Bricks and evil
Douglas Englebart, who led the development of the first word processor in the 1960’s, tried to explain what word processing would be like to people who had never used a word processor. “Imagine a pencil,” he would say. (I’m paraphrasing liberally here, by the way.) “Now imagine tying that pencil to a brick, so that to write you have to move not just the pencil, but the brick as well. That’s actually what using your current tools is like. Now, imagine that you untie the brick. That’s what using a word processor is like.”
I still haven’t figured out how to do this — how to help people or to even get them to see the brick that I see so they can explain how it’s not really a brick.
This extends to other computer users, too. It’s really frustrating to me to see someone putting up with a huge amount of tedious, easily automated grunt work and not knowing how or not being able to help. It makes me sad when people associate mindless tedium with “just how the computer works.” Computers are supposed to be tools to help us., not the other way around.
When I was visiting a friend a few months ago his wife was doing some temping for a large company. Her job over that weekend was to use some internally developed tool to change the accounting code on a huge number of items from one code to another code. The way she had to do this was to open each set of items in a huge scrolling window, click a checkbox on each one, and then do some action. Unfortunately, “click a check box on each one” meant scrolling and clicking hundreds of checkboxes. Sigh.