Technical Ignorance Is Bliss

Years ago – when I owned a 486 (or something similar) my mom woke me up at 7am in a panic. “Rich, the computer is flashing something! It says ‘your text is here!’ Have you been waiting for your text to arrive?”
My mom had mistook the infamous Windows “Marquee” screensaver for an announcement from some nebulous service that my text had finally arrived.
Recently, I set my mom up with a Yahoo account for email and calendaring and such. All was well until she called me and with a frustrated tone. She couldn’t understand why she couldn’t log into her Windows desktop. She assumed that her new Yahoo user name and password applied to everything. Her Windows desktop. Her Amazon account. Everything.
A reporter recently wondered why the most searched term on Google was “Yahoo.” What exactly is the difference between a URL bar and Google’s search bar? Yeh yeh, Google is a web site (sort of) and it’s search bar is just HTML that posts to their servers.
The lesson learned here? Do not underestimate the value of the non-technical user who is absolutely clueless as to how things work. Unified authentication between your desktop and web apps is a complicated thing. It also happens to be the right thing. This sort of feedback not only sheds light on how people use systems (i.e. usability data) but also, and almost by accident, illuminates possibilities that we as technologists simply write off because of assumed limitations.
Why do I have to manage twelve different passwords? Why is it so hard to find my pictures from last weekend’s trip? I wish my calendar would SMS me with reminders?
So at your next family get-together, sit your uncle or grandma down at the PC and watch closely. Watch how they fumble around. Just as important – listen closely. Listen to the “why” questions that arise out of their blissful ignorance. You’ll often find gold in them thar hills.

5 Comments Technical Ignorance Is Bliss

  1. DannyT

    I just posted some relevant thoughts regarding intuition and conditioning of people, there is no underestimating usability without watching real users.

  2. Zana

    Your mom sounded like mine. She went to this computer class her school (she’s a teacher) offered, and she came home announcing “Now I know dot com !”
    Over all these years, I still had to do all her paperwork for her.

  3. Dan

    As a manger of an IT department, we work from the assumption that most users are e-tards. We have to…. we have users that still cannot grasp the concept of when something is a link, and not a link. They think everything should be marked “click here”.
    Although AOL has done a good job of getting people online, they have dumbified their users.
    In our opinion, AOL = Almost On Line.
    So many times I watch people type an URL into the Yahoo or Google Search box.
    So what is worse, what they do, or the fact that no matter how often you correct them, they cannot comprehend enough to correct themselves in the future.
    As the world gets more technical I realize, the world needs ditch diggers too.


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