Phil Agre's 1996 article "How to help someone use a computer" is full of eternal verities that hold up today: it starts with a section on putting yourself in the mindset of someone who's struggling with something you know how to do already ("Beginners face a language problem: they can't ask questions because they don't know what the words mean, they can't know what the words mean until they can successfully use the system, and they can't successfully use the system because they can't ask questions") and then moves on to practical tips for turning that empathy into successful advice ("Try not to ask yes-or-no questions. Nobody wants to look foolish, so their answer is likely to be a guess. 'Did you attach to the file server?' will get you less information than 'What did you do after you turned the computer on?'.")
By the time they ask you for help, they've probably tried several things. As a result, their computer might be in a strange state. This is natural.
They might be afraid that you're going to blame them for the problem.
The best way to learn is through apprenticeship -- that is, by doing some real task together with someone who has a different set of skills.
Your primary goal is not to solve their problem. Your primary goal is to help them become one notch more capable of solving their problem on their own. So it's okay if they take notes.
Most user interfaces are terrible. When people make mistakes it's usually the fault of the interface. You've forgotten how many ways you've learned to adapt to bad interfaces.
How to help someone use a computer.
It brings me, and my future sheltered-in-place mail art projects, a lot of joy that Ruth Asawa postage stamps have been announced. Sadly, USPS hasn’t revealed the release date just yet. So, instead, I’ll just be over here clicking “refresh.” Showcasing Asawa’s wire sculptures, the pane includes 20 stamps, with two each of 10 designs, […]
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From the Washington Post: During a time of global crisis, climbing death tolls and widespread uncertainty, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has been hailed globally for her compassionate handling of the coronavirus pandemic. She continued to win hearts Monday when she clarified who exactly has made a list of “essential workers.” “You’ll be pleased to know that […]
Yoga studios are closed nationwide. The irony is that between the anxieties of the outside world and those popping up inside your very own home with everyone trapped indoors, there’s probably never been a time where yoga’s calming zen was more vital and needed. Rather than just throwing in the yoga mat and subjecting family […]
The workers aren’t inside their physical business space anymore. So why should business technology still be under that roof either? In fact, more and more businesses have been making this migration for a while now, moving all their digital infrastructure to the world’s two largest cloud services platforms, Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft’s Azure. […]
Gather round, young and old — and hear tales of bygone days. Back in olden times, citizens would mass at a house of coffee, wherein skilled java alchemists would concoct special blends and apply artisanal wizardry to make each steaming chalice an appointment for the taste buds. Granted, said wizards, once known as baristas, were […]