Nerdview

Geoffrey Pullman has done a nice series of posts on what he calls "nerdview," which he defines as:

"a simple problem that afflicts us all: people with any kind of technical knowledge of a domain tend to get hopelessly (and unwittingly) stuck in a frame of reference that relates to their view of the issue, and their trade's technical parlance, not that of the ordinary humans with whom they so signally fail to engage."

This post in the series looks at the "nerdview" phrase "mixed cardboard." Reading it, I realized that this case is similar to something I hear on the train: "Please use all doors to exit."

The instruction is written from the point of view of the "human-train interaction designer," who, from his lofty perch, sees departures from the train working best when the passengers evenly distribute themselves between every possible exit door.

But from the point of view of the individual passenger, the instruction, taken one way, is simply impossible to follow: I can only exit through one door, not all of them!

But even if we interpret it more generously, it is mostly pointless: by myself, I cannot achieve an even distribution of exiting passengers between all doors. The best I can do is to head to the exit from which I can get out the quickest. But that I was likely to do anyway! Or, if I am the sort of person who just stands obliviously in a long line at a crowded door while one is nearby with no line, I am not likely to be stirred by an announcement asking me to exit through "all doors."

UPDATE: Reading on in the nerdview archives, I see Pullman spotted the same problem:

"'USE BOTH LANES' says a road sign; but of course no individual driver can obey this. It takes the perspective of the road system designer, a perspective that an individual driver cannot be expected to have."

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