Monday, 29 December 2008


Too old for this sh*t

Will Truman (via C.G. Hill):

Working at Southern Tech, I’m constantly amazed by the fact that our older faculty/staff can clearly and easily be separated into two degrees of capability: mediocre and nonexistent.

The Mediocre folks are capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade.  The Nonexistent folks are much worse; they routinely need help figuring out (I am not making this up) that they have accidentally pushed the Caps Lock key when typing.

As near as I can tell, the “Nonexistent”-skilled folks have one thing in common: all are over the age of 45, whether faculty or staff.  Watching them attempt to work on their own, I can only conclude that for some portion of the population, the ability to form new mental models and learn new tasks (or even new ways of doing old tasks) has been lost after this age...
Let us take a look at what is going on here: Truman’s first swipe is at the Mediocre, “... capable enough of doing basic word processing tasks and working with one or two specialty statistics programs they’ve been using for at least a decade.”  I sense the disdain of the uber-geek: “Basic word processing” (but nothing advanced!) and “ or two... programs they’ve been using for decades” (those old fogies!).  Then he takes on the Nonexistent, who can’t even negotiate the Caps Lock key!  (I wonder: How many of those folks are equipped with junk keyboards that provide no tactile feedback, and hide the “Caps” indicator on the other side of the room?)  And the horror!, should some Luser complain about the interface: mother, whose interaction with computers amounts to announcing that the way certain things are programmed to work is “dumb”, and proceeding to attempt to interact with the computer in the way she thinks it should have been programmed to react rather than altering her behavior to work with the system as designed.

IMHO, there are a cluster of issues here: I note the perennial problem of “engineers vs. everybody else” in interface design, the ever-more-frequent requirement of groking the designer’s thinking before one can learn a tool, and the difference between learning something for the sake of learning it, and learning something as a step on the way (or an obstacle in the way) to accomplishing some task.  All of these are worthy of discussion, but I’m going to confine this rant to the issue of “tech and the ‘mature’ user.”

From where I sit (well on the far side of 45), it’s my bet that many of these older folks simply don’t see that the technology which has been foisted upon them is particularly useful.  The prospect of negotiating the steep learning curve required to gain facility with some new gadget is seen as as a waste of time, especially if the utility of the gadget involved is viewed as dubious, or its useful life is seen as transitory.  This also leads to impatience with poorly-documented or non-intuitive systems.  “I can already word-process ‘just fine,’ ” they say. “Why waste my time adapting to Office 2007’s quirks, when I’ll just have to do it all over again in a year or two.”  (This kind of attitude becomes more common as one reaches a “certain age,” the value of “certain” varies with the circumstances, as well as with the person involved).  And if the answer is, “Because IT decreed it,” well, you’re setting yourself up for a lesson in passive resistance.

Within the last ten years, I personally have assimilated enough HTML, CSS, and javascript to be comfortable playing around with fairly complex web pages, gotten  familiar enough with the Gimp to do some pretty fair photo editing, begun learning MySQL, and (because I want to write an extention for Foobar2000) am getting acquainted with MS Visual Studio.  I don’t offer this list as some sort of geek credential, but to demonstrate that this old dog is still capable of learning new tricks– when he sees them as being worthwhile.

Because there is one point where I’ve run out of patience: My cell phone.


Posted by: Old Grouch in Rants at 06:45:31 GMT | Comments (1) | Add Comment
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