Sunday, June 13, 2004

Computers and common sense

To quote from the site that this post is about: "It's a baffling phenomenon that in today's society an individual, who might in other circumstances be considered smart and wise, can sit down in front of a computer screen and instantly lose every last shred of common sense he ever possessed."
The site here is about all sorts of stupid questions and incidents involving computers, including the famous one about the guy who thought his CDROM tray was a cup holder. Here lies the paradox-In the beginning, computers were enormous machines that cost millions of dollars and required a PhD to operate. Even in the eighties, the non Macintosh world (which is quite large) was stuck on a clunky command line interface, (read DOS) which was anything but friendly. A lay person had to memorize cryptic commands to do even simple stuff. The 90's ushered in Windows, which has come a long way since then-from 3.1 to 95, 98 and now XP. Today's PC is vastly superior and much more friendly and intuitive to use than what was there earlier.
Yet people crap out the moment they have to use something.
The icon based interface was supposed to be intuitive. Infact, the whole point of a GUI system is you can easily explore menus, just SEE what all is possible. Here's an example-if I want to put a picture, or a hyperlink in a Word document-what do I do? Theres an 'Insert..' menu at the top-where logically i would go if i wanted to insert SOMETHING. Once I open it, I specify what. Does it require such an exertion of mental muscle to do this? But it happens all the time-people sit and expect their computer will do everything for them. They will, someday, but as of now, a little intellect on the users part is whats required.

In my experience, the people who complain the most about computers hanging or being unable to 'understand' computers, who think you're some sort of super guru because you know how to set the default font for sending mail in Outlook Express-are the ones who either severely lack common sense, or whose brain short circuits the moment they see a computer.
Conversely, there are others I know, who by themselves would not call themselves as techies or geeks, but who are at least comfortable with computers to know how to get by. They would not know enough to say, troubleshoot faulty hardware, or edit the registry, but can get by with day to day stuff: creating shortcuts for working efficiently, or knowing about skins to customize winamp, etc.
Since I get called to help with computer problems-I can see the difference: The 'high common sense' category of people only call me if it's really something they can't figure out: file associations gone bad, or viruses and so on. And once I teach them how to fix the problem, they manage to do it by themselves in future.
That's another characteristic: willingness to learn. Agreed, not everyone has the time or inclination to figure out stuff-but is it so hard to remember the edict "Thou shall not open unsolicited email attachments" and "Thou shall not use (insert name of common adware/spyware program here) " ?

There's another thing: error messages. If you want technical support-the least you can do is take down whatever error messages crop up. Assuming the language you understand is English, why do people act paralyzed and terror stricken whenever their computer shows them an error message? Whenever I ask them what the hell popped up, the stock reply is 'some error message' or 'I didn't read it'
One cannot solve computer problems, especially over the phone, by using clairvoyance.

To this end, I've created a set of ten commandments for using windows.
Wish more people would follow these.


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