Friday, June 04, 2010

Argh. I wonder how long it will take for computer illiteracy to become something that people feel the need to better themselves on, or at least shamefully hide.

I'm not talking about knowing some computer language or an in-joke of some online subculture. I'm talking about hyperlinks in e-mails. And not some esoteric or barebones e-mail program either; in this office, everyone has Microsoft Outlook. And to specify the problem yet further, the addresses in the links were not misspelled, they were badly formatted in an obvious way, and yet both the e-mail sender and someone who had been CCed with me didn't know how to fix the problem on their own.

The paths to files on the office network were typed directly into the e-mail, without the formatting that would turn them into links (that formatting requires just two more characters per link). Outlook automatically turned the first part of them into links but stopped at a space (because a URL to a Web page wouldn't have a space in it, but, again, this is a path to a file on the internal network), so the links are broken. You could still read the path as instructions and follow them to the folder, or copy-paste the part before the file name into a Windows folder and get to the folder that way and click on the file in the folder, or copy-paste the broken link into a new e-mail (or hit the Reply button, or Forward, or...) and put the formatting around them to make them into links that way.

However, the original sender of the e-mail didn't do that. She sent out an e-mail yesterday with four broken links but added a note after the last one saying that it was broken (but, apparently, never realized that the other three were too) so people could just go to the folder and look for that file name. Thoughtlessly overlooking the problem wouldn't bug me; hey, it happens. But I'm dumbfounded that someone who has used this program in this system for years wouldn't know how to fix this problem if she found it. And this afternoon, another recipient of the e-mail asked me where to find those files because of precisely the problem I'm talking about: the way the links weren't working. So I sent her a link to the folder, this time formatted correctly. Apparently she didn't know the fix for broken links either, and didn't read the note in the previous e-mail explaining how to get around it. Sad.

This is more a pet peeve than any real protest; I know I have my flaws too. And I guess it might be a bit sexist and/or ageist of me, since a while back I printed out two copies of this xkcd comic, tacked one to my wall and gave the other to a co-worker (a woman of roughly the same age as the two I was just talking about) who was always bugging me about computer problems that 90 percent of the time were really trivial and easy. I felt guilty about being rude at the time, but she hasn't bothered me since then.

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