5 Aug 2018 c.e.
Dear Mother

What is a mother, in the context of user experiences?

I recently found myself at a blockchain user group meetup, with a bunch of other engineers. Someone, at one point, made an offhand comment of how his mom would find the easiness of doing a thing. He said it hesitantly, perhaps worried that invoking the image of a mother as an inexperienced user might be perceived as sexist, in that it plays to the stereotype of women not being particularly bright in terms of anything men know, really.

This isn't a new comparison, and it definitely wasn't the first time that I'd heard it, but it did get me thinking. What is it about moms that they never know how the latest and greatest technology works? Why, years after they've been first invoked in the role of the know-nothing foil, do they continue to play the role of techno-noviate?

More importantly, what can moms teach us about how we see non-technical people?

The Role of Mom

Although the person who put me on this particular brainwave may not have meant it sexist-ly, I'm going to take a bit of a sexist lens and apply it back on him and all of the manly brethren that have and continue to invoke mother. My relationship with mom isn't a man's relationship with his mother, so I'm mostly conjecturing here. Please pardon any inaccuracies or over-simplification that I might induldge in.

Who is 'mom' to a devoted son? My guess is that it's a person in your life that supports your projects and interests, that is interested in hearing what you're up to, and is willing to sit through your explanations patiently, even if she's lost the thread of your invention. She's, in my imagining, a sympathetic and interested listener, one who lacks any context at all for the things that you're telling her.

The lack of context is important, as is the interest in learning more. But it's a bounded interest in learning more, if you talk too long or get too lost in the weeds, this fictional ur-Mom character that I've created will give you a "that's nice dear" and move on to the next topic of conversation.

Let's translate this to a broader understanding of users

A 'mom' is a person who's interested in hearing what you're up to, even if her way of experiencing what you're doing is naive or completely unattainable. She brings goodwill and patience, but only so much. Her general understanding of configuration settings and workflow is rudimentary at best.

Mom is also usually from an older generation, one that, to date, didn't grow up with apps or computers or smart phones. While there's a good number of the older generation that learned how to use email and text messages and YouTube, and, if the President is any indication, Twitter. They're not tech-unsavvy, they're tech naive.[1]

Is there a better Mom?

While having a default 'mom' character to fall back on is instructive, I do still find the proliferation of her as a fallback naive tech character a bit stereotypical. I also admit that finding a replacement go-to is difficult, as the particular blend of interest and naivete that the 'Mom' character represents isn't particularly common among human relationships.

[1] I mean naive here in the sense of 'writing a naive implementation' is usally one that is sub-optimal yet gets the job done.

#moms #user-experience
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