44 votes

People expect technology to suck because it actually sucks: so much of our usage involves dealing with a constant stream of minor annoyances

Tags: software, bugs

58 comments

  1. [27]
    NaraVara
    Link
    A close corrolary to this is, I think, a pervasive disrespect for the end user's time and attention. One of the things that first attracted me to the Mac as a platform was how thoughtful the...

    A close corrolary to this is, I think, a pervasive disrespect for the end user's time and attention. One of the things that first attracted me to the Mac as a platform was how thoughtful the notifications were. If something needed your attention, but wasn't especially important, the icon in the dock would bounce once and that was it. You could even configure it to not have a badge if you didn't want. Nothing came up in your face. Things very rarely stole focus from whatever app was front-most. And if you ever got a dialog prompt it was generally something that needed action right now.

    All of this contributed to a sense that the computer was a tool for me to use to accomplish my tasks. None of this design sensibility seems to come through in most app developers now, not even really from Apple. Everything is vying for attention and focus all the time. An ideal application or service, in my mind, should execute its job so seamlessly that I forget it exists unless it breaks (which it almost never does). Nobody has this aspiration anymore.

    It's the worst on the web. Somehow people have decided that blocking their own content to nag you to sign up for an email newsletter is no big deal. The upshot ends up being that literally everything you try to do online needs you to dismiss something--often several things--before you can actually do anything. Imagine if any time you tried to look up a word in the dictionary you had to tear the shrink-wrap off the book? EVERY SINGLE TIME. That's what looking things up online is like now. And some of them are even more obnoxious. They put in a delay before the lightbox appears, so you can view the page just long enough to start interacting with it or reading it and THEN you get a prompt. This is like the dictionary slamming shut on you by itself, forcing you to reopen it and find your word again.

    Everyone seems to think that my life revolves around my interaction with their service/app/whatever just because their workday revolves around it. But this is a one way relationship. I don't want to think about you anymore than I want to think about the power plant.

    47 votes
    1. [21]
      soks_n_sandals
      Link Parent
      Such a great point. Reminds me of school and complaining that every teacher assigns workloads as if that's your only class with no regard for for your life or other interests. Especially to your...

      Such a great point. Reminds me of school and complaining that every teacher assigns workloads as if that's your only class with no regard for for your life or other interests.

      Especially to your point on Apple, I love running Linux and would like to make the move to MacOS someday, but every time I've used a friend's Mac, I've been nothing but frustrated because it isn't intuitive to use. Perhaps, once you learn to use it, it's a better design than other OS options.

      I'm very interested to read (this book called Subprime Attention Crisis)[https://logicmag.io/subprime-attention-crisis/] that asks what happens when the attention (read: advertisement) based/funded web model falls apart.

      17 votes
      1. [4]
        emdash
        Link Parent
        There’s a difference between “unintuitive” and just plain old “different”. I grew up on Windows—my very first computer being some crappy Dell with an Intel Celeron processor with an 80GB SCSI...

        There’s a difference between “unintuitive” and just plain old “different”. I grew up on Windows—my very first computer being some crappy Dell with an Intel Celeron processor with an 80GB SCSI disk, and 768MB of RAM running Windows XP. It was fine. Good enough for an 8 year old kid in school.

        I purchased my first real Mac in 2013—the recently released 15” MacBook Pro with Retina Display—after having experienced two iPhones and being pulled into the halo effect.

        It took me a while to get used to macOS too. As a Windows user, it did feel frustrating that there wasn’t a Ctrl-X to cut, or how difficult it was to grasp finder, wait, you mean I have to drag things to use the OS properly?

        Over the years, you come to appreciate the small touches of macOS though. Unified design on every window, great terminal access, polish in places where you don’t expect polish, no registry, apps keep to their own .app package (for the most part), better designed third party apps too.

        Now, when there’s times I’m relegated back to Windows briefly, I’m forced to confront a feeling that Windows just... lacks in taste completely. The people designing it do not care. Management doesn’t care. It’s held down by decades of forced backwards compatibility that they have to push forward with every release, like a boulder up a hill. It’s truly a horrendously-designed pile of junk.

        15 votes
        1. [2]
          NaraVara
          Link Parent
          The other thing that sold me was iTunes (the original version that was basically reskinned SoundJam before they put all the crufty sync and store stuff on it). Specifically, the fact that I could...

          Over the years, you come to appreciate the small touches of macOS though. Unified design on every window, great terminal access, polish in places where you don’t expect polish, no registry, apps keep to their own .app package (for the most part), better designed third party apps too.

          The other thing that sold me was iTunes (the original version that was basically reskinned SoundJam before they put all the crufty sync and store stuff on it). Specifically, the fact that I could attribute metadata to files in iTunes and then go to an iTunes library folder in my file system and all my songs would be neatly sorted and arranged into folders by artist, composer, album, etc. in a logical way.

          It's completely opaque to a typical user. The way it was nobody would really need to go into the filesystem to manage their libraries unless they were a little bit technical. But the general idea that the stuff most people don't see should have just as much thought put into it as the stuff people do just made the whole experience feel cohesive.

          This is actually my big gripe with Agile development philosophy. The methodology revolves around breaking everything down into concrete, fully encapsulated tasks encourages this kind of thinking in terms of random checklists of features instead of a cohesive idea of what the tool is or what it's meant to achieve. The focus on discrete sprints and constant, shippable demos creates a bias towards glitz and other things that look good in a demo but don't actually improve the experience at all. The acceptance that anything can change anyway encourages people to not only not worry too much about the details and polish, but also makes it futile to design around things like muscle memory or advanced/power user expertise at all.

          That last one gets to another gripe I have. I feel like interfaces used to be very spatial and tactile. Like back when the computer sometimes took time to load up or draw your desktop, I would often have my mouse on top of an icon before the icon even appeared. I was just so used to it that I knew exactly where it would be on my screen. That's gone now. Stuff moves around constantly and sometimes dynamically. I blame the web and adaptive design for this one.

          6 votes
          1. joplin
            Link Parent
            Oh man, so much this. For me it was the same thing with iPhoto. I had previously been employed to write Photoshop plug-ins, so I was used to using all of its complicated tools, but I still found...

            The other thing that sold me was iTunes (the original version that was basically reskinned SoundJam before they put all the crufty sync and store stuff on it). Specifically, the fact that I could attribute metadata to files in iTunes and then go to an iTunes library folder in my file system and all my songs would be neatly sorted and arranged into folders by artist, composer, album, etc. in a logical way.

            Oh man, so much this. For me it was the same thing with iPhoto. I had previously been employed to write Photoshop plug-ins, so I was used to using all of its complicated tools, but I still found it was a pain to do photography and try and edit in Photoshop. It was all geared towards editing a single photo at a time, with no organizational tools whatsoever, and no way to share edits between photos. All of their attempts to add that functionality were atrocious (Bridge, etc.). The iPhoto came out and just made it simple and useful. And then Aperture took it a whole new level. I'm still pissed they let it die.

            2 votes
        2. suspended
          Link Parent
          This is poetry....I couldn't have expressed this better.

          This is poetry....I couldn't have expressed this better.

          4 votes
      2. [2]
        acdw
        Link Parent
        I was just about to say this exact thing! It's so frustrating, especially as someone who tries to be really cogent of the fact that I'm just a small part in everyone else's lives. P.S. fixed your...

        Reminds me of school and complaining that every teacher assigns workloads as if that's your only class with no regard for for your life or other interests.

        I was just about to say this exact thing! It's so frustrating, especially as someone who tries to be really cogent of the fact that I'm just a small part in everyone else's lives.

        P.S. fixed your link for you: this book called Subprime Attention Crisis

        10 votes
      3. suspended
        Link Parent
        I switched from Windows/IBM to iMac back in 2008. I've never had an intuitive problem. Also, I was having daily problems with Windows for years. Juxtapose this with the fact that in 12 years I've...

        would like to make the move to MacOS someday, but every time I've used a friend's Mac, I've been nothing but frustrated because it isn't intuitive to use.

        I switched from Windows/IBM to iMac back in 2008. I've never had an intuitive problem. Also, I was having daily problems with Windows for years. Juxtapose this with the fact that in 12 years I've had one problem that was easily handled by calling free tech support.

        5 votes
      4. [13]
        ohyran
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I have to second your statement here - Mac is not at all made for me. I mean neither is Windows but the frustration Apple has created for me during the years is just... I was given an iPhone...

        I have to second your statement here - Mac is not at all made for me. I mean neither is Windows but the frustration Apple has created for me during the years is just... I was given an iPhone recently by a friend and had to give it away to another friend after a week with the thing.

        It felt like having someone who've never met me, plan a detailed and over the top surprise party for me. Stuff happened that I didn't want. Small things like swapping Bluetooth devices which caused my music to start playing from my speaker instead of my headphones if I turned on the speakers for my husband to use, for example

        (oooh or the worst device I know: Chromecasts (not Apple just a similar scenario) - "hey you probably belong to the vast majority of our users, so we will fix this for you. If you're not. Well tough - please start all over and hope that this time the automated process will work, maybe.")

        I think its one of those experiences that either feels perfect or really really annoying all the time depending on your preferences.

        EDIT: not saying Apple = bad, just "not for me at all"

        2 votes
        1. [12]
          soks_n_sandals
          Link Parent
          I've been die-hard android for years, but after getting a stock Moto phone and hating what Google is doing design-wise, many LG phones that failed prematurely, and watching the pitiful software...

          I've been die-hard android for years, but after getting a stock Moto phone and hating what Google is doing design-wise, many LG phones that failed prematurely, and watching the pitiful software support of flagships, I think I'm going to jump ship to iPhone.

          I bought an iPad mini today and think the OS is really, really nice. So I think that will help ease the transition.

          Realistically, I'm not sure anything could drive me to a Mac desktop/laptop with the prices they ask. There are boutique hardware vendors like System76 that also charge a pretty penny, but I feel differently about considering a machine from them.

          2 votes
          1. [11]
            stu2b50
            Link Parent
            They're not that bad, really. For the "normal consumer" models, anyway. Certainly the Mac pro goes well above what normal human beings will purchase for hardware, but they're made for entities...

            Realistically, I'm not sure anything could drive me to a Mac desktop/laptop with the prices they ask.

            They're not that bad, really. For the "normal consumer" models, anyway. Certainly the Mac pro goes well above what normal human beings will purchase for hardware, but they're made for entities that don't care about price (the demand curve becomes much more elastic at the "pro" range just naturally).

            The base iMacs (+iMacs can actually use 3rd party ram) are really not that far off from what it would cost to buy a 5k screen + computer (although yes, you're paying more because it's intel rather than amd these days). In fact, depending on price fluctuations, sometimes the custom built PC is more expensive.

            Similarly, the macbook airs are very similarly priced to the LG gram, the most similar in form factor.

            It's when you get to the "pro" lines that things spiral, but Apple is just pricing to the elasticity of consumers at each level.

            4 votes
            1. [5]
              tindall
              Link Parent
              Personally, I don't understand the need for the (extremely expensive) 5k screen. I've used a 4k monitor before, and it's better than FHD for the work I do, but it's not really that much better...

              really not that far off from what it would cost to buy a 5k screen + computer

              Personally, I don't understand the need for the (extremely expensive) 5k screen. I've used a 4k monitor before, and it's better than FHD for the work I do, but it's not really that much better than 1440p. Is 5k really that much more amazing?

              2 votes
              1. [4]
                stu2b50
                Link Parent
                Well, you have to quantify "that much better". One, for content creators -- yes, it is important. If you edit videos or photos, the color accurate and quite beautiful 5k screen, despite the large...

                I've used a 4k monitor before, and it's better than FHD for the work I do, but it's not really that much better than 1440p.

                Well, you have to quantify "that much better". One, for content creators -- yes, it is important. If you edit videos or photos, the color accurate and quite beautiful 5k screen, despite the large ass bezels, is critical for your work, and you'll have to invest similarly otherwise.

                For other people, it's just a nice QoL thing. I use 4k or higher for all monitors now, at work and at home (not that there's a difference now); it just makes text look noticeably crisper, and nicer. When you spend like 1/3 of a day looking at text editor, it does matter.

                Do I need it? No, you can read text on a 720p screen just fine, let alone 4k or 5k, but at this point I am willing to pay for that luxury whenever I can.

                2 votes
                1. [3]
                  tindall
                  Link Parent
                  Of course. I'm not saying it's useless, just that I don't get why it's not optional.

                  One, for content creators -- yes, it is important. If you edit videos or photos

                  Of course. I'm not saying it's useless, just that I don't get why it's not optional.

                  2 votes
                  1. [2]
                    stu2b50
                    Link Parent
                    If you don't want the 5k screen, you can buy a mini and until you get to imac pro specs you'll be able to match it. As to why you can't lower the resolution--I suppose that's just the Apple ethos?...

                    If you don't want the 5k screen, you can buy a mini and until you get to imac pro specs you'll be able to match it.

                    As to why you can't lower the resolution--I suppose that's just the Apple ethos? It'll cost a premium, but you'll get premium for it. For the laymen, you don't have to worry about what 5k means. The package will come with a beautiful screen, more than enough for whatever you do. You can't buy an inelegant screen.

                    Also, it would make the supply chain more complicated. I'm sure they could if they wanted to.

                    3 votes
                    1. tindall
                      Link Parent
                      Ah, good point on the mini. I wonder if that's the solution to my build system woes.

                      Ah, good point on the mini. I wonder if that's the solution to my build system woes.

                      3 votes
            2. [5]
              soks_n_sandals
              Link Parent
              That's an interesting observation. I've sort of always been really keen on having good hardware specs, which is what drove me to look at the Pro lineup of laptops.

              That's an interesting observation. I've sort of always been really keen on having good hardware specs, which is what drove me to look at the Pro lineup of laptops.

              1. [4]
                stu2b50
                Link Parent
                When you really think about it, realistically there are 3 main camps of actual needs. Camp 1) Mostly web browsing, media consumption, email answering, etc. Needs very little in specs (Macbook air,...

                When you really think about it, realistically there are 3 main camps of actual needs.

                Camp 1) Mostly web browsing, media consumption, email answering, etc. Needs very little in specs (Macbook air, base iMac)

                Camp 2) Plays AAA video games (no Apple product)

                Camp 3) Professional/Prosumer with workloads that demand high specs (video rendering, etc) (Does it really matter if the computer is $500 or $1000 more expensive when it's your work tool/company is probably buying it?)

                Because Apple just ignores Camp 2, either you're fine with the okayish specs on the base models or you can pony up their prices.

                2 votes
                1. [3]
                  tindall
                  Link Parent
                  I (an engineer) am in none of these three camps. Neither are my parents (academics), my partner (a teacher), or my roommate (a stage actress, who is maybe arguably in group 3 but is broke as fuck).

                  I (an engineer) am in none of these three camps. Neither are my parents (academics), my partner (a teacher), or my roommate (a stage actress, who is maybe arguably in group 3 but is broke as fuck).

                  3 votes
                  1. [2]
                    stu2b50
                    Link Parent
                    Academics, teachers, and stage actresses are all in camp 1; there's no real reason they need more than an i5, or a GPU at all really. They'd all do fine with an air or imac.

                    Academics, teachers, and stage actresses are all in camp 1; there's no real reason they need more than an i5, or a GPU at all really. They'd all do fine with an air or imac.

                    2 votes
                    1. tindall
                      Link Parent
                      In principle, perhaps, but I brought up all of those examples because they are all people who have left or will soon leave the Apple ecosystem due to dissatisfaction with the Air models.

                      In principle, perhaps, but I brought up all of those examples because they are all people who have left or will soon leave the Apple ecosystem due to dissatisfaction with the Air models.

                      3 votes
    2. Amarok
      Link Parent
      Amen. When I became a sysadmin I was all-in on the silicon valley bullshit line about the promise of technology and computing. A couple of decades of doing that job has utterly erased that...

      Amen. When I became a sysadmin I was all-in on the silicon valley bullshit line about the promise of technology and computing. A couple of decades of doing that job has utterly erased that perspective.

      The tech is just another tool like a spoon or chainsaw. There's nothing fundamentally wrong with it. The problem lies entirely in how we choose to use it. Our economy has corrupted it into a Skinner box designed to sell garbage. Any thought of what the people using it want is an insignificant tertiary concern at best, even in most open source packages. It seems like the concept of a good workflow has vanished from the earth.

      Still not enough to get me on Apple, though. If they provided fully open source hardware for their prices, I'd probably make the jump. Someone has to take a stand for privacy in the hardware itself. I know Apple is terrified of clones since the day they were born, and I think that mindset has aged out. It's not about clones. It's about having real access to your hardware. That's worthy of a premium feature/price tag to me.

      7 votes
    3. [4]
      onyxleopard
      Link Parent
      I think this ultimately stems from the problem that most software developers are paid to make software that they don’t use themselves. You can usually tell when software is actually dog-fed to the...

      I think this ultimately stems from the problem that most software developers are paid to make software that they don’t use themselves. You can usually tell when software is actually dog-fed to the people who develop it. Such software is usually pleasant and efficient.

      6 votes
      1. [3]
        frostycakes
        Link Parent
        This is painfully apparent to me in retail. Literally all of our LOB software is a painful, counter-intuitive dumpster fire to use. Our POS systems feel like they are designed by someone who's...

        This is painfully apparent to me in retail. Literally all of our LOB software is a painful, counter-intuitive dumpster fire to use. Our POS systems feel like they are designed by someone who's never operated a cash register in their life, I fight near-daily with an automated inventory management system that was clearly not designed for rapidly perishable items like produce and has added more time to my day simply to work around its disastrously inaccurate counts, I could go on and on. The most intuitive thing I use in my job is our hideously hacked together Excel inventory/order guide spreadsheet, ffs.

        And this is an LOB where, even if you can't get actual cashiers and stores to test it, it shouldn't be difficult to train the QA people how to run a mock register.

        It's sad that the most expensive software my company licenses, that is most core to the daily operations of it, is the literal worst.

        5 votes
        1. [2]
          onyxleopard
          Link Parent
          Your first mistake was assuming there is a QA team. 😂

          it shouldn't be difficult to train the QA people how to run a mock register.

          Your first mistake was assuming there is a QA team. 😂

          4 votes
          1. frostycakes
            Link Parent
            Touche. Although I still think there's something to be said about the software being developed by people utterly unfamiliar with the end users' needs and workflows. Best POS software I ever used...

            Touche.

            Although I still think there's something to be said about the software being developed by people utterly unfamiliar with the end users' needs and workflows. Best POS software I ever used was a curses program called GENESIS - it's the in house POS, inventory, and ordering management system for Lowe's (I worked for them in college as a cashier). Granted, Lowe's is large enough to have their own bespoke Linux distro for their store computers, but it shows that the system was made and dogfooded by the people using it day to day. It took some learning, but it was great having a consistent system from the backroom to the registers, instead of the hacked-together house of cards I've experienced at every retail job since.

            And it extends across industries as well; my mother has been incredibly frustrated with their new PCC system at the nursing homes she's at-- charting has been a disaster, ensuring records are in compliance with state standards has made endless amounts of new work for her on top of her regular duties, and my stepfather talks of the nightmare a large chunk of the state's bespoke software for things like the Department of Revenue and DOT are for their end users (he does IT support for the state government). All of these are areas where the developers obviously aren't familiar with the end user's full needs (and who can expect that, especially for healthcare and a use case as ultimately esoteric as state government?), and it breeds an endless cycle of frustration for the users and support staff alike.

            4 votes
  2. [8]
    kfwyre
    (edited )
    Link
    I've talked about this before, but by Tildes' standards, I am close to tech-illiterate. I'm surrounded by people whose expertise with computers far exceeds my own. At times on this website, I...
    • Exemplary

    I've talked about this before, but by Tildes' standards, I am close to tech-illiterate. I'm surrounded by people whose expertise with computers far exceeds my own. At times on this website, I often feel like a tiny mouse staring up in awe at tall, imposing titans when it comes to technology.

    By contrast, in my job as a teacher, I am widely known as the techiest person available outside of our IT department (who are almost perpetually unavailable for support, especially now). The fact that I can simultaneously inhabit both of these roles says something about how vast the tech literacy spectrum is.

    I spend a non-negligible amount of my time helping teachers out with their tech frustrations. Back when we had to go to remote learning due to school closures I spent hours helping out my teammates with setting up their digital delivery. I did test video chat calls to teach them how to turn on and off their cameras, how to use the text chat, etc. I taught them how to make tables in Google Docs and did Google Classroom tutorials. I made a handful of videos intended for students about tech skills (e.g. splitting your screen so windows are available side-by-side) and they got passed around my staff as well, since what I was sharing was new to many of them.

    At the beginning of this school year, as we were preparing for more remote learning, I was in a meeting that three(!) different teachers each individually interrupted, each popping their head into the room to ask me to come help them with their computers when I had a moment. I'm working with a new team this year, and I had to apologize for the interruptions but ultimately told them, "just know that this sort of thing might happen a lot with me". The need for tech support for teachers has always exceeded schools' abilities to meet it, and that has only gotten more acute with how we've been thrust into digital learning by the pandemic. I'm someone who helps to make up that difference, and it keeps me busy.

    The original article that this piece is based on says, in reference to people who just put up with annoyances, that "It had just never occurred to them that it could be better". I would reword that as "they know it can be better, but they don't know how to begin to even to address that".

    This often gets caricatured as lazy or as deliberate ignorance in techy spaces, but I encourage you to consider that working with technology creates a vast swath of embedded knowledge and experience that is mostly invisible.

    A teacher once came to me complaining that she could no longer delete emails on her phone. Apple had updated its OS and her previous method no longer worked. I don't even have an iPhone, but I asked her to try long pressing on an email in her inbox. Her response was "what's that?" I clarified that she should hold her finger on the email on the screen and not let go. Sure enough, the option to delete popped up, and she was floored. "How did you know to do that?!" she responded in delighted surprise.

    I didn't know that it would work, but I knew enough about interfacing with tech to know that it's an option and a likely candidate for success. Knowing to long press on a touch interface is a low bar to meet, and I think a lot of techy people see that low bar and look with scorn at anyone failing to meet it. I understand why, but I'm saying this to acknowledge that this is the level at which a large number of users operate at, and I don't think it's laziness or learned helplessness. They don't have an intuitive sense of the grammar of technology and its interactions, nor do they have a map for the underlying foundations that guide it.

    I tell teachers all the time about how I search around for solutions to things and that's how I often figure out how to do what I need to with technology. I had another teacher who tried to do that herself and failed multiple times. Finally, she came to me with a problem and quietly asked, "do you mind if I watch you while you search? I want to see exactly what you type and look at". Even grokking search results and different websites for information is an embedded skill in troubleshooting.

    Years ago a teacher came to me saying his phone was getting very hot and his battery was not lasting very long. I asked him if he was regularly closing his background apps. He stared at me blankly. I proceeded to show him how he could double-tap home, and then start swiping up on windows to close apps. There were dozens, if not hundreds, of apps -- probably every single one in his phone -- all running simultaneously. He had no idea that he should do this. He didn't even know it was possible.

    I taught my mom to use a computer in the shadow of the days where just going to the wrong website could flood your computer with malware. She was on edge the entire time for even the simplest of actions, because she feared that one wrong click was going to ruin everything, and I understand her anxiety. For me, it was fundamentally clear which actions were safe (e.g. clicking the start menu, opening a folder) and which were risky (e.g. opening a random website or file), but she didn't have that paradigm, and as such, she felt that one wrong move anywhere could result in disaster. She initially approached computing like she was defusing a bomb. Everything she did was laborious, thought out, and calculated. What was completely frictionless and intuitive to me was the complete opposite for her.

    I've been helping people out with technology my entire career, and I get regular thanks from the people that I'm helping because they feel that I'm patient with them and I try to teach them about the device itself. After I encouraged long pressing to delete an email, I explained to the teacher what long pressing is, how she can think of it, and where else she might try it. After I walked my coworker through clearing the background apps on his phone, I explained why doing that was important and even checked in with him on later days to see if he remembered how to do it and if he was building the habit. I always have teachers take the actions themselves unless there's something I need to step in for, and if so, I always ask "can I drive for a moment?" If I'm ever doing something on their device myself, I always explain what I'm doing and why. My goal isn't just to fix their one problem but to demystify things for them a bit. I want them to have something to hold on to once I'm not there at their side anymore, able to answer their questions or give them guidance on demand.

    I've had people outright say to me that they don't like asking our IT specialists for help because the help that they receive is either completely opaque, or they're made to feel stupid. The embedded knowledge the IT specialists have makes things obvious to them, and they often resent being asked to help with such "obvious" things. I get that, as sometimes I'm frustrated by the stuff I'm asked to help with too. Ultimately though, I try to approach any educational opportunity by meeting the person where they're at, which is an embedded educational skill that I have that I would argue many IT people don't necessarily have (nor should they -- it's not their area of expertise!). These things are my "obvious": patience with a lack of understanding, assessing the person's needs in context of their complaint, gradual release of responsibility, check-ins to make sure they're maintaining the knowledge, affirmations of their worth and frustrations during difficult learning processes, explaining frameworks and contexts, using memory anchors to embed knowledge long-term. A comment I frequently get when helping someone is that I should teach computer classes for adults.

    This sounds self-congratulatory, and I'm not intending this as a way of patting myself on the back (though I will admit that I do feel I've earned that, as I've been doing extra work in the form of tech support my entire career with nothing to show for it). Instead, I'm pointing out that we all have our domains in which we are comfortable, and we often judge others outside of those domains for things which we take for granted.

    20 votes
    1. [6]
      vord
      (edited )
      Link Parent
      I'll tell you why the IT staff responds this way. Because sympathy and compassion get beaten out of you over the course of years. At first, I was happy to help guide anybody and everybody through...

      I've had people outright say to me that they don't like asking our IT specialists for help because the help that they receive is either completely opaque, or they're made to feel stupid. The embedded knowledge the IT specialists have makes things obvious to them, and they often resent being asked to help with such "obvious" things.

      I'll tell you why the IT staff responds this way. Because sympathy and compassion get beaten out of you over the course of years. At first, I was happy to help guide anybody and everybody through their various issues. But for the vast majority of the people who seek technical help from a person, they give it 0 thought once they get past their particular roadblock, and you've become the go-to person for literally any other change (or even the same one again). To the point people will expect me to explain how to use or fix stuff I've never encountered before. And the worst part is, they're right. Give me 10 minutes to explore the new program, do some googling, and I'll have an answer 90% of the time. Every person I've done this stuff for works on a computer 8 hours or more a day, most in another IT role.

      9/10 questions I get asked are about a system people have been using for 5+ years. Questions that are answered by literally typing the same question into Google, clicking the first result, and following 3 steps verbatim. It's the technological equivalent of knowing how to use a doorknob. I'll teach someone to use a doorknob once. I'm going to be incredibly frustrated when they come back to ask how to use a doorknob again each time they encounter one that is a different size, shape, or color.

      I can forgive my grandmother-in-law for not remembering how to copy/paste because she only touches her computer once a month or so, and I have infinite patience. I get that shared context and pre-existing knowledge is needed to understand this stuff.

      But virtually everybody else I end up helping (in the last decade or so) works in an IT role sitting at their computer 8+ hours a day and has been doing so for at least a decade. They demand re-training when a vendor program switches a color scheme. Or switches from a vertical menu to a horizontal one.

      I've tried @Gaywallet's strategy of raising the bar of expectations, but it becomes an ever-increasing treadmill of time sinks. So I hit a point where I just started feigning ignorance about anything that isn't directly related to my job function. And I fake being confused by changes that vendors make when other's ask how to resolve them. So now people don't approach me nearly as often for help, and I can slack off 30% more because they go bother somebody else (or reach out to the Helpdesk, who is trained to be compassionate in these matters).

      'Have you tried turning it off and on again?' is the most biting joke in the IT crowd. Because it resolved 95% of issues well into the 2010's. And no matter how many times people have been told this, they'll still reach out for help to have this done, and many will blatantly lie about having restarted when asked about it.

      20 votes
      1. [5]
        kfwyre
        (edited )
        Link Parent
        I hear you on this. I see the same thing in teaching. We have kids that won't pick up a pencil, won't take notes, won't pay attention, and then the moment you ask them to do something, they...

        I hear you on this. I see the same thing in teaching. We have kids that won't pick up a pencil, won't take notes, won't pay attention, and then the moment you ask them to do something, they immediately say "I don't get it!". We have students who pretty much decide that if they're not being helped individually then what is being said doesn't apply to them, so they will sit through an entire lesson only to immediately sideline their teacher for a private tutoring session recapping the exact thing we just went over with the whole class. It's beyond frustrating.

        In teaching we talk about "can'ts" and "won'ts". Can'ts are the kids that need our intervention and guidance to surmount whatever academic obstacle is in front of them. They legitimately can't get where they need to on their own. Won'ts, on the other hand, are the ones that refuse to help themselves.

        Won'ts are exhausting to deal with, and they have a way of raising frustration levels and sapping resources that then erodes our ability to help the cant's. With a won't, I'll have to do the professional equivalent of trudging through molassess to get them to initiate and perform even the simplest tasks, and a won't is rarely appreciative. The relationship is all take and no give. I had a conversation with a coworker the other day about how nice it was that, on account of remote learning this year, I haven't had to have a single negotiation with a child who refuses to pick up their pencil from the desk and write with it. That is normally a daily occurrence for me, and represents the barest of minimums for participation in one's learning -- my field's equivalent of "using a doorknob".

        You have no doubt worked with and had to support a lot of won'ts, and believe me when I say I know how genuinely frustrating that is. I haven't even been in my career that long but already I can see them getting to me. I frequently tell people that I legitimately don't think I'll be able to make it all the way to retirement in this career. You phrased it well: my sympathy and compassion are being beaten out of me over the course of years.

        12 votes
        1. [3]
          Gaywallet
          Link Parent
          I think it's important not just to separate out the cant and wont crowd, but I'd say there's another level of distinction that needs to be drawn here - the level of engagement you need to have. If...
          • Exemplary

          I think it's important not just to separate out the cant and wont crowd, but I'd say there's another level of distinction that needs to be drawn here - the level of engagement you need to have.

          If your job is IT tech support, such as @vord (or at least significant experience in such a toxic environment) then your experiences are going to be colored by the fact that you spend a lot of time providing excessively simple support to others. I absolutely loathed this kind of support when I did it, however, it did teach me a valuable lesson about being the one person willing to create documentation (coworkers will love you if you create quality documentation and it's a fantastic way for a new employee to gain recognition and clout).

          That being said, there is an incentive to react a certain way when your job performance is monitored and speedy closing of tickets is encouraged. If you're getting pressure to just 'solve the problem' rather than 'teach the solution', you're going to have a bad time with most people and you're probably going to get frustrated about how many people you interact with on a daily basis who are self-selecting 'wont's'.

          I'd also like to spend a second to point out that there are some individuals who aren't necessarily easy categorized into cant and wont. There are situations in which I am a conditional wont. It's not that I don't want to figure something out or learn what the problem is, but my time is valued at my company and there are times where I tell someone who is in charge of my time that it will take me x hours, and the response is essentially "outsource it to someone who can do it faster" - this is increasingly commonplace the higher and higher you climb in an organization. Now, with that being said, I don't approach it in a "please solve this for me, monkey" kind of fashion; I genuinely respect and admire the people who are able to solve the problem I'm having while being polite about it. I also understand if they are frustrated at me for not spending the time to figure it out, and I try to do my best to explain to them that I'd love to, but I'm just busy working on other stuff and the company decided it was more important (or in some cases there simply isn't time for me to figure it out or teach myself).

          8 votes
          1. vord
            Link Parent
            This is very true, at least for people inclined to look at it. Thankfully my job is not directly tech support, but it is especially frustrating when working in IT and still having to be an...

            it did teach me a valuable lesson about being the one person willing to create documentation (coworkers will love you if you create quality documentation and it's a fantastic way for a new employee to gain recognition and clout).

            This is very true, at least for people inclined to look at it. Thankfully my job is not directly tech support, but it is especially frustrating when working in IT and still having to be an in-between for people who don't want to engage desktop support.

            2 votes
          2. kfwyre
            Link Parent
            Great response. I definitely should have qualified that not everybody is a can't or a won't, and that there are far fewer genuine won'ts than can'ts. It's more that the stick-in-the-mud quality of...

            Great response. I definitely should have qualified that not everybody is a can't or a won't, and that there are far fewer genuine won'ts than can'ts. It's more that the stick-in-the-mud quality of any one won't tends to require outsize attention and effort, which makes their presence seem larger than it really is and, correspondingly, takes away from my ability to help the can'ts who need me.

            I also love your phrasing of "conditional won't", which is hugely important too. This, I think, actually gets at a lot of what I experience with teachers who need support. On any given day as a teacher, we have only about 50 minutes to ourselves to do everything that we need to do including planning, grading, communicating with parents, readying materials, etc. A mere 5 minute tech friction during that time takes up 10% of our work time for the day! Because of this extreme time pressure, our need for quick fixes far outstrips the utility of longer-term learning.

            The same goes for my students, and I want to qualify that as much as I've complained about them, I'm still sympathetic to many of my won'ts. Difficulty with a student often has an outside explanation. I had a student a few years ago who became one of the worst won'ts I've had in a while, but I was also aware that his parents were going through a very messy divorce at the time. His behavior in class was incredibly frustrating, but I also know that the source of that behavior lay in the extreme difficulty he was facing in his personal life.

            2 votes
        2. vord
          Link Parent
          This does explain how some of my most effective teachers came in two varieties: Older, ruthless, and no-nonsense hardasses who pushed the class hard and wasn't afraid to fail the won't folks....

          This does explain how some of my most effective teachers came in two varieties:

          • Older, ruthless, and no-nonsense hardasses who pushed the class hard and wasn't afraid to fail the won't folks.

          • Younger teachers who are fun, games, and infinitely patient. Until they snap and go ballistic on some dumbass disrupting the class for the 10th time that day. 20+ years later, I still vividly remember the best math teacher I ever had snap a yardstick in half on a student's desk (with precision aim), turn fuming red, like in a cartoon, and berate him at the top of his lungs and send home to the office. As soon as the student left the door, teacher composed themselves and carried right on with the lesson.

          7 votes
    2. Gaywallet
      Link Parent
      Thank you for writing up such a long and detailed post hitting exactly on a gripe that I have and often see when it comes to tech literacy - elitism. To clarify, I think it's reasonable to request...

      Thank you for writing up such a long and detailed post hitting exactly on a gripe that I have and often see when it comes to tech literacy - elitism. To clarify, I think it's reasonable to request that your end users put in some amount of forethought and troubleshooting themselves and it's very hard to cold read this on a person you do not know. I realize that being defensive of your time and energy is a necessary evil at times to avoid spending all your time helping others fish, when they refuse to learn to fish.

      But everything you have outlined is exactly the way you should be approaching people which you choose to help, and taking a negative attitude towards them is not just unsympathetic, it's going to color your experience with the world in the negative. It's unhelpful to look down on others for all the reasons beautifully outlined here - it's the fundamental way they are approaching problems that's typically what's at fault. Learning to recognize when the process is at fault and when the concepts are missing are crucial to understanding how best to teach people and it is entirely unsurprising that our resident teacher here was able to point it out and put it so eloquently.

      I would take the recommendations here and take it one step further - I keep mental notes of who I've helped and how many times I've helped them. I raise the bar, just a little, every time someone comes to me for help. The goal here, is to teach people to be self-sufficient. I would say my brother is my greatest success when it comes to this. A decade ago or so, he was as tech illiterate as your average 60 year old office worker in a job that is not tech. Yet over the past month he's set up a discord server and variety of integrated bots (some of which I looked into require processing power on a server and need you to set up on AWS or other similar service), some of these skills which I have no insight into. He has become tech literate because over time I pushed him to do more and more of the work before coming to me. Much like the coworker who asked to watch how kfwyre was searching for things, over time I pushed back harder and harder on my brother to do that searching (and instruct him, as necessary) and come to me with what he found first. Often times I would ask him to show me what menus he's been through and what he'd troubleshooted as well. Teaching people the processes, over time, to approach a problem in a similar manner to you is integral to their eventual independence. It's not just about teaching someone how to fish, it's about teaching them how buy a rod and boots, how to select the appropriate bait, how to find and select books and further their own fishing knowledge and everything tangential to fishing.

      6 votes
  3. [10]
    cstby
    Link
    For those who know how to fix these issues, there's an opportunity cost. You can spend 30 min trying to solve a minor annoyance, but that's 30 min less to work on your job, your project, play with...

    For those who know how to fix these issues, there's an opportunity cost. You can spend 30 min trying to solve a minor annoyance, but that's 30 min less to work on your job, your project, play with your kid, get some exercise, etc.

    Same goes for the folks who make and design software and hardware. They could go back and fix bugs XYZ or they could ship a new feature. At companies that deliver constant value, the backlog usually only continues to grow.

    Imho, the long term solution is to make software and hardware free and open source so that when one motivated person fixes their own annoyance, it can be fixed for everyone too. It would also encourage more folks to get basic technical literacy instead of seeing it as a black box.

    12 votes
    1. [9]
      Deimos
      Link Parent
      On the open-source end, I think that's true in some ways but not others. I feel like a lot of open-source software is actually worse for minor annoyances because people don't really enjoy working...

      On the open-source end, I think that's true in some ways but not others. I feel like a lot of open-source software is actually worse for minor annoyances because people don't really enjoy working on or worrying about all those tiny issues, especially if they're not personally affected by them.

      So you'll have someone add a feature they want or fix something that bothers them, but their change might cause issues for other people that they don't care about fixing. They also won't generally stick around and be responsible for fixing any future bugs or conflicts that come up with their addition, so it adds more future maintenance burden to the project overall. That's one of the reasons why "just add everything people want" doesn't work out too well in practice.

      19 votes
      1. DrTacoMD
        Link Parent
        That's been my experience as well. I'm currently working as an engineer at a large consumer tech company, and the vast majority of the bugs I fix in a given week are issues I would never run into...

        That's been my experience as well. I'm currently working as an engineer at a large consumer tech company, and the vast majority of the bugs I fix in a given week are issues I would never run into in my own experience. Hell, I barely even use the product I'm working on! These bugs are being fixed because my teammates and I are employed to think about these use cases, not because we're personally affected by them.

        I'm a big proponent of open-source software as a specific approach for specific problems, but I know of very few easy-to-use, consumer-facing open-source technologies that don't also have a corporate partner of some sort that can fund efforts to fix issues.

        9 votes
      2. [5]
        cstby
        Link Parent
        I agree. Part of the issue here is that most open source maintainers must use their own free time to understand how folks use their software, prioritize what to focus on, integrate PRs, and...

        I agree. Part of the issue here is that most open source maintainers must use their own free time to understand how folks use their software, prioritize what to focus on, integrate PRs, and develop features. I'm imagining more of a hybrid model where a salaried core team with a strong product vision can shepherd the needs of many users into a constructive force. I know there are some examples of this, but I don't know how well they've faired.

        7 votes
        1. [3]
          vord
          Link Parent
          I think this problem is exacerbated by the fact that using a computer for most has been made too easy, to the point that it's treated more as a content delivery mechanism than a tool. I get that...

          I think this problem is exacerbated by the fact that using a computer for most has been made too easy, to the point that it's treated more as a content delivery mechanism than a tool.

          I get that part of progress is trying to make things easier. But in doing so, it's kind of kept the larger population from having to interact with their computer with any deeper insight than changing channels on a TV.

          I'd wager that Millennials have a higher percentage of computing literacy and flexibility than most other generations before or after because of this. PCs became prominent in our homes at just the right time, where you couldn't just Google a problem, fixing problems was hard, and the technology really started ramping up faster and faster, so we had to learn new stuff all the time. Gen X is a close second, but they were a bit beyond their formative years. By the time Gen Z hit that point, the vast difficulties were swept away, for better or worse.

          10 votes
          1. [2]
            hungariantoast
            Link Parent
            There's this blog post that I enjoy quite a bit, and if you don't take it too seriously, I think it does a good job at summarizing a simple, yet largely unrecognized idea: kids can't use computers...

            There's this blog post that I enjoy quite a bit, and if you don't take it too seriously, I think it does a good job at summarizing a simple, yet largely unrecognized idea: kids can't use computers

            What I really like about that post is that near the end, the author writes this:

            This has happened before. It is not a new phenomenon. A hundred years ago, if you were lucky enough to own a car then you probably knew how to fix it.

            I feel like in that last statement, he's basically saying the same thing you are, that computers are so polished these days, their experiences so well contained, there's often no need for users to learn how to do anything advanced. For the most part, it "just works".

            9 votes
            1. vord
              Link Parent
              Or in this case (tying back to the article), it just works well enough that the vast majority won't bother hunting to improve their experience. Thus, people learn to live with minor annoyances...

              Or in this case (tying back to the article), it just works well enough that the vast majority won't bother hunting to improve their experience. Thus, people learn to live with minor annoyances that build up over time, and just make the whole experience miserable, if only subconsciously.

              I'm 100x happier using Linux than I ever was on Windows, because I am one of the minority. Because while Linux on the desktop does take a while to smooth out the rough edges, once you do, the experience is much smoother, and will remain consistent for longer. For example, KDE lets me fine tune window positioning better than any proprietary OS. I can control the size, shape, layering, and positioning of every single program. It might take me a few hours to get it setup the way I like, but once I do that, I never find myself thinking 'Dammit window get out of my way' and it makes using my PC much more enjoyable.

              7 votes
        2. tindall
          Link Parent
          Yes, precisely this. If all or nearly all software was open source, we would have the best of both worlds; so much of open source exists only because proprietary solutions, which are the best or...

          Yes, precisely this. If all or nearly all software was open source, we would have the best of both worlds; so much of open source exists only because proprietary solutions, which are the best or only option in some space, have a fatal flaw that forces someone to build an alternative. Imagine if those people's free labor could be used to improve the original product, instead!

          5 votes
      3. vord
        Link Parent
        One major advantage of many larger open source programs is that they're built to be modular in a way many proprietary versions are not. It facilitates people scratching their own itch without the...

        One major advantage of many larger open source programs is that they're built to be modular in a way many proprietary versions are not. It facilitates people scratching their own itch without the core team having to cater to every demand.

        5 votes
      4. Grzmot
        Link Parent
        I agree, and I'd also add to this that open-source software is often developed by people working on backend software, as such it's just often ugly (by looking outdated) and/or has horrible UI,...

        I agree, and I'd also add to this that open-source software is often developed by people working on backend software, as such it's just often ugly (by looking outdated) and/or has horrible UI, because the people working on it don't try to approach the software from the point of view of someone who hasn't spend months writing the code.

        The vast majority of projects on github I've seen just look bad. The code itself may be beautiful, the program may do its job perfectly, but it usually does it unintuitively.

        2 votes
  4. [5]
    jaylittle
    (edited )
    Link
    I've been writing software for 20 years and I totally agree with this article. It hits the nail right on the head. There are so many little annoyances in software that it will boggle your mind if...

    I've been writing software for 20 years and I totally agree with this article. It hits the nail right on the head. There are so many little annoyances in software that it will boggle your mind if you take off the blinders for a minute and really view the situation as it is, even when it comes to theoretically user friendly software like Apple's.

    I also love how this article hits on a huge pet peeve of mine: Apps that steal my focus from the app I'm currently working in. As a computer user, this drives me absolutely insane and has caused me to dump many apps over the years in an effort to reduce the stress associated with it.

    When I'm in the goddamn zone, I want to stay there. Stop stealing my focus. If you need my attention, ping me in a very gentle way and then fuck off. I'll get to you when I'm good and ready.

    11 votes
    1. [4]
      Pistos
      Link Parent
      Totally agree. For a while now, I've adopted this hardline, absolute stance (I challenge anyone to provide a counterexample): Nothing, and I mean nothing, should ever change the input focus target...

      Totally agree. For a while now, I've adopted this hardline, absolute stance (I challenge anyone to provide a counterexample):

      Nothing, and I mean nothing, should ever change the input focus target without explicit user action.

      The user's keystrokes and mouse clicks and screen taps should never end up on an unintended target. We've had GUIs for, what, 40 years? And this same, infuriating UX problem is seen time and again in all manner of interfaces. It's ridiculous.

      8 votes
      1. [3]
        Gaywallet
        Link Parent
        It seems extremely rare for this to happen and one software I work with regularly at work does exactly this and it's extremely infuriating. I even personally know some of the developers on this...

        Nothing, and I mean nothing, should ever change the input focus target without explicit user action.

        It seems extremely rare for this to happen and one software I work with regularly at work does exactly this and it's extremely infuriating. I even personally know some of the developers on this and it hasn't been fixed despite complaining many times. 😩

        1 vote
        1. [2]
          petrichor
          Link Parent
          (I don't know if this is what you're referring to, but Zoom does this, and I can't stand it)

          (I don't know if this is what you're referring to, but Zoom does this, and I can't stand it)

          3 votes
          1. Gaywallet
            Link Parent
            Ah shoot you're right, but I'm usually not doing other stuff while I'm in a zoom meeting

            Ah shoot you're right, but I'm usually not doing other stuff while I'm in a zoom meeting

  5. cfabbro
    Link
    A bit offtopic, but there was a semi-related article from a few days ago on WIRED worth reading too: How Work Became an Inescapable Hellhole - Instead of optimizing work, technology has created a...
    3 votes
  6. est
    Link
    That's probably because technology were not designed to be a useful daily tool, but as a platform for higher profit extraction from the consumers. To make things worse, every app on this platform...

    That's probably because technology were not designed to be a useful daily tool, but as a platform for higher profit extraction from the consumers.

    To make things worse, every app on this platform have different ideas of how the extraction process works.

    2 votes
  7. [6]
    post_below
    Link
    Sure, tech is full of bugs... but everything people create is full of bugs and annoyances. We've just had more time to get used to the imperfections in the analog world. Until software is written...

    Sure, tech is full of bugs... but everything people create is full of bugs and annoyances. We've just had more time to get used to the imperfections in the analog world.

    Until software is written entirely by AI, there will always be bugs. It's a natural consequence of humans and complexity.

    1. [5]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      Sort of, sure. Take my apartment building, for instance; several of the doors are just narrow enough that my friend's wheelchair can't make it through. But this building was built in 1920; we have...

      Sure, tech is full of bugs... but everything people create is full of bugs and annoyances. We've just had more time to get used to the imperfections in the analog world.

      Sort of, sure. Take my apartment building, for instance; several of the doors are just narrow enough that my friend's wheelchair can't make it through. But this building was built in 1920; we have significant legislation preventing this kind of mistake from new buildings, because we acknowledge, as a society, that it's important. We haven't done that with software yet.

      7 votes
      1. [4]
        post_below
        Link Parent
        A door frame is magnitudes less complexity than even simple software. Legislation establishing penalties for bugs is a bad idea on so many levels. There are bugs in even the best tested, mission...

        A door frame is magnitudes less complexity than even simple software. Legislation establishing penalties for bugs is a bad idea on so many levels.

        There are bugs in even the best tested, mission critical software. Software that has been written and vetted by some of the best in their field, tested in multiple rounds of alpha and beta and then run in the real world for years.

        Don't take my word for it, ask ANY software engineer what they think about the possibility of complex software without bugs. It'll at least be good for a laugh.

        3 votes
        1. [3]
          tindall
          Link Parent
          I think I'll take my word for it instead. I'm a software engineer who works in the healthcare field; certain kinds of bugs are an existential threat to the company I work for because we're so...

          Don't take my word for it, ask ANY software engineer what they think about the possibility of complex software without bugs. It'll at least be good for a laugh.

          I think I'll take my word for it instead. I'm a software engineer who works in the healthcare field; certain kinds of bugs are an existential threat to the company I work for because we're so heavily regulated. We seem to do okay somehow.

          7 votes
          1. [2]
            post_below
            Link Parent
            Certain kinds of bugs, ok, but are you claiming the software never has bugs? Because otherwise, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, you've jumped into a completely different conversation.

            Certain kinds of bugs, ok, but are you claiming the software never has bugs? Because otherwise, at the risk of pointing out the obvious, you've jumped into a completely different conversation.

            1 vote
            1. tindall
              Link Parent
              Of course not. I'm also not claiming modern buildings have no problems.

              Of course not. I'm also not claiming modern buildings have no problems.