User Error: Resisting Computer Culture


204 pages
Contains Photos, Illustrations, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 1-896357-79-2
DDC 303.48'34






Reviewed by Jeffrey Moon

Jeffrey Moon is head of the Documents Reference/Data Centre at Queen’s


User Error proposes that technology is “socially negotiated rather
than imposed.” Its author, Ellen Rose, suggests that as soon as we sit
down in front of a computer, “we become enmeshed in a social network
of assumptions and ideologies” that move us from being diverse,
autonomous individuals toward being “a single entity: the User.”
Society has fed into this situation by accepting “computer use as a
condition of existence” while having little or no “input into the
human ends that hardware and software will serve.”

In support of this thesis, Rose traces the evolution of users, from
white-robed high priests of the mainframe, through hackers, to basically
everyone. She then tackles the concept of “user” from several
perspectives, such as the user as consumer, as technophobe, and as
“idiot.” Regarding the latter, an entire chapter is devoted to the
“Problem [That] Exists Between Chair and Keyboard.” While quoting
extensively from technology literature (hence the inclusion of extensive
chapter notes and an eight-page bibliography), Rose also includes more
colloquial examples from television programs (e.g., Star Trek and The
Simpsons) and the popular press (e.g., the “for Dummies” series of
books). I found that this mix made User Error more appealing and

Computer “hypesters” speak of technological change with the “kind
of assurance normally reserved for reference to past events.” Even
technology critics are, by all evidence, convinced of the inevitability
of this change. We have no choice but to accept it; to quote the Borg,
“resistance is futile.” Rose takes issue with this mindset in
credible fashion. In the book’s conclusion, “The Future User,” she
argues that we are all responsible for the direction in which technology
takes us, and that rather than accepting the “ethos of
inevitability,” we should take responsibility for our use of
technology and for the ultimate direction of technological developments.
For those suspicious of, or perhaps just curious about, the pace of
technological development and our varied and evolving role as users,
this book is a good read.


Rose, Ellen., “User Error: Resisting Computer Culture,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,