Wednesday, September 16, 2009

My mother VS the learned helplessness of cofusing technology.

My mother has been a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit of the same hospital for about 37 years now, and up until about 6 years ago, most of the paper work completed by the nurses was, in fact, all on paper. My mother had been completing the same routine, every day she worked, for 30 plus years then, new and "helpful" technology finally found its way into my moms working life, and she couldn't have been more distressed about it.

It first began with the introduction of a new hospital "helper" name BUD. BUD was a robot, who was designed to Bring Up Drugs, from the pharmacy and deliver them to each floor. Sounds handy, but he was quickly renamed by the nurses as BUD (Bring Us Down!)

Every nurse and doctor in the hospital had to attend a seminar, that taught everyone about BUD and how easily he worked! You just press a few buttons, put in your password, and VOILA! You've got drugs!

A few days after BUD had been introduced to the hospital, my mom came home spewing hateful four letter words about her new BUD.
"In the seminar they didn't show us, they told us what button to press, so I thought that there would only be a few. NOOOO, of course not! BUD is loaded with buttons! He has a button for every letter of the alphabet and every single digit number for your password, plus about 25 others! We were told to push the green button, but there are about 5, and none of them are labeled. It's so confusing that today, I actually turned BUD off, and couldn't get my patients drugs out for over an hour! I tell you, if BUD was ever codeing in a hospital bed, I would ignore that (explitave deleted)!"

She later went on to tell me about how it makes her feel stupid, because the man at the seminar had made it sound so easy, but she is still struggling. "I'm too old for this stuff." She said. "I'm a techno-idiot."

Now, my mother maybe somewhat of a luddite, but shes not at all stupid. Besides, I went in a few days later to take a look at BUD, and he was not at all simplistic. There were so many buttons, and most of them weren't labeled, or were labeled with strange symbols, making it next to impossible to form any kind of conceptual model. Really, had I needed to open the thing, I probably would have opted for a crowbar.

As if BUD wasn't bad enough, a few months later the hospital began integrating its new "time saving technology" into every wing of the hospital. They went through another seminar, and lots of training sessions, but this didn't seem to help my mother. At this point in time she was so frustrated by her inability to properly opperate all of the new technology that she almost seemed depressed! She would come home everyday with a new story about how "giving report took me an hour longer than it normally does", or "today I couldn't figure out how to monitor my patients heart rate and didn't realize for a long time that it was too low". " I feel so stupid", she would say.

After about a month or so of hearing her be sad about the new technology, I finally asked her if she had asked anyone of her friends for help explaining the new system. I was shocked when she told me that she couldn't ask anyone, because no one really knew how to use it yet. My mother had been making dispareging comments about her competancy for over a month now, but really it wasn't her who was doing a bad job, it was the design of the new compuer system! It didn't seem to matter to her that no one else could make heads or tails of it. Talk about learned helplessness.

This story does have a happy ending however! It took about a year, but after so many complaints from hospital staff, and system malfunctions, the higher-ups in charge finally agreed to reconstuct the system to make it more usuer-friendly. BUD even got a face lift, cutting his user interface down to just letters, numbers, and one green button! Now my mom was coming home with sucess stories. She felt so emporwed in fact, that she finally decided to try making an email account and getting a cell phone, things she swore she would never do because they were too confusing. Fast forward to the present, and she is an emailing, texting, technology pro! Way to go mom!

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