Chapter 40 Summary

Get People’s Attention

The majority of Pausch’s students are incredibly intelligent, and he is confident they will enter the world of work and create amazing things, including software programs, animation projects, and entertainment devices. One other thing he is confident about is the fact that they could use that same potential to cause tremendous frustration to people while they do so.

People who think about things, such as computer scientists and engineers, think a lot about how to build things; what they do not always think a lot about is building and creating things that are easy for people to use. Explaining even simple things is often difficult for them, and most of them do a terrible job of explaining complex tasks in simple ways. One look at the instruction manual for a VCR, for example, will prove this point.

Because of that, Pausch insists that his students think about those who will benefit from their creations—the end users. After considering how best to impress upon them the importance of creating technology that is not frustrating, he developed a no-fail attention-getter.

During a “user interface” class he taught at the University of Virginia, he would bring a working VCR to class on the first day of the semester. After placing it on the desk in front of the class, he took out a sledgehammer and completely destroyed the VCR as his students watched. His comments were simple and straightforward. If these future creators and innovators make something that is difficult to use, people will get upset. Often they will get angry enough that they will want to destroy whatever it is. These students’ goal, then, must be to create things that people will want to use, be able to use, and not destroy.

The students’ reactions ranged from shocked to bewildered to slightly amused, but all of them were excited for what was ahead of them that semester. After this opening stunt, they were interested to see what the second day of class would bring.

Pausch was able to get their attention, which is the first step in solving an overlooked problem. When he left to go to Carnegie Mellon, one of Pausch’s colleagues gave him a sledgehammer with a plaque which read: “So many VCRs, so little time.”

All of those University of West Virginia students are now in the work force. As they do their jobs, as they create new technologies in every field, Pausch hopes that the image of him wielding a sledgehammer will remind them of the frustrated customer looking for simplicity.