Friday, May 13, 2011

Challenges That Should Not Be Challenges

An interlude....

Earlier this week, I dropped in on someone I know well who, along with another person, was using a business application. Both are "typical" users in the sense that they use software to accomplish business tasks and that is the extent of their interaction with the computer.

As I walked in the room, one of them pointed in the general direction of the printer and told me they had been having trouble getting "that" back in place - I couldn't quite see what they were pointing at and in a light hearted way I said "Have you tried closing your eyes, giving it a kick and hoping that nothing snaps?". The reply was an amused comment about how that just might have to be the next step.  But there was an underlying frustration there. A short while later they finished up their work and took off. After taking care of what I needed to do I took a look and the problem was that the top cover of the printer paper feed was out of the printer and they were having trouble putting it back in place. It was a matter of a second or two and I popped it back in. That same day I was labeled the "go-to" person.

This got me thinking...we have been having some serious conversations here about interdisciplinary applications of computing, yet there remains a huge gap of basic .... something. I'm not sure it is knowledge. I'm not sure what exactly it is...I have been searching for the right phrase. I'm still working on it.

But there is a connection here and I'm grasping for it. I'm thinking....when we talk about interdisciplinary computing...when we talk about helping people...I'm wondering....what can we do in an interdisciplinary collaboration that will make computer systems and their basic (to many of us) operation less confusing to those who live in very different worlds? Popping the paper feed cover on was trivial to me; I knew instinctively the angle and direction to hold it. The operation was certainly not trivial for them - and they run a very successful business - smart, educated, thoughtful, savvy people.

First we (I) need to get a handle on how to describe the issue. It isn't "computer literacy" or "digital literacy". I think it is something different. But I'm convinced there is something here, very fundamental, that needs to be tackled - for adults. Adults who have their productivity disrupted by challenges that should not be challenges.

My antennae are vibrating all over the place that there is something important ...

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