User Error

User Error

Resisting Computer Culture

By Ellen Rose





User Error explodes the myth of computer technology as juggernaut. Multimedia educator Ellen Rose shows that there is no bandwagon, no out-of-control dynamo, no titanic conspiracy to overwhelm us. Instead, there is our own desire to join the fraternity of users, a fraternity that confers legitimacy and power on those who enter the brave new world.

Rose exposes how we surrender decision-making power in personal and workplace computing situations. As users we willingly grant authority to the creators of software, support materials, and the seductive infrastructure of technocracy.

“Smart” users are rewarded; reluctant users are pathologized. User identity is deliberately constructed at the crossroads of industry, consumer demand, and complicity. User Error sounds a timely alarm, calling on all of us who use the new technologies to recognize how we are being co-opted. With awareness we can reassert our own responsibility and power in this increasingly important interaction.

Savvy, accessible, and up-to-date, User Error offers insight, inspiration, and strategies of resistance to general readers, technology professionals, students, and scholars alike.


While much is made of technophobia and luddism, all too little is written about the dangers of unbridled technophilia. Ellen Rose calls into question many of our invisible assumptions about technology. Her perspective is important not just for social critics but for policy makers and planners as well. User Error is a helpful antidote to technology hype.

– Wendy Cukier, Professor, Information Technology Management and Communication and Culture, Ryerson University

Finally a book that goes beyond the clichés of User Centered Design and elegantly deconstructs the issues of user, customer, and information technology in a broad social and historic context.

– John Seely Brown, Former Chief Scientist of Xerox, co-author of The Social Life of Information

Rose reveals the social construction of the computer user in ways that are often amusing and always thought-provoking…User Error is writteni n such a fresh and winning manner that it is bound—and deserves—to find a much wider ‘lay’ audience of those who are interested in the forces that are helping to share our contemporary world.

– Namir Khan, Managing and Book Editor, Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, University of Toronto


List of Illustrations
Introduction Do You Compute?
Chapter 1 "We Like to Be Smart": The Mythology of Computer Use
Chapter 2 The Ultimate Hack: A Sociology and History of the Computer User
Chapter 3 "Problem Exists Between Chair and Keyboard": Producing the User
Chapter 4 Caveat Emptor: The Emergence of the User-Consumer
Chapter 5 User Documentation: Telling Stories about the User
Chapter 6 Anxiety Attacks: Pathologizing the Technophobic User
Chapter 7 Songs of Innocence and Experience: The Youthful User
Conclusion The Future User