Monday, January 11, 2016

Why do we have to know more about computers than cars?

Just after I posted “Erratic cellular settings” I thought about cars and problem solving.

Long ago I learned a little story about car problems that may have been older than me.

A car dealer gave his wife a new car.  She was delighted with it, but she complained that it ran erratically.  A mechanic checked it out and could find nothing wrong.  She brought it in again with the same result.  Finally, the head mechanic went out with her.

She started the car, pulled out the choke, and hung her purse from the choke.

Sometimes, you have to just be there to solve a user’s problem.  I found this out when a user couldn’t access a document because his computer terms didn’t the same meanings as others did.  I had to go to his house to understand the problem.  I found out the cause of an error in my own software when I saw a user print a document on his on printer.  I had assumed a negative number for a printer line would not get printed.  It worked fine on my Apple printer, but it didn’t work on his third party printer.

The problem with computers is that the designers expect their users to be expert car mechanics, masters of intricate analysis of problems.  But all the average user wants to do is touch a few buttons or type a few words to get his or her work done.  If their cars sputters when it should purr, they take it to a mechanic who often can diagnose the problem within an hour.  But if their devices sputter when they should purr, they are expected to put in hours trying to get enough information to get somebody to finally make a correction to the software (or tell them not to hang their purses on the menu bar).

My plaint about all this complexity is whatever happened to the “Computer for the Rest of Us” (The 1984 Apple Macintosh)?