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Generational tech guilt?

by Tom Johnson on Dec 30, 2008 •
categories: technical-writing

Who is to blame?
Who is to blame?

In one of Alistair Christie's recent podcasts, he interviews his 70-year-old mother about how she uses computers. Although they cover many topics in the interview, her tech guilt is the most salient part of the discussion. She blames herself for not understanding how to work computers and navigate websites.

When she can't locate certain features on an interface (for example, Paypal), her first inclination isn't to blame the bad user design of the site or software, but to think that somehow it's her fault for not understanding.

The self-blaming attitude reminds me of a passage I read in Authentic Happiness years ago. Happier people, the author wrote, don't blame themselves when things go wrong. Rather, they tend to see others as responsible. I've often reflected about this, most often while playing basketball. After throwing a "bad" pass that my teammate misses, I used to say, "Sorry," or "My bad" -- blaming myself. But after reading the book, I decided that it's the other's fault for not catching the ball. The pass was decent enough. Embracing this attitude, I feel better about myself.

However, clearly this attitude fails in other contexts. Not taking responsibility for blame is one of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. Team members must take responsibility for both successes and failures, and not play the blame game. The same is true in marriage. No matter how much you may have initially resisted a decision, if you relented and went along with it,  you can't jump ship when the result is disastrous.

It seems, then, that at times you should include yourself in the blame (such as with teams), but other times you should not. The next time you're frustrated with software, do you blame yourself for being "technically stupid"? Or do you blame the developers for the idiot design? The answer reveals a lot about how you view yourself.

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About Tom Johnson

Tom Johnson

I'm a technical writer based in the San Francisco Bay area. In this blog, I write about topics related to technical writing and communication — such as software documentation, API documentation, visual communication, information architecture, writing techniques, plain language, tech comm careers, and more. Check out simplifying complexity and API documentation for some deep dives into these topics. If you're a technical writer and want to keep on top of the latest trends in the field, be sure to subscribe to email updates. You can also learn more about me or contact me.

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