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   whimsical laws of physics
Thursday, February 6 2003

I went on a computer repair housecall today and spent the two hours acting mostly as a teacher. I barely touched the computer; instead I stood behind the client and told her what mouse movements to make and she did all the actual work, robotic though it might have been. Using this method we were able to retrieve some images from a digital camera, resize them, paste them into a FrontPage document and upload them to her website. Of course, since the woman had done all the manipulations necessary to bring this about, she got the cognitive satisfaction of having done it herself. I, on the other hand, developed a mild sore throat from all the talking required. This was the first time in my life I'd ever talked so much that it wore me out. I don't know how teachers can do it day in and day out. At least, though, they have the reward of seeing a certain percentage of their students grasp the material and learn something. This is probably an overgeneralization, but when the student is a sixty five year old woman, learning seems to come with a lot more difficulty. Despite the fact that she'd "done" all the work herself, my client still acted as if what she'd done was incomprehensible magic. People this age do not grasp the metaphors that computer interface designers have painstaking arranged for them. To them the computer screen is an alien world with its own whimsical laws of physics and cause and effect, and instead of "getting it" (the way young children do), they jot down detailed notes for future reference. But since they are unable to distinguish between the trivial specifics of computer operation from the more important general ones, their notes are far less comprehensible (even for them) than the computer interface itself.

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