Old school… or just old? Finding empathy.

I recently started looking for a replacement for my Lenovo X230 tablet PC.  Finding the right combination of features is proving difficult.  Maybe I’m looking for old school features… or maybe I’m just getting old.  In any case, this process is increasing my empathy for those who have to adjust to technological change, especially in cases where decisions were made for them.

You see, my beloved X230 has the iconic IBM laptop red dot mouse (aka pointing stick or TrackPoint).  Though this technology has some haters, I have been using it for the last 22 years and can’t fathom not having it.  I love that it lives in the middle of my keyboard and that I don’t have to move my hands to a trackpad in order to use the mouse features.  I love that I don’t accidentally tap it with my wrist and move my cursor when I don’t mean to like I do with trackpads.  I’ve even had desktop keyboards with the red dot because I find it so efficient to use.  I love the dot mouse and I really don’t want a laptop that only has a trackpad.

Second, my X230 is pen-enabled.  I don’t need a wacom tablet for graphic design. I can hand write notes directly into my laptop when typing is either too distracting for the setting or requires diagrams or drawings.  When I was teaching, OneNote was my whiteboard in class and my pen-enabled laptop let me easily annotate students’ code to more easily answer questions and correct assignments.  While its not a feature I use every day, I’d sorely miss the pen feature if I didn’t have it.

The rest of my list of desired features is probably a lot like everyone else’s:  Good-sized hard drive, lots of ram, good processor, sturdy without being heavy, and great battery life.  Oh yeah, and not too expensive.  I keep window shopping the Lenovo Yoga, the Microsoft Surface, the Apple iPad Pro and more.  Do I go lightweight with a pen, but no red dot?  Has a dot and a pen, but heavier and expensive? Keep my laptop for robust computing but go iPad for travel?  I can’t decide  – even though I used to select new technologies for hundreds of users as part of my job.

Going through this process has made me reflect on those times when I needed to choose tools, both hardware and software, for others.  While I always tried to understand users’ needs and preferences, I was probably less than fully empathetic to the challenges that come with change.  I could probably adjust to quickly to a new laptop that didn’t have a pen or that has only a trackpad, but the fact remains that I like what I like and would rather have my preferred tools.  When I make this choice for myself, even if I’m not in love with the new tool, at least I’ll have been empowered to make a choice.  How would I feel if that choice were made for me, especially with little or no input from me?

For those with responsibility for choosing technology that others use, our empathy is ultimately key to our success.  We must be able to truly understand their technology needs, but also the feelings surrounding these technologies and around technological change.  In order to successfully roll out new technologies in our schools, we not only have to find the best-fit hardware or software for the task, but also ensure that our users buy in to the change and feel empowered to be successful managing that change for themselves.

I’m not sure which way I’ll decide on the laptop, but I’m grateful for an experience that helps me better understand how others might be impacted by my decisions and have more empathy for users facing potentially unwelcome change.

PS-Long live the red dot mouse!

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