Matty and the upside-down mouse
Ah, Salley Hall, part of the prestigious suite of dorms at FSU that were voted top five “dorms like dungeons” during the late nineties. It was during my time in this fine residence that I became the unofficial tech support for the seventh floor. Computers weren’t yet a requirement for students, and were considered a luxury. Still, most of the rooms had at least one (we were four to a suite, two to a room). All students incoming that year got free dial-up access (at 33.6kps speed). There was a (paper) form to fill out to “get online”. In addition, all students were encourage to claim their free “@garnet.acns.fsu.edu” email address. How memorable!
Being one of the few students to properly setup Eudora and dial-up in Windows 95 (oh, how I didn’t miss the PPP stack in Windows 3.1), I often got asked to setup email for my floor-mates. One such gentlemen was “Matty”, an out-of-state undergrad from the Bronx (assuming my memory serves correct). Matty was used his roommate’s computer, so I setup a second Eudora profile and a neat little shortcut on the desktop.
One day, I got word that he needed some help, so put on my flip-flops (slim chance I was walking barefoot in those hallowed halls) and went down to his suite. Matty was sitting at the computer with some problem on-screen, but my attention was immediately turned to his mouse. He was clutching the mouse in his right hand, but it was rotated 180 degrees, his palm resting on the buttons. I watched him use the mouse and asked how he was doing that. His answer surprised me. “The first time I used a computer the mouse was upside-down. I assumed it was the way you were supposed to use it.”
I was having a hard time comprehending the situation. I mentally went through the motions of using a mouse “upside-down”. Left would be right, up would be down. “How do you click the buttons?” I asked. “Like this,” he replied, showing me how he rocked his palm left to right click (remember, the mouse was upside-down) and right to left click. Everything I assumed about how computers were used was now in question.
Baffled, I fixed his problem and went back to my dungeon-like dorm. To this day, I don’t remember what Matty’s computer problem was. All I can remember is the mouse. Luckily, this traumatic incident didn’t affect my ability to use a computer throughout college and into my professional career. But I do sometimes think back to the situation when I make sweeping assumptions about how a user interface I’ve designed will be used.