Essays On People

The year 2009 was a year of big changes for me. I graduated with my MA in Professional Writing. My husband and I moved across the country from Georgia to California. And the economy fell off a cliff.

I know what you’re thinking. Someone with a degree in “Professional Writing” should probably expect to have a hard time finding a job regardless of what’s happening in the economy, but I swear I thought this out.

Graduate school gave me tangible skills with classes in document design and editing. I had a great experience and you should all shake your heads sadly and learn from my choices.

I wasn't worried because I have had a job since I was 15. So what if nobody’s hiring? Convenience store, call center, restaurant, doesn’t matter. I’ve worked them all and I have no shame.

After a few weeks I realized just how competitive the job market actually is in Los Angeles. Restaurants asked for headshots with my application. My master’s degree made every retail store give me the side eye. I was suddenly unqualified and overqualified for everything.

Aside from being underemployed, I quickly learned that LA is a super expensive city. Like $7 for a domestic draft beer expensive. My part-time job and unpaid internship kept me firmly at home watching television and eating Ramen noodles every night while interest added up on my student loans.

My husband suggested that maybe I could make some money offering college students help with their college essays. Sure! After 19 years of school, I was definitely qualified to help someone with their homework.

I put together a Craigslist ad detailing my credentials and the responses started rolling in. But instead of “Could you edit my paper?” I was getting “Hey, just do my assignment” or “Could you take my online class?” Well, beggars can’t be choosers, so from 2009 to 2013 I wrote dozens of papers and took several online classes. Here are a few things I learned along the way:

1. People who buy papers come from every walk of life.

It’s easy to assume that all students who buy papers are 20-somethings using mom and dad’s money so they can spend more time being hungover. Sure, there are plenty of those, and those are the ones who were the most demanding and difficult to work with. Twenty pages by tomorrow? I’m not a wizard, kid.

But aside from the ne’er do wells, there were non-traditional students who were having a rough time balancing work, family, and a full class load. These students often expressed a lot of guilt, and I have a lot of sympathy for the pressure they were under.

Finally, there were those who were simply overwhelmed and unable to do college level work. Students who bought papers from me went to community college, online programs, USC, and UCLA.

2. I didn’t charge enough.

I loved school, and I even had fun doing a lot of the assignments. Who has two thumbs and had a great time researching a paper about the religious symbolism in the movie Groundhog Day? This gal.

But I also cared too much. I got the same worried knot in the pit of my stomach every time an assignment was due, and I stressed over the work as if I were the one getting the grade. If I had to do it over again I would realize that $75 for a four-page paper that required research and MLA formatting was practically giving it away.

3. You probably won’t get caught.

In the beginning, I would tell students that it would be a good idea to take the paper I wrote and put it in their own words. You’d think it would be a glaring issue for a student who’s had trouble the entire semester to turn in an “A” paper that doesn’t sound like anything else they’ve written. You’d be wrong.

I know a handful of adjunct professors, and as long as the paper is original (meaning chunks of the writing isn’t being recycled from other papers or online sources) they often don’t have the time or support of the administration to accuse someone of plagiarism. I would also add that they don’t get paid enough to weed out people buying papers, but that’s another essay.

4. You really are only cheating yourself.

Do I feel guilty? A little, but mostly for the other students who are working hard and giving it “the old college try” and getting lumped in with people who are buying assignments. It’s not fair, but life isn’t fair.

People who avoid work in college will find other ways to half-ass their way through life and it will either catch up with them, or they will have to spend the rest of their lives trying to find people to do their work.

5. We should really stop herding people into college.

I can’t tell you how many students couldn’t compose a simple email that told me what their assignment was and when it was due. Red flag right? Not for “for profit” colleges it isn’t. You got a pulse and qualify for student loans? You’re in! You know the type I’m talking about -- rhymes with the University of Shmee-nix?

These students lack basic skills and aren’t ready for college, but that doesn’t stop schools from signing them up for thousands of dollars in student debt. These institutions have much lower graduation rates than the national average and students from for-profit colleges are much more likely to default on their student loans. It’s still a tough economy out there and most of these folks will end up in the same position I was in 2009 -- but without the skills to do other people’s homework for cash.

People

In memory of Naomi Miyake

10 November 2015

Naomi Miyake, a brilliant Japanese researcher, a close friend and colleague, and one of my early PhD students, died this year (2015). Here are my reflections on her carer, published in the japanese Cognitive Science Society's journal: Cognitive Studies, 22(4), 1-38. (Dec. 2015)

Encounters with HCI pioneers

18 October 2015

From the very beginnings of time, Ben Shneiderman has been busy photographing all that he sees. Ben was active in the pre-history days of the folks who tried to understand the newly-developed computing machines, especially as they moved into people's homes, offices, and schools. Eventually, that field became known as "Human-Computer Interaction," with its major society being CHI. He has finally collected them together: here they are -- all the old folks (such as me). Such old folks portrayed by photos from their youth, so I can barely recognize some of them: I can barely recognize me.

My Dream: The Rise of the Small

29 February 2012

Steelcase celebrated its 100th anniversary by asking 100 people to write essays about their dreams for the next 100 years. It is an impressive list of people and i am honored to be one of them. My essay, my dream is "the rise of the small." Here is the start: I dream of the power of individuals, whether alone or in small groups, to unleash their creative spirits, their imagination, and their talents to develop a wide range of innovation.

A Fetish for Numbers: Hospital Care

17 February 2008

I've been spending a lot of time in hospitals recently. No, not as a patient, as an observer — following doctors and nurses on their grand rounds, watching patients get admitted, nurses doing shift changes, pharmacists filling prescriptions, and then watching nurses actually deliver the prescribed medication to their patients, waving barcode readers over the prescriptions, the medication, and the patients. The modern hospital is a complex system, with multiple complex interactions among people, equipment, laws, institutions, and a confusing wealth of information. It is time to turn our attention to the multiple interfaces and design issues within this complex system. Healthcare is a problem that needs immediate attention. We need to start now, for the issues are life-threatening.

Cautious Cars & Cantankerous Kitchens

22 September 2006

Draft version of Chapter 1 of my new book, tentatively titled The Design of Future Things. (In press: Basic Books. Expected publication: 2007.)  This chapter is called "Cautious cars and cantankerous kitchens." Posted December 9, 2006 as a Microsoft Word file.

In Appreciation of Jef Raskin

14 March 2005

Jef Raskin, a remarkable person, died recently (26 Feb., 2005). He led a rich life. I first met him when he was a professor at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) in the early 1970s, and although his degree was in Music, he was a professor of Art, doing computer science, and art, and music, and well, you name it. He was an accomplished musician on multiple instruments, a conductor and composer, an artist with several major exhibits, an inventor of light-weight, radio controlled airplanes (and science editor of a model airplane magazine), a writer, inventor of the term "Information appliance" and one of the first example products thereof (The Canon Cat), and along the way, the person who started the Macintosh project at Apple computer. Take a look at his latest work -- Archy -- which promises a radically different way to interact with our computers. Read Jef's book, examine the Archie site. And look for Jef’s new book, "The Humane Environment," now in development at Addison-Wesley. A remarkable person: a remarkable set of achievements.

Toilet Paper Algorithms: I didn't know you had to be a computer scientist to use toilet paper.

22 September 2004

April 2002: modified in June and August, 2002. ? When we remodeled our house, we put in dual-paper toilet roll holders so that we would always have a new roll when the old one ran out. Oops, they both ran out together. We discovered the algorithms of toilet paper use.

Being Analog 3 of 3

15 September 2004

Part 3 of an essay on the fact that people are analog, hence fundamentally mismatched with contemporary requirements of digital devices (e.g., the computer).

Being Analog 2 of 3

15 September 2004

Part 2 of a three-part essay on the fact that people are analog, hence fundamentally mismatched with contemporary requirements of digital devices (e.g., the computer).

Being Analog

01 September 2004

Chapter 7 from The Invisible Computer ? 1998 ? We are analog beings trapped in a digital world, and the worst part is, we did it to ourselves.

How Might Humans Interact with Robots?

01 September 2004

In developing an understanding of how humans interact with robots, we can draw our lessons from several disciplines: 1. Human-Computer Interaction 2. Automation in such areas as Aviation 3. Science fiction, e.g., Asimov's 4 laws of Robots 4. Computer-Supported Cooperative Work 5. Human Consciousness, Emotion and Personality All of these areas are valuable, but each stresses a different aspect of interaction so, in the end, we must draw lessons from all. In the case of robots, it turns out that although all these teach valuable lessons, they aren't enough: we still need more.

How Might People Interact with Agents

01 September 2004

Published as: Norman, D. A. (1997). How might people interact with agents. In J. Bradshaw (Ed.), Software agents

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