 1986. Every assignment she had written since high school was on a single floppy disk, which was permanently inserted into her computer. There were over 300 files on that disk, in DOS WordPerfect format (which somehow ran on her Windows XP machine). There were no filenames -- she sequentially numbered the files. And the disk was failing after 5 years of use. And she had no backups.

Oy vey.
posted by miyabo at 1:34 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


I will state up front that I make no claims to being the most tech savvy person, so far be it for me to post a story poking fun at someone else but...

I once worked for a very bright but technophobic art librarian at a museum. Oh and to have this story make a little more sense, it helps to know that the library wasn't in automated in any way. There was no online catalog for the books, only a simple spreadsheet listing bibliographic information. To make a long story short she was preparing for a big move as the museum was undergoing a big renovation that included spiffy new digs for the museum library and archives. We needed to create shelf lists of books by subject matter to 1) determine how many inches of books currently existed for each topic and project how many inches of books to put on each shelf in the new library to accommodate future acquisitions, without the need for a major shelf shift for the next 5-10 years or so (I forget the exact length of time recommended). I added the very simple SUM formula at the end of the inches column to automatically total the amount for each subject. I am not exaggerating when I say that it totally freaked her out. It was like I was using black magic and she wanted no part of it. She still insisted upon having me read the individual numbers out loud to her for her to total on a calculator. Even though it corresponded exactly to the number that had been generated by using the SUM formula, she eventually insisted that I remove it. She just didn't trust it.
posted by kaybdc at 1:54 PM on December 9, 2011


I confess that I will use the Chrome address bar like Google, typing in a partial URL and then clicking on the first search result. Many times, it's actually faster than typing in .com.
posted by desjardins at 3:07 PM on December 9, 2011 [1 favorite]


part of what worries me a little bit is that I've adapted to a bunch of different interfaces since I started using e-mail many years ago, and I seem to be struggling the most with this particular transition.

This is probably because the new Gmail skin is actually worse.

And don't get me started on Gnome 3.

Both of these things seem to be driven by a belief that everything should work the same no matter what device you use to get to it - mobile phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, whatever - with the inevitable consequence that the designers choose an interface style that works as well as possible on the device with the least rich controls.

But a desktop computer has a mouse-driven pointer that doesn't obscure the thing you're looking at with the fat finger you're trying to use to control it, and a proper keyboard, and a nice big screen with lots of space. Those controls are way richer than a piddly little mobile phone touch screen.

So when a desktop-oriented UI that's been carefully designed and tweaked and polished for several years (like the old Gmail look, or Gnome 2.30) is forcibly replaced by something that feels like a Fisher Price kiddy toy by comparison, it is perfectly appropriate for the experienced user to feel distress and even rage.

The new designs might well be fine for kids, but that's because kids don't know any better. There is no reason at all to force everybody to play like this.

But she still complained about how we had "made" her switch away from her "old, easy, straightforward" email -- elm on the VAX shell. "You told it what to do, and it DID it!" she'd say.

And she was right. A good command line interface (as opposed to that shuffling line of zombie abortions baked into DOS and then Windows) is the literate way to control a computer. I think your grandmother would probably have enjoyed using mutt on Linux.
posted by flabdablet at 6:08 PM on December 9, 2011 [5 favorites]


Having worked tech support for decades I should have dozens of stories like this but nothing really comes to mind as being unusual. There was the one user who would access their printer control by browsing the network for their computer name and then drilling down to shared printers. The most personally aggravating in a pet peeve sort of way were the users who didn't really grasp the power of hierarchical file systems and so would dump all their files and folders in a single location (their home drive if I was lucky, System 32 or something if I wasn't). The flatness of the file system wasn't the problem but rather how they forced sorting with a line noise like combination of characters at the beginning of folder names. So ----A would sort ahead of -------AAAA but after --AAAA. FYI $+-()# and & all sort before A. There is nothing like seeing "$$(++( House Pictures" and "$$$(++( House Pictures" as folder names.

MexicanYenta writes "This woman wouldn't even have qualified to be the receptionist at the company I had worked at previously. "

Being an administrative assistant; especially the highest level admin assistant in a company; has very little to do with being a receptionist.
posted by Mitheral at 6:35 PM on December 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


So when a desktop-oriented UI that's been carefully designed and tweaked and polished for several years (like the old Gmail look, or Gnome 2.30) is forcibly replaced by something that feels like a Fisher Price kiddy toy by comparison, it is perfectly appropriate for the experienced user to feel distress and even rage.

Huh. I'm using Gnome 2.32 (Mint 10), and if this is what I have to look forward to, no thanks. Glad you helped me dodge that bullet!
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 5:24 AM on December 10, 2011


Try explaining how to move objects in InDesign around or in front of each other to someone who's still having trouble with the folder metaphor. Good times!

For example: Let's say you draw text box for a photo caption in Indesign. Yes, that statement would probably break a few brains i.e. DRAW (point with the mouth, click and hold, then drag to determine size) a TEXT BOX. There is no metaphor for a text box, none, something that's been slowly pounded into my head by the blank stares I get when teaching someone. Anyway, you get the idea.

Now draw a photo box (I know, I know what's the difference between a text box and a photo box), where we're going to put a photo to go with the previously drawn text box.. Often the person will draw the photo box on top of the text box they just drew, but since the graphic box (oops, i meant photo box, it can hold non photo graphics too) in Indesign is to have 1pt stroke and no fill, they can still see the text box. But if they try to click on that text box, they wind up selecting the photo box, because it's ON TOP. Yeaaaaaaaah, everything in a page layout applicaiton is layered, with things you've drawn later being on top.

This why, on one bright summer morning, an older designer at a small newspaper screamed at me for drawing a frame (er, photo/graphics box) on top of an ad. He thought that once you did that, you'd never, EVER be able to select all the text and graphics underneath and the ad would have to be rebuilt the next time the customer wanted a change.

"What?" I said. "Just right click on the frame and choose Arrange>Move To Back." I think I literally saw something explode in his eyes when I said that. Mind you, he understood what "right click" meant, but hadn't realized he could rearrange the stacking order of objects. His workflow consisted of drawing the box frame as the very first thing you do when making an ad, something he'd figured after rebuilding ads for god knows how long.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s I devoured programs like a sumo wrestler at a buffet. It was obvious to me that each program had a certain logic to it, no matter how fucked up it was, so it was just a matter of poking around the menus and figuring out the logic. It was fun, challenging and fairly easy.

20 years later, the news that Gmail and Twitter have changed their interface is met with a groan, frustration and growing hatred. The desire to learn new things isn't gone, it's just weariness with change for no particularly strong benefit multiplied across 20 programs, as opposed to 2 or 3 back in the day. It seems fairly pointless, on an individual level, to have to relearn an email interface, you know? One has better things to spend their brain power on these days.

Don't get me started on the latest changes to Indesign and Photoshop. I swear the interface designers just change shit to justify their salary. But the reality is probably that we're still at the beginning of user interfaces and figuring how a way to get people up to speed with using complex tools, even "simpler" ones like a word processor.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2011 [12 favorites]


point with the mouth

I think I see your problem.
posted by desjardins at 8:11 AM on December 10, 2011 [4 favorites]


hadn't realized he could rearrange the stacking order of objects.

use sheets of tracing paper as an analogy
posted by desjardins at 8:13 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Doesn't work because not everyone has used tracing paper and it only has one use.

"Tracing paper? What am I tracing and why?"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 9:42 AM on December 10, 2011


It was obvious to me that each program had a certain logic to it, no matter how fucked up it was, so it was just a matter of poking around the menus and figuring out the logic. It was fun, challenging and fairly easy.

Yup.

And the thing that comes with experience of doing exactly that, over and over again, with countless UI design patterns in countless applications, is a realization that some of them just work better, and that change for its own sake is pointlessly disruptive far more often than it's genuinely useful.

So when some spotty youth reacts to my expressions of dismay about e.g. Gnome 3 with a glib accusation that I am among those who "fear change", as if thirty years of experience watching computer UI evolve and mature is worth nothing at all: I'm afraid my instant impulse is to find out where they live, and drive there, and punch them bloody. And then do it again. And again. And again. And again.

It's not about fear; give me any technology to play with for a week and I will have learned more about it than most of its digital-native users will ever know. It's about the arrogance of people who are so sure that their experience is the correct experience that they believe they have a right or even a duty to fuck up my experience.

Show me a better way to do something - help me avoid committing print-to-table-to-photo-to-scan-to web errors - and I will thank you. Tell me that everything that used to take me one click now has to take three clicks and two gestures, and that this is for my own good, and that no I can't just put launcher buttons where I want them because the panel is now "system-owned" and it has to stay that color because a designer somewhere said so, and I will conclude that it's you, not me, who has completely lost the plot.
posted by flabdablet at 9:45 AM on December 10, 2011 [5 favorites]


When I had a job doing computer tech support, I had this one client who was smart enough to pose a credible cause for the problem she was having, but she was always wrong. However, I always spent a good amount of time going down the false alley before I realized it was a total red herring. Worse still, it happened again and again and again, and I never adjusted my own response. (Well, not never. I eventually stopped doing tech support.)
posted by crunchland at 10:02 AM on December 10, 2011


I'm afraid my instant impulse is to find out where they live, and drive there, and punch them bloody. And then do it again. And again. And again. And again.

Ah yes, the wisdom gained from experience.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 10:15 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Today it looks like my basic Google homepage has gone back a version, thanks be to the gods of the interwebs
posted by infini at 10:46 AM on December 10, 2011


What kind of designer has never used tracing paper?
posted by desjardins at 11:07 AM on December 10, 2011


The writers and editors who also use Indesign.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 11:09 AM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


"Today it looks like my basic Google homepage has gone back a version, thanks be to the gods of the interwebs"

You're right! Awesome! No more mouse hovering to just click on something that used to always just be there, ready to be clicked!

Hopefully, this is a permanent change due to backlash.
posted by Bugbread at 1:08 PM on December 10, 2011


BTW, regarding the argument about "I don't like Blah's new interface, does that mean I'm growing old?" - If you understand it, but dislike it, it doesn't mean you're growing old. If you don't understand it, it does.
posted by Bugbread at 1:09 PM on December 10, 2011 [1 favorite]


Ya, like when they moved the high beam switch from the floor to a steering column stock. I realize it saves the manufacturers 50 cents per car but that doesn't mean I have to like it.
posted by Mitheral at 6:44 PM on December 10, 2011


Ah yes, the wisdom gained from experience.\

The wisdom gained from experience is what causes an impulse to punch someone bloody to be expressed as refusal to engage with them until they start showing a little wisdom of their own :-)
posted by flabdablet at 6:44 PM on December 10, 2011


Ya, like when they moved the high beam switch from the floor to a steering column stock.

Weird, we're about the same age but I have no idea what you're talking about.
posted by desjardins at 6:56 PM on December 11, 2011


On American cars, the high-beams were controlled by a big button on the far left of the floor under the driver's feet. I think that they switched it to be on the directional signal lever in the '70s. As I remember, European and Japanese cars always had them on the stalk.
posted by octothorpe at 7:15 PM on December 11, 2011


I like the floor switch. That foot is generally not busy 99% of the time, 100% of the time on a car with an automatic.

Is this where I lament that a (to me) much more intuitive program than Illustrator, Aldus Freehand, lost that particular battle, aeons ago? I picked up Freehand in seconds flat, Illustrator was (and is) a grind.
posted by maxwelton at 7:46 PM on December 11, 2011


When I got my current job, I had spent about 8 years solely on Macs, so it was a bit of an adjustment, seeing how the last Windows I had worked on was NT. My previous office manager, a woman in her 40's, said, "Maybe you're not good at computers" when I had to ask where something was on the menu system after forgetting.

A month later, I'm doing fine, having figured out all the differences in the menu systems.

Her though? I find out that she was incapable of sorting files by date, and, in fact, only understood how to navigate files by looking for the names by the icon view - if you switched it to lists, she couldn't find any of the files.
posted by yeloson at 12:08 AM on December 12, 2011


Sounds definitely like you need to have a grudge match.
posted by crunchland at 4:33 AM on December 12, 2011


As I remember, European and Japanese cars always had them on the stalk.

My father's 1956 Volkwagen Beetle and my mother's '58 Beetle both had the high beam switch on the floor. I'm in Australia but I'm pretty sure both those cars were German imports.
posted by flabdablet at 4:40 AM on December 12, 2011


My '72 Toyota Corona MKII had the switch on the floor.
posted by Mitheral at 8:54 PM on December 12, 2011


Looks like Gmail's makeover has actually broken it.

This is my surprised face.

Not.
posted by flabdablet at 8:35 AM on December 14, 2011


Brandon - surely these guys had instructors using overhead projectors in high school and college? Compare it to transparencies.
posted by maryr at 4:53 PM on December 14, 2011


I had this conversation just yesterday while working with some product images in Photoshop with my boss standing behind me.

Me: "Well, I can't rotate it, this is a picture of the top. Just like I can't take a picture of the back of your head and turn it so that you're facing the camera."

Boss: "Just rotate it."

Me: "What? No, I ... I don't think I have the time to explain the concept of dimensions to you..."

Boss: "Really, just turn it over, it's not that hard, you rotate stuff in pictures all the time."

Me: "...the camera didn't have enough megapixels for that, so I'll need a picture of the underside by itself."

Boss: "Oh, okay!"

This is the same man who asked me if my dual monitor set-up uses 'more internet' than just one. He also uses his Yahoo! toolbar in IE to search for Google in order to search for our company website. I would love to help him, and I try to educate where I can, but unfortunately it's just easier to let him think he's the expert. Also, I get really funny stories out of it.
posted by sephira at 6:22 AM on December 15, 2011 [6 favorites]


the camera didn't have enough megapixels for that

Oh, you're good.
posted by flabdablet at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2011 [7 favorites]


Oh, man -- you've just reminded me of a moment from an old job. I had a list of names or titles or something in Word -- something I needed alphabetized -- and I used Word to alphabetize them.

And a second later, my boss -- who had been passing behind me at that moment and saw me do it -- asked me, in a totally awestruck voice -- "how did you do that?"

"...how did I do what?"

"Alphabetize those names?"

I just blinked at him a moment. "I, uh...I just highlighted the list like this...and then I hit this button here...and it just....did it."

"Just like that?" My boss asked.

"...Just like that."

".....wow." He stared another awefilled second, and then walked away. He was sincerely and honestly amazed at Word being able to alphabetize things.

I told friends that story and one of them coined the descriptor for that level of technological familiarity: "Big Sun In Sky, Many Buffalo Come."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:29 AM on December 15, 2011 [4 favorites]


Oh god, I have so many of these. So he's complaining that his scanner wasn't working properly. And for whatever reason, he is trying to scan a hologram sticker and was frustrated it wasn't doing "that holographic-iky thingy" on the monitor like it does when it's in hand - and he's literally picking up the monitor and moving it from side to side, like you would the sticker. After 30 minutes of trying to explain just why that wasn't going to happen, I decided to go for broke and just mess with him. I told him the monitor was too old, and "only the newest monitors have the dilithium crystal display necessary to do this." I thought that would be enough explanation, as stuff like that worked in the past, but... Determined, he called, and kept calling Dell tech support (who kept hanging up on him, most likely thinking he was a prank caller), until he got the one tech who would listen. And that tech told him that yes, dilithium crystal display monitors were cutting edge, but the technology to use them fully wasn't available for consumer use, as the required cable, a Unified Coaxial RN cable, was far too expensive. Having gotten the answer he thought he needed, my boss gave it up.

I always kind of thought on some level that me and that tech support guy were meant to be together.
posted by sephira at 6:51 AM on December 15, 2011 [11 favorites]


These stories have an eerily familiar ring. Did Scott Adams ever work with your boss?
posted by flabdablet at 7:06 AM on December 15, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm going to have to start reading Dilbert for more ammo. There's only so many times I can say "megapixels," "applicating bandwidth conflict," or "sunspots" when the real explanations fail.
posted by sephira at 7:23 AM on December 15, 2011


You might also care to remind him that judicious application of hydrocoptic marzul vanes to the ambaphascient lunar wain shaft can pretty much eliminate side fumbling.
posted by flabdablet at 7:49 PM on December 15, 2011


Another good one, as I'm working my way post-holiday through Recent Activity. I was hired by someone to buy, set up and teach his wife to use a computer. She was a lifelong housewife and I'm sorry to say a blithering idiot. The whole thing about Windows sort of following the logic of an office? Yeah, she never worked in one. She kept EVERYTHING in the Recycle Bin. EV. RY. THING. All her photos, music, documents - she would move installed files into it.

I asked her time and time again "why is it you don't keep your actual paper records in your actual house in your actual trash bin?"

If I had kids, I could have put them all through college, retired to any of a variety of vacation homes on any number of continents and spent the remainder of my days lighting cigars with $100 bills while driving limited-edition cars. I once spent a full 8 hours trying to show her how to scan photos. Eventually, after my having to repeatedly describe her utter lack of having the slightest clue, her husband made me delete my number out of her phone without her knowledge.
posted by nevercalm at 3:49 PM on December 26, 2011


I love and respect my manager. I do, really and truly. She's on the very, VERY short "if you phone me at 3AM from Bakersfield in trouble, I will get on a bus to come help you" list.

And one of these days I'll be able to persuade her that email can go into folders besides Inbox and Deleted.
posted by Lexica at 7:51 PM on December 26, 2011


Try to explain tags and watch her head asplode.
posted by desjardins at 7:48 AM on December 27, 2011


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