I’ve had a new challenge keeping me a little busy for the past two weeks – helping my mother with Microsoft Office for her new job. It’s actually not entirely new to me – a few years ago I volunteered in a community center, helping with computer lessons for adult populations (many of them Haredim, so quite likely saw very few computers in their lives). And the concept is the same – teaching computers to people who have never used a computer in their lives.
Obviously, it can be quite frustrating sometimes. Helping people with Microsoft Office is pretty much the bane of computer geeks and computer science students everywhere. However, I think it can also be a pretty educational experience.
First of all, it’s an exercise in patience. Some people see it as a bad thing, but I like to think about it like training – sometimes you go to the gym to exercise your muscles, and sometimes you teach someone Office to train your patience. And I consider patience to be a strategic asset in my life, much more than my muscles.
But more importantly – Being a computer programmer, and a geek in general, and living in a developed country, it’s easy for me to forget how many people out there have absolutely no idea about computers. So really, it’s a way to step out of a bubble and back into reality. It shows me how many things I take for granted when I use computers: Often when someone has a problem I’ll try to explain it in terms of files, and checkboxes, and double-clicks – but then I realise that these terms are not really that obvious, and some people don’t know what a checkbox is, and don’t know that a double-click always uses the left mouse button, and don’t know that a Word file and an Excel file are the same thing when you want to copy or delete them.
The most interesting thing about it is realizing how those things are not really neccessary, and maybe could have gone differently. If computers were developed separately by five civilizations with no contact between them, would they all have files and folders? would they all have double-clicks? Would they all have first-person shooters and real time strategy games? I think it’s easy to imagine an alternate universe where things would have gone just slightly differently, and all the Starcraft pros of today would have been playing something completely different and convinced it was the best game that could possibly exist.
So to conclude, my advice – if you’re a programmer and want to make something truly creative, that challenges existing habits and appeals to new populations – go help your mother use Microsoft Office 🙂
 Not that they’re not important – another thing I’ve seen too many computer geeks neglect.
 Definitely not. Who came up with this ridiculous thing in the first place?