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SubjectRe: "Mother" == "computer-illiterate"
On Thu, Jan 09, 2003 at 12:20:43AM -0700, Val Henson wrote:
> How come no one ever talks about a Linux distribution so easy that
> your grandfather could install it? Or a kernel configuration tool so
> simple that even Uncle Timmy can use it?

I am new to this thread, but I do use the "my mom" example because my
mother *is* the computer pioneer I know in that generation, but one
who still finds them difficult. She has been using computers since
she got a new Macintosh Plus and a 30 MB hard disk, and she has been
using e-mail since before it was clear to everybody that @-signs would
be a universal part of e-mail addresses. However, she is also still
not a computer wiz and I think never will be--there seems to be a
generational thing here, like learning a foreign language in
adulthood, that keeps computers hard. When my mother was a little
girl electricity was still new, and was useful for lighting.

My most recent e-mail from her was saying the some Apple support
person concluded her current problem is likely the Imac's hard drive
and to bring it into the store where she got it. (Her other Imac
works better, but it is only OS X and doesn't work with her scanner.)
She keeps at it!

My father only recently got interested in computers, uses the new Imac
for video editing, but refers all support questions to my mother. He
doesn't pretend to be self-sufficient on the topic.

> Can we quit with the "clueless mother" examples already?

My mother is far from clueless, but she is stubbornly resistant to
becoming a power user who can reliably solve her own problems. (The
fact that computers are still so damn buggy doesn't help either.)

I am encouraging them to get a DSL connection with a static IP, at
which point I will add a Linux computer to their collection--and I
will administer it remotely from 1000 miles away.

> My own mother has installed more distributions of Linux than I've
> even logged into.

I don't doubt that, but until computers get a lot easier to use and
administer the graphic image of the Clueless Mother is useful to shock
most geeks back to the reality that there *are* naive users. Many of
us have mothers, and computer expert mothers are still rare.

> I know quite a few mothers who have PhDs in CS, own several
> CS-related patents, and/or made important fundamental discoveries in
> CS.

(You hang out in rarified circles, the number of women in CSci id
dropping.)

So don't imagine a general purpose "have given birth human"! Imagine
a woman born in a modern western country, but 20 years before the
invention of the transistor. These capable women mastered impressive
things, but computers are so obtuse! And they are not the only ones
having trouble. I am still having trouble getting my software Raid 1
to boot off of either drive if one goes south--without opening the box
and pulling cables. And it seems like such a reasonable desire...


-kb, the Kent who insists that computers are more difficult than they
need be.


P.S. Some of us are old enough to remember when mice and graphical
interfaces were considered toys for beginners and not suitable to real
users. But at least then there was controversy! Now, overlapping
windows are the undoubted standard and no one even complains. These
traditions are too complicated, limited, and narrow, but it is hard to
think beyond them. But imagining a naive user (maybe even knowing one
or two) is a useful way to ask basic questions. If this naive user
isn't Your Mother, OK, but please don't forget that what is good for a
naive user (e.g., the mouse) is good for others too.
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