I did some printer support over the weekend, which reminded me of the whole “facebook login” fiasco from earlier in the month.
Long story short, the person I was supporting couldn’t get Windows to recognize the printer.
The PC tower was under a desk and in a difficult spot to reach. The area was so snug that the cable actually did feel like it was in a port, but when I finally got in there, turns out the printer wasn’t plugged into the back of the PC at all.
The USB cable was resting snugly between two other cables directly over the port, but it wasn’t actually making contact. I finally found an open USB port nestled between the network port and two occupied USB ports.
No way I could have found that just by touch.
This diagnosis made the person feel stupid, and before you agree, let’s examine the facts.
This isn’t as obvious to everyone as it may seem to you. The instructions from the printer manufacturer can’t be specific for every single computer configuration out there. Case in point, what if you have an iMac?
The iMac’s design removes the need to dig under a desk, and the ports are separated enough to ensure you don’t get the same bogus feeling that a cable is plugged in when it ain’t.
Still, if you had an iMac, you might not be able to follow the instructions for a standard PC tower. So, this was a combination of generic instructions and cost/space-saving design.
Add to that the fact that this particular user wasn’t very spry and couldn’t dig around like a computer plumber under the desk.
If the “facebook login” fail hadn’t been top of mind, I probably would have been less forgiving, which leads to another problem: geeks breed arrogance.
I don’t think of myself as arrogant, but in this situation, what seems dead obvious to me leads me to question the user’s savvy. That’s not the way technology should work.
The power of technology is its ostensible ability to make life easier, but there are too many caveats and too much to learn.
Recalling my days in consulting, the worst part of the job was training users, not because of them, but because I never felt I could give a good answer to questions like “Why can’t I do this like I did in the old system?”
Training is painful, and retraining is a nightmare.
This whole thing and the iPad discussion had me thinking about design. Even good design is trumped by the backwards compatibility demon.
Once you release a feature, you can never take it away because someone might be using it.
Or more accurately, if you take away a feature, you’d better be ready to defend yourself or ignore the revolt.
I’m reminded of a few years back when serial ports began to disappear in favor of USB ports. A buddy of mine made a laptop decision solely because he needed a serial port to connect to machines in his data center rack. He was peeved.
Definitely a corner case, but an unhappy one.
So, I’ll be watching the iPad’s debut and rollout with interest. We’re at an interesting time now, where the bell curve’s requirements are driving simpler, easier design, which is leading to sanitized intertubes and locked down systems.
As geeks, we rebel against these things, but is it because we want freedom for all or it is because we want to preserve our mystique? Probably a bit of both and some other stuff too.
Find the comments and discuss.