Approaching technology with a human touch

Anne 2012-03-29

I am taking a course on web programming. I am happy to report that I found a learning wizard as a TA in this course as well. What is the difference between empty and is_null. Let me show you, I will create an empty string and a null string and we will find out together. Hands on. Brilliant. Well, to me it is brilliant. It works and I love that learning style. New year resolution. Make good use of this sandbox approach myself.

What I would like to report on is the difference between automatic machine response to a technical problem, and a vastly different response with a human touch.

The project starts with a menu. We are to type all the menu items, prices etc in a text file. I won’t be caught dead spending that much time with data entry if there is another way. So I find an html version of the menu, and spend much time learning to parse the file and retrieving the information. I acquired some technical skills, and most of the information is in the computer. Great!?

Then I meet the fellow with the human touch. He looks at the menu not as a pattern of words to be entered in a text file, but as a pattern of symbols mediating between a user and a vendor. He actually looks at the page to see what it says — Ok, I can’t eat pizzas, so I was not open to that type of inquiry, eating pizza would make me sick — Pizzas have a number of options. To my data parser, those options are all to be treated the same. But to my fellow humanist, a 2-way and a 3-way combo means something very different. It requires refering to the previous lines to determine what topping could be added. Extra cheese cannot be ordered by itself, it adds itself to another order.

To further his understanding, he goes to the pizzaria, inquires about different orders, checks out how up to date our menus are, meets the owners, orders a sub. Back at home he finds an on line order site for that same pizzaria and further thinks through the complexity of representing foods that can be ordered through this computarized interface.

This encounter blew my mind for two reasons. One it showed me another kind of wizardry involved in learning. And for another it showed me how completly blind to the meaning of what I am working on I can be when I am working with a computer language.