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computing world is
not just designed.
it emerges from
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the message. The friend warned him
that having your IP address recorded
was dangerous. This participant also
Editing Wikipedia is a natural act
in Licklider’s world. Should we expect
people who edit Wikipedia to know
what an IP address is? Is it a user interface mistake to expect Wikipedia
contributors would understand the implications of publicly recording an IP
address? While the Internet is in common use in the homes of all of Poole’s
participant families, the families (and
even some of their “computer savvy”
friends) clearly did not understand
some of the basic terms and concepts
of the technology they use.
Poole’s study provides some concrete examples of what people understand, and misunderstand, about the
computing in their lives. Certainly, she
informs HCI designers, in thinking
about expectations of user knowledge.
On the other hand, an IP address is
part of our modern world. Is it better to
hide it, or explain it? Her study informs
general education designers in thinking about what everyone needs to know
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What Should Laypeople
understand about Computing?
Even the HCC students who study HCI
topics can inform us about computing education. Erika Poole (now an assistant professor at Pennsylvania State
University) is one of those. Poole studied how families attempting a variety of
technology-related challenges, as a way
of discovering how they sought out help.
The families in Poole’s study did
much worse than I might have guessed.
For example, only two of 15 families
were able to configure their wireless
router. Some of the reasons were because of awful user interfaces (for example, a virtual keyboard that was missing
some keys). But other tasks were challenging for more subtle reasons.
One of the challenges in Poole’s
study involved editing a Wikipedia
page. When Poole’s participants ed-
ited a Wikipedia page for the first time,
without an account, they saw this warn-
ing message: “You are not currently
logged in. Editing this way will cause
your IP address to be recorded publicly
in this page’s edit history. If you create
an account, you can conceal your IP ad-
dress and be provided with many other
benefits. Messages sent to your IP can
be viewed on your talk page.”
Poole’s participants had to decide
if “recording publicly” their “IP ad-
dress” was a problem. One partici-
pant told Poole the process of editing
the encyclopedia and reading this
warning message made her “feel like
a criminal.” She canceled her changes.
Another participant contacted his “com-
puter savvy” friend to help interpret
understanding Licklider’s World
J.C.R. Licklider was able to predict
much of our modern computing world
because he combined his understanding of computing with his understanding of people. To understand the world
he predicted, we need researchers who
understand computing and who can
use the methods from Licklider’s psychology (and sociology and other social
sciences, too). The modern computing
world is not just designed. It emerges
from people working with it, trying
to understand and use it (typically,
in ways different than originally designed), and interacting with millions
of others doing the same things. We
have to study it as it is, not just as how
we meant it to be.
1. licklider, j.c.r. man-computer symbiosis. IRE
Transactions on Human Factors in Electronics HFE- 1,
(mar. 1960), 4–11.
2. licklider, j.c.r. and taylor, r. W. the computer as a
communications device. Science and Technology (apr.
Mark Guzdial ( firstname.lastname@example.org) is a professor
in the college of computing at georgia Institute of
technology in atlanta, ga.