A few nights ago I was making fun of a friend because he had been on Twitter for nearly a year but had only tweeted once. He owns an iPhone and has an app on it for Twitter, but told me he simply did not know how to tweet, or how to mention someone in a tweet. I thought this seemed kind of silly: the reply button seems clearly marked to me, as does the button for composing tweets.
Yesterday I read this piece at The Next Web, which points out rightly, “If you know how to get to the special characters like ü, é and © on your iPhone and or PC, if you know what a URL is and if you know how to use most of the Apps on your iPhone you and part of a small group of experts. Don’t assume you are the default because you are the exception. Make your apps, websites and tools as simple as possible and always test with other people.” Boris shares a number of examples of people who don’t understand or know about certain interface features, such as what a URL is or how to respond to a text message on an iPhone. For instance:
a few years ago I managed an online birthday calendar. The interface was really simple. It showed the calendar in month view with a big red button on top of it that said “Add a Birthday“. It was so big I figured people wouldn’t be able to miss it. Unfortunately they did. I got about 100 helpdesk messages a day and about 60 of those started with “I don’t know how to add a birthday“. At first I got really annoyed at those ignorant people who thought it was more convenient to just email someone than to think and look around for more than 2 seconds. But then I did some tests and found out that everybody assumed that they just had to click the calendar to add a birthday. If that didn’t work they assumed it was broken. My fault, not theirs.
In Lingua Fracta, Collin Brooke encourages us to take perspective into account when approaching rhetoric and new media. Scholars in rhetoric and technology have become rather accustomed to not solely looking through technologies, but instead also looking at them. Brooke asks that we also look from perspectives (if I am remembering his argument right; I don’t have his book in front of me). Our field has already made pushes against the “universal reader” model of interpretation (see, for instance, Rosa Eberly’s wonderful discussion in Citizen Critics), but I get the feeling that rhetoric and technology still sometimes proposes a “universal user” (particularly assumptions about the “universal net gen user”). I know I sometimes still do. There has, of course, been wonderful work that doesn’t do this. Anne Wysocki’s work on aesthetics, technology, and ethics is a great example that pushes against the universal user model used by some new media scholars (see for instance, her chapter in Selber’s Rhetorics and Technologies).
Also, did I use enough parentheticals there? *shakes head*