Jennifer Boriss, a Firefox dev, went to the mall seeking test subjects to help improve the browser. She expected to meet people with a range of tech savvy, but she was't expecting a man who'd never before touched a mouse.
Boriss stumbled upon Joe, a 60-year-old cafeteria employee, in the food court: "I begin by asking my standard demographics questions about his experience with the internet. Joe tells me he'a never used a computer, and my eyes light up." Boriss had hit test subject pay dirt—someone looking at the internet with virginal eyes, unsullied by years of bias and experience, could have incredibly valuable insight. So they began.
First, Joe tried IE. It didn't go so well:
Me: "Joe, let's pretend you've sat down at this computer, and your goal is finding a local restaurant to eat at."
Joe: "But I don't know what to do."
Me: "Why did you click on that?"
Joe: "I don't really know what to do, so I thought this would suggest something to me."
Joe's experience with Firefox on a MacBook was similar—and clicking the Apple 'Help' menu only confounded things, being an ironically very unhelpful place to click if you're entirely clueless.
Joe had some luck with Chrome, using the advantage of the history-displaying home screen to click a link to Yelp labeled "San Francisco." But by this point, Boriss decided Joe was too frustrated to go on.
And can we blame him? Sure, people like Joe are extremely rare at this point—the lost Amazonian tribe of mall-goers. We're living in an age when grandparents use tablets. But despite all the modern emphasis on usability and radical simplicity, computers are still an entirely alien (and alienating) world, drawing upon a presumed knowledge of symbols, context, and technical understanding. How are you supposed to know the little obsolete diskette symbol means save if you've never stuck one in before?
Ultimately, Boriss was able to set up a Gmail account for Joe, so the experience wasn't a total bust. When asked why he wanted the account, Joe explained that he couldn't sign up for his favorite bakery's reward card program without an email address. So, hey, at least the light of discounted shit on the internet shone upon his face. [Borris' Blog via MetaFilter, Photo: Haru/Shutterstock]
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