Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Now I understand why some people who are not computer-literate hate computers

I think of myself as a somewhat technologically-savvy person but now I have a better understanding of why some people have no use for recent technologies.

I was helping an unemployed veteran fill out an online application for a job with the Veterans Administration. So I helped him figure out how to access the Hotmail account that someone else set up for him, assigning him a password he didn't choose for himself. I helped him find the job listing for the job he already knew and to which he needed to apply. I helped him find the online application manager where he needed to key in his prepared answers to questions he had printed out. I leave him typing slowly while I continue with some paperwork.

Suddenly I hear a gasp. His laborious hunt and peck typing stops. He tells me that everything is gone. I tell myself it can't really be gone, as I walk back to the computer to discover that he has been logged out of the website. I help him log back in so he can continue with his application. Yes, even what he had typed while I at first was watching over his shoulder is indeed no longer in the application he was completing. That's what we all need - programs that log out ungracefully.

I ask myself, "Did this man accidentally click on something that logged him out?" I learn that in fact he did not click on anything by mistake. While entering text into the form, I see a window pop up with fine print telling him that he is about to be logged out unless he clicks a button in order to to stay online. Great, there is some kind of script in the web page that starts the logout process without any regard to ongoing keyboard or mouse activity.

His answers eventually get entered into the application. I help him upload his resume to go along with the application. He still needs to submit one of his military forms to prove his army service. He has a hard copy of the necessary form but no way to scan it and attach it to the application. He has been told that veteran information is now online. It turns out that what is online is not access to an uploadable pdf file of his veterans information, but an online process to ask for a hard copy of his information to be mailed to him in a couple weeks. That's a great way to help him meet an application deadline - a deadline set by an organization that won't accept a mailed application.

We dig around on the application website and find that there is a way to fax documents that need to be part of his application. There is a link one can click to generate a fax cover page. Could anything be more foolproof? I look at the cover page as it is printing and notice that it has large boxes with large letters identifying his application. There is even a matrix barcode in two places to make sure the faxed document will be attached to the right application. "Now, that is a great use of technology," I say to myself. But before I carry the pages to the fax machine in the other room I take another look at the cover sheet.

The fax cover sheet does not include the number to which it is to be sent.

Honest. No recipient fax number.

It turns out that the destination fax number is buried in fine print in a web page of instructions for completing the application.

As if everybody who uses a fax machine keeps it right beside the computer monitor for ease of keying in the number of the destination fax.

<end of rant>

This would not be a good time to get me started on the new, simplified Facebook where everything users use has been moved to new locations on the web page ... or removed completely.

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