Learning New Tech by the Book

Ann All

Just what is the target demographic for the book, "How to Do Everything With Second Life?" Based on the chapter titles, "Amp Your MySpace Page" and "YouTube 4 You," it appears to be either preteens or self-conscious older folks trying to appear hip.


In a recent Washington Post story, author Richard Mansfield describes the online mortification that he is trying to help Second Life rookies avoid when, say, they don the box that virtual clothes came in rather than the "clothes" themselves. "It's very embarrassing. The other avatars know you're new because you're walking around wearing a box."


Mansfield is not alone. According to the story, some 20 how-to manuals with titles like "Second Life: The Official Guide" and "Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators" will be on the market by year's end.


We don't find it quite as odd as the Post that these instructions are conveyed via "a centuries-old technology that started with papyrus in the Fertile Crescent." Having seen how many e-mails get printed in most offices, we've never bought into the idea of a paperless society.


But we do think that Don Norman, author of "The Design of Future Things," is on to something when he tells the Post that these books seem necessary because "technologies really are being packaged in a way that's not intuitive or usable to the consumer."


For every video clip of an iPhone being used by a baby or a dog, there is a story of a techie who can't figure out a seemingly simple feature.


Sure, it seems as if getting folks online should be the first step in teaching them how to interact in online environments. But good old-fashioned paper may lend itself better to learning. A cognitive psychologist says that books are less likely to cause eyestrain, include indexes and are organized linearly.

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