December 29, 2003

"You Can't Make a Mistake"

You Can't Make a Mistake.

That line is part of the dialogue in a commercial for computer learning CDs.
The electronic equivalent of the -you can do it even though we both know you're a moron- genre of self-help.

On the whole I have nothing against this genre. I made great use of "Windows 3.1 for Dummies" and have a few other Dummies books lying around the house.
The problem with these books is, if you have any basic knowledge of the subject, it's too frustrating to wade through the anecdotes and wise-ass jokes that pad the way for the true beginner.

I have nothing against these computer learning CDs either. What I take issue with are the ads themselves.
Several years ago, the product was pitched by a 40-ish, well-cleaned-up woman who proclaimed, "Computers and me just don't get along!"
She wasn't blonde but she did an excellent imitation of being too stupid to function in modern society let alone operate heavy machinery.
(A computer isn't heavy machinery? Just try to pick up that monitor!)


That commercial got under my skin so much that to this day the kids tease me about it. Mercifully, the company put the lady out to pasture and had the self-proclaimed author of the program do the ads. He is a lot easier to take, even though his tone is a bit patronizing.
Just one line makes me cringe - "you can't make a mistake because…"

This is a selling point:
You can't make a mistake while learning a new skill.

It sends the message that making a mistake while learning a new skill is unacceptable.
Even when you're doing it alone with nobody but the voices in your own head to criticize you.

Where did our society get the idea that we must be born perfect?
From our parents?
From our teachers?
From each other?

What happens when you make a mistake?
Ideally, you learn from it.
I've learned far more about computers and software from cleaning up after my mistakes than by any other method.
The best teaching programs are interactive, addressing each wrong choice with a reinforced lesson. You can't get instruction like that from merely reading or listening or watching.

Yes the CDs in question are interactive but what good is it if you can't make a mistake?

And what's going to happen when, in the real world, you DO make a mistake?
First, you won't know what to do because you haven't experienced that path before.
Second, you will beat up on yourself because making mistakes is UNACCEPTABLE.
The computer guy said so.

No wonder so many in our society are paralyzed by fear of failure, even when the consequences of failure are insignificant in a practical sense.
For example, why not apply for that promotion? If you don't get it you aren't any worse off.
Why not ask the hot girl out for a date?

Why not try, even if the chances of success are slim?

Because the failure itself, not the practical ramifications of it, might devastate you.

Of course many successful people have found their way around this obstacle.
How? Beats me, I suffer from the same thing more often than I care to admit.
Hmmm I sense a New Year's Resolution in the making. Stay tuned.

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