Reading Usable Help
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Gordon R. Meyer
Are tech writers agents of the devil?
Mary Schmich, writing Resisting Urge to Download with the Devil for the Chicago Tribune asks:
"Have you ever gazed into hell? [...] Let me tell you what it looks like. Hell is a place crowded with people thumbing their BlackBerries, chattering on their cell phones, shaking their earphones to an iPod beat and surfing the Internet on their Wi-Fi'd laptops."
Schmich goes on to describe the economic and personal impact of gadgets in our 24/7 connected world. She paints a vivid picture, complete with details about the particular kind of misery wrought by bad documentation:
"We strain to decipher manuals that are impenetrable in all of their five languages. We cleverly devise space in drawers for those manuals to molder while we wait for the next bad manual and the next indispensable gizmo we'll never fully program."
Overall, her article is easy to flippantly dismiss as an anti-technology editorial. Yet, if you're feeling introspective (you may need to turn off your iPod and Blackberry to reach such a state) think for a moment about the personal impact our work might be having on others. It's one thing to shrug off poor documentation with "nobody reads it anyway;" but it's another to think about those who struggle to use it. If you believe in karma, you might be in for some angst of your own.