The Computer Challenged User

I long have enjoyed Ken Stark’s writing style and wit. I long have admired his computer advocacy. I much admire his patience.

In a commentary he shared his experiences working with people who know little to nothing about computer basics. In his recent commentary he focused on the topic of keyboard shortcuts.

His shared experience has been my experience too. I have lost count the number of times I have been asked to show somebody how to perform a specific computer task only to have the user get completely befuddled because I used keyboard shortcuts rather than a mouse. The user was staring so intently at the monitor to watch the mouse pointer that the person failed completely to notice my hands moving across the keyboard.

I have lost count the number of times I have seen people negotiate dialog text boxes by using the mouse to select each individual field, release the mouse, type, and repeat the ritual. Then use the mouse to select the OK button. These people have no idea they can use the Tab key to traverse the fields and the Enter and Esc keys to select the OK and Cancel buttons.

When I show people these simple shortcuts they act as though I am a magician. Just as often they stare at me as though I am possessed because they do not perceive keyboard shortcuts as being useful or more efficient. In their minds everything is performed with a mouse. Except typing text.

Arthur C. Clarke’s “third law” was that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Most technology enthusiasts and sci-fans chuckle over this statement. Yet consider the validity of the statement from people who do not understand computers. While computers seem “old hat” to enthusiasts, geeks, and nerds, computers mostly are “sufficiently advanced technology.” To them, computers are indistinguishable from magic.

This is the the chasm that many free/libre developers fail to grasp. Instead they design desktops and distros targeting fellow geeks. These developers and maintainers take for granted the skill level of most computer users.

Geek creds are not important folks. Compassion is the key to winning people to Linux and free/libre software.

Posted: Category: Usability Tagged: General

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