So, You're an Expert?

By the mere fact that we are reading this blog, we are exempted from being considered mainstream email users. What do typical users actually do and what do we take away from their experience? This summer I had the unique privilege of having my parents stay with me for an extended period of time. I found their computer behavior interesting and I’d like to share it with you.

Within an hour of arriving from their 20-hour Oklahoma-to-Virginia drive, my father found his way to the centrally located computer in the kitchen and asked about using it to check something on the web. I created an account and he proceeded to review electric knife sharpeners. He didn’t spend long at the keyboard but returned numerous times to look at different sites to do his research for the best value. While checking his email, he found an advertisement from Target that prompted him to visit their website and ultimately purchased what I would consider to be an expensive knife sharpener.

While watching a home improvement show he noticed the host using a garden chemical that promised to aerate and loosen compact soil. The television was paused as he went to the computer to research the name and claims of this interesting new product. Days later we received two gallons and I must say that my yard hasn’t looked this nice in quite some time.

Several days passed and I noticed he was looking at sport utility vehicles on the web. He determined the value of his trade-in and compared every conceivable option on every conceivable model. It took him a week or so but he narrowed his search to one particular make and model and sent an email to a dealer in the metro area. I frankly didn’t take his efforts seriously but low and behold I was asked if I would take him to Gaithersburg, Md., to see a Mr. Singh about a vehicle he intended to buy. He’s now driving a new 2008 Acura MDX that not only listens, it talks back.

The list of purchased items goes on and not everything was purchased on the web. Some purchases were merely influenced by what he saw and read, then he purchased locally. I found this pattern of researching his wants and turning them into needs interesting but more interesting was how he integrated technology into the process of everyday purchases. I started thinking about how much of this was actually resulting from email and began to look over his shoulder (a pet peeve of his so I didn’t make it obvious nor do it for long). I watched as he opened his inbox, and first opened his CertifiedEmail (good dad!). A quick read through these messages yielded some deleted messages but some that were kept as unopened so he could return to them. Next he went after the remainder of his inbox. He opened one message questioned the legitimacy of it and turned to me for advice. A few clicks later and I confirmed it was a virus. The message was deleted and it put him on high alert. Remaining messages where he didn’t recognize the sender were deleted without being opened. Messages where he recognized the sender but the subject alluded to being a funny joke or testimonial were marked as read but never opened. Once he reached the end of the list he moved to the spam folder. I hope none of my messages ever arrive in his spam folder because I learned that they not only will be deleted but it will make any of my future messages suspect as well. He quickly blasted through the messages recognizing senders as spammers and deleting the messages.

My parents leave for home tomorrow and I’ll miss them until they return this winter. They have always proven to be an inspiration and taught me more than I could have ever expected. This time I even got an education on the very subject matter for which I would have considered myself an expert. At the end of the day, my expert opinion is based upon teaching I received from people that once asked me how to turn on the computer.

—Charles Stiles of Goodmail Systems