Users and git ‘er done

A couple of months ago I wrote a column titled “Curse you users” in which I ranted about how people are willingly and willfully stupid about the computers they use.

The feedback was interesting. On the whole, the piece seemed to resonate with IT folks. Reader Dave Williamson commented, “Bloody wunnerful!” while reader Bruce Claggett appeared to have a religious moment: “AMEN!! And thank you! Well put.” Naturally, I love letters like these.

Reader David M. Gage had a longer comment: “Things have not changed in the 30 years I have been in the business and they will not change. Some think that the kids today can do anything on a computer, but you know what, they can’t. Once they have real jobs and must properly learn how to correctly use real data the majority of them will fail and have to blame someone or something. The human animal likes to think that something else is always to blame for their failures. … So look at it this way: As long as we are going to have the average human animal use a machine as a tool, the majority are going to have problems and, from your point of view, fail. C’est la vie, n’est pas? Feel better?”

If you look through the online comments for that column (go on … check ’em out, I’ll wait for you …), you’ll find that all but one comment is in agreement with my column’s premise.

The one negative comment was actually quite interesting. Anon opined: “Frankly, the example of having to import things from an XP box to a brand new Win 7 was a poor one. As a user, I would say that this is absolutely the producer’s problem. Do I ever have to look to confirm if an AA cell has the positive side on the non-nipply side? It’s called standardization, honey. … Why can you not devise a better way! Or, why can you not print instructions on the new machine! Some generic instructions on file transfer would help, instead of the huge help files that never result in any resolution!”

I must digress for a moment and ask you what you think about anonymous comments online. In the Network World online forum all but one of the remarks was by “Anon.” While this makes commenting easy (and makes you wonder whether disallowing anon comments would result in next to no comments at all), doesn’t it make the dialogue less “social,” less real?

Anyway, what Anon brings up is relevant: Are computers easy enough to understand by the average user? Which, in turn, begs the question: Can they be made easy enough for the average user? Anon wants generic (which I suspect means “simple”) instructions on the side of the machine which sounds good, but we know users never read instructions no matter where you put them.

My old friend Winn Schwartau, who also writes for Network World, wrote to me at length following the original column to tangentially disagree with me and, oddly, agree with Anon. Thus, next week, when we’re online only and have the space, I’ll publish Winn’s riposte in full.

Until next week, I’ll leave you with a final observation: Us IT people, we’re nice people! Despite the frustration the majority of you feel with users (including family members), you also feel that fixing their problems is your job (perhaps “avocation” would be a better term) because they need your help. Because you can do it, you feel compelled to step up and, as a wise man once said, “git ‘er done.”

Network World (US)

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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