[thelist] long, but gentle, rant about the non-ubiquity of technological knowledge (was RE: Newsletter as HTML Email)

Joel D Canfield joel at streamliine.com
Thu Feb 1 08:26:17 CST 2007

> nice little paragraph preceded by the word 'Simply' on how to get the 
> feed into their reader. I don't think you give non-techie 
> humans enough credit.

Barney, I'll preface my comments by saying that I find your posts
interesting and educational, both here and over at css-d (yeah, I'm
watching you; don't think I'm not . . . ) I sometimes read what you have
to say on subjects I'm not even interested in, 'cause what you have to
say might *make* me interested!

but, I have to call you on this one.

I understand your perspective, really I do. I sit here, working at home,
in a room with 14 computers (we're a family of five, and it's only 14
because the other two are in other rooms) watching my
not-quite-three-year-old open FireFox, find her name where her
19-year-old sister saved her Favorites, pick out the UpToTen website,
locate the search button (it's the word 'Search', by the way, not a
picture) and then select the games she likes from the picture icons.
This seems normal to me, as it might to you.

But, as a corporate trainer with years of experience teaching technical
stuff to non-technical people, I know that just by assuming that the
internet/email/a website is a good way to communicate with one's family,
one is already giving non-techie humans way more credit than they've
earned, or want.

*If* they even have a computer, sure, they may have learned to turn it
on - or they may have had it turned on for them when it was set up, then
never shut it off again (in at least one case, because the instructions
said to click the 'Start' button, and they didn't want to start, darnit,
they wanted to shut it off. Watch now in your mind's eye, in another
instance, as they yank the power plug from the wall because they knew
darn well *that* would shut the blasted thing off.)

My father was working in technology (QC for mainframe memory) back in
the late 60s, so I come from a techie background. But ask me about my
family :) My mom has never owned a computer. Despite my own advancing
years, she's only in her early 60s, she's not 'old' yet. But she will
not own a computer, period. So, no email, no websites. Younger brother -
doesn't even have an answering machine, because it's just too much
hassle to set one up. Computer? hah! Older brother just got an email
address a few months ago. (Younger sister is a web developer, so it's
not universal, at least!)

My real-world experience tells me emphatically that expecting any group
of regular human users (who don't work with technology for a living or
as a serious hobby) to grasp at any level what an 'RSS feed' has to do
with photos of my little one or news about my trip to Ireland, is
madness; sheer madness.

And I say so at such length, partly because I'm putting off my own FAWM
[1] madness ;) and partly because this techie tendency to give
non-techie humans 'enough credit' is the single primary reason
computers, software, websites, and toasters [2] are infinitely too
complicated, and why the average person out there (wanna bet?) still
thinks computers are complicated, confusing, and contrary.

We have to change that, not by pushing the rest of mankind to learn what
we do for a living, but by creating 'simplicity' by shifting the
complexity from the human users to the tools - and sometimes that means
pondering stuff that doesn't exist yet, like snail-mailing a letter
(albeit a highly advanced letter) to my Mom that's somehow connected to
my little girl's website so Mom can see the latest photos without even
having to know a lick of technology.

This is, in part, what I'm trying to do with the intranet tools I'm
developing for small businesses (http://Streamliine.com/)

(Thanks for the loan of the soapbox, Iggy; no, that's okay, I'll put it
away myself . . . )


[1] http://www.fawm.org/writers.php?id=275
[2] We have two on the counter; mine toasts bread, but can do it one
side only if I choose. I use it daily. The other is specially designed
to toast the muffin, poach an egg, and steam a slice of ham, so your
breakfast sandwich can be assembled on the spot. Even the technophile
with too much money who bought the thing doesn't use it any more.

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