We're all super-stupid-users [PEBHAC]
Man [and woman] is a self-conscious but self-centered and narcissistic race. We do things without thought of other people, with only our own perspectives in mind, we think within the box, we see only what we want to see, we use whatever knowledge we have to demean other people and gain power over them.
OK: this may not be true for all of mankind [women included], but we must all admit that each and every one of us has experienced some feeling like this before. It doesn’t have to be portrayed as arrogance, aggression or any definite mal-emotion, but may be apparent subtly as a thought or a simple change in the tone of voice, but it’s there nonetheless.
We often hear about IT people [system administrators and helpdesk personnel] hammering their heads on the wall at a customer who put a coffee cup on the CD tray thinking it was a cup-holder, or the other customer who can’t turn on their PC, only to find out that there is no electricity in the area. IT “professionals” tend to lash out at customers subtly with secret jokes such as ID-10-T errors, or PEBKAC; and aggressively sometimes by yelling at customers, degrading them, etc. [in the professional world this is probably done more subtly than aggressively, but the thought is there nonetheless: that the customer is stupid.]
The fact that an IT person knows more about an IT topic more than a user does, may make that person a stupid user, but it doesn’t make that user a stupid person.
If for instance an IT person is put to learn a language, not programming but linguistic; say French for example. Linguistics is not logical but maybe more creative and has rules that make no sense to IT people, and cannot be learnt by the manner of thinking associated with programming. That IT person, who was a super user in his/her realm, is now a stupid user in another [the French teacher now becomes the super user - empowered].
This all came about as I started to learn French. Now, I don’t lash out at customers, but if my sister asks an IT question that just makes me want to yell “stupid!”, I’d just really think, “why is it that some people can’t see the logic and the greatness of design of the application and just figure it out on their own like I do”.
This is what blinds IT people and designers. They forget the H part of HCID [Human-Computer Interaction/Interface Design]. Problem doesn’t exist between keyboard and chair [PEBKAC], it exists between human and computer [PEBHAC: I just made that up! Remember I coined the term!]. What lies between the human and computer, for those who don’t know, is the interface. We design based on what we think is usable to us, but we need to design for people [humans] who don’t think like us and who are actually going to use the interface/product – that’s what determines good design – weather an average [or below average] person/user can use it immediately without reading the instructions.
Anyway, I strayed from my point, steering back: My sister [Sanya T. Ramjattan] ranked first [1st] in the Caribbean in French – so you can say she’s a “French super user”, she started to teach me French, but then started to ‘cuss’ me for my utter stupidity for the language. I must admit I made some mistakes [mostly with pronunciation – which is what got me: I see something and I read it a certain way in English, but its pronounced completely differently in French – how illogical!!!], but I was doing pretty alright. My point is: she had a similar reaction to a stupid user in her field as an IT person would have in their field. The same goes for when I was teaching her to drive, I raised my voice a little at her when she made a mistake rather than explain what she should do [our roles switched here - she now became powerless, and I, the super user]. It's all human nature.
The world is filled with talented people; we wouldn’t have been the dominant race if there weren’t talent. [Off-topic: I know there are some serious ID10Ts out there, but they appear stupid mostly because they don’t apply themselves or they aren’t applying themselves in the right fields.] Everyone has their own niche. We just need to realize that everyone [including ourselves] is a super-stupid user [that is: a super user in some fields, but a stupid user in some others].
When next you think about reprimanding a customer for not understanding something in your line of work, think outside the box, put yourself in their shoes, view various angles and perspectives, and offer helpful explanations and advice, train them, most of all remain HUMBLE. And if all else fails, bang your head on the wall and yell PEBKAC.