Updated: 8/10/2006; 7:02:14 PM.


on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...
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  Friday, July 28, 2006

  Lessons learnt from helping family members to install and use technologies

Last few weeks I had quite a few experiences with setting up technology (mainly Skype and Flickr) for my family members and helping them to learn how to use it.

Helping your "hardly computer-literate" relatives is a great source of insights: about problems that non-geeks have with tools, about mental models they construct, about good strategies to help learning or ways to solve problems that you mom could have when you are not around.

Which brings me to two thoughts:

First, it would be a great case of teaching about all things "user-related". What if anyone who design or develop tools, especially those intended for a different target group then themselves, should be asked to make sure that their parents use one of their own everyday communication tools. This would require:

  • finding which tools would be useful and for that purpose - e.g. now my mom wants to use Flickr to "talk in pictures" with my in-laws since this would solve the problem of talking in different languages
  • find a way to install and configure those tools according to the user needs - e.g. I was very surprised while configuring Flickr for my mom and my mother-in-law that both of them were so worried about someone stealing their photos that I had to set it up as "no prints" and "no downloads" for anyone outside of the family.
  • find a way to explain how to use the system and to make sure those instructions stick long enough for the system to be used - I'm actually thinking of making a set of screenshots explaning Flirkrc functionalities in Dutch and Russian and sticking those somewhere easy to find.
  • find a way to troubleshoot when things go wrong - e.g. I was happy that I registered my own email as an alternative and kept earlier admin emails when my mom lost her Flickr password. Another example includes my brother who was so tired of visiting my parents and sister for admin work that he configured remote access to their desktops.

Those who manage to succeed (measured as consistent use of the tool by parents within half a year), would get  "Basic user studies expert" title, lots of insights, fun of seeing their family "geekyfied" and have an extra reason to come visiting if troubleshooting on distance doesn't work or their parents want to learn how to use one more feature.

The second thought is a bit more scientific. I wonder if there is any research on this aspect of relationships between geeks and their family/friends - strategies of supporting someone else's encounters with technologies and lessons learnt from it. Didn't do any proper search, only saw some hints to that as a very side issue in The long term fate of our personal digital belongings (.pdf). This would be such a great source of insights with lots of technology design/technology introduction implications (itching to do some of that myself, but probably should try not to get distracted :) 

And a funny side-not observation - I always thought I was much into workplace uses of technologies research, but it seems that my personal experiences get me more into home and family stuff. Interesting...

More on: family 

  System administrator appreciation day and invisible colleagues

Our IT guys send an email with a gentle reminder that today is a System administrator appreciation day. A quote from the web-site:

A sysadmin is a professional, who plans, worries, hacks, fixes, pushes, advocates, protects and creates good computer networks, to get you your data, to help you do work -- to bring the potential of computing ever closer to reality.

So if you can read this, thank your sysadmin -- and know she is only one of dozens or possibly hundreds whose work brings you the email from your aunt on the West Coast, the instant message from your son at college, the free phone call from the friend in Australia, and this webpage.

Friday, July 28th, 2006, is the 7th annual System Administrator Appreciation Day. On this special international day, give your System Administrator something that shows that you truly appreciate their hard work and dedication.

Having read a lot on invisible work and coming from working environments where lots of things I had to do myself I'm starting to realised how much "overhead" or "infrastructure" work can be easily taken for granted. Secretaries, sysadmins, information specialists and many others internally called "support stuff" keep me working on what I do best, providing a space where I'm not bothered with many "non-core" small things. I go to them only if things break or I need an extra something. If things work their efforts is so invisible, that they can easily become non-existent.

Just an example: talking to a collegues running our information center I realised how much work she has to do "behind the scenes" to make sure that I can access all those papers from online databases. I find something, click and access the source not knowing that that the only reason I can do it is that my IP address sits in some contract that gives us access to some database. I don't have to bother about contracts and databases, budget and legal negotiations, technical details - I can just get the paper and continue to work on my own stuff.

So, once in a while it could make sense to think about your "invisible colleagues" and do something to let them know that their work is important for you - appreciate your sysadmins, worship a librarian or give flowers to a secretary.

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© Copyright 2002-2006 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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