… or, Welcome to the World of WTF
By no means a computer geek, ever since acquiring my first Mac, computers have fascinated me. In addition to quickly mastering the basics, I rapidly discovered the elasticity of the term “end-user”. A visit with my sister and her roommate, both of whom react to IT or online anything with a bewildered (or frantic) WTF, forcefully reminded me that all end-users are not created equal.
I cut my IT teeth on a Macintosh Plus way back in 1991. It was not mine exactly. My then boyfriend—let’s call him Calvin—bought it used from a friend who was upgrading to the just-released Classic II. A skilled junior high school history teacher, he thought it might come in handy for typing tests, recording grades and such. He unpacked his newest acquisition, scanned the manual and, congenitally impatient, gave up. Connecting the dots, connecting the parts, fell to me as did learning to use the thing once booted up.
Not smarter or, to be fair, more patient than Calvin, clearly Mac developers had me in mind when they created their product. That machine was up and running in no time, and I couldn’t have been happier.
Calvin eventually (many months later) drifted back towards the machine and asked for a quick tutorial. I complied then left him alone to noodle, which is (IMHO) the cornerstone of knowledge acquisition.
Five minutes later, a panicked shout (Shit!) from Calvin summoned me back to the study. The problem? He had run the mouse to the edge of the mouse pad and the cursor was still far from where he wanted it. Why he thought the pad was magic I’ll never know. But, it was then that I realized a fundamental truth: not everyone simply gets computers.
Now nearly 25 years later, when visiting my sister over the holidays, I came face-to-face on proof positive that this most fundamental fact still obtains . In fact, I have to credit my sister Anita for suggesting the subtitle for this post.
Anita invited me to spend Christmas with her. I gladly accepted. When I arrived both she and her roommate were in a tizzy. After years of living more or less IT-free in rural Massachusetts (email, texting their teenagers and checking into Facebook four times a year don’t count), fate had driven both to seek jobs in sectors that required computer skills and a modicum of digital literacy. What job, you might ask, doesn’t require these skills? Lots but that’s another post.
So, while neither needed help in the kitchen (thank God!), they did need help tackling a very steep learning curve. Fast.
Over the next ten days, I spent a great many hours delivering mini on-the-fly 101 tutorials on a range of software, platforms, apps and practices: e.g., how to transfer photos from a bunch of maxed out SD cards (stored in a recycled mints tin) to a local drive (to be double extra sure) and a cloud-based storage platform, how to navigate and use Word more efficiently using shortcuts, how to get control of Word using default configurations, how to enter a line break in an Excel cell, how to set up an event on FB, what are hashtags in Twitter and if/how to use them, how to quickly delete quote delimiters from a sloppy legacy DB dump and migrate the data to a more powerful tool, the pros and cons of different blogger platforms, how to buy a domain name, etc.
Some questions I really had to think about because so much of what I do I do on auto-pilot. The real challenge was not to assume anything about what my sister and her roommate understood and to ratchet back the information to the barebones basics.
Having just met the roommate, I don’t know her strengths. Anita’s skills, however, have always blown me away.
She knows way more than I about so many things. She is an experienced community builder who knows a lot about rural and small town living. In the kitchen, she can transform disparate ingredients into a delicious meal without ever consulting a recipe. With her box of various tools and skills honed through years of practice, she can transform discarded furniture, second hand clothes, fabric and found objects into things of beauty. With a keen eye for space and colour, she can turn a dilapidated house into a cozy home. Unfortunately, I suspect that she is not the end-user IT developers have in mind.
The digital shift has organizations big and small reeling to adjust. Individuals whose skills command less respect and ever lower wages are also hustling to tool up and acquire the knowledge to survive in an IT-driven work and life environment. And as hard as developers try to imagine the end-user, their products still baffle many.
Since I can work remotely, I decided to stick around to help my sister settle in to her new job as the executive director of a community arts non-profit. She’s feeding me great food and I get to wear all her great funky clothes. In return, I can share what I know about everything IT and online. That’s what biz wonks call win-win.
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The Scream by Edvard Munch via Wikimedia
Macintosh Plus by Rama via Wikimedia