She asked each student where they’d saved their project. Could they be on the desktop? Perhaps in the shared drive? But over and over, she was met with confusion. “What are you talking about?” multiple students inquired. Not only did they not know where their files were saved — they didn’t understand the question.
A story that illustrates a generational divide in how computer users conceptualize the mental model of digital files – while for me, a file always has some kind of logical position in an hierarchical structure of sorts, younger people might think entirely differently.
In addition to educators, that the article is about, this is a challenge in UX design as well: how do we create interfaces that work for everybody, despite having entirely different understandings of what a file (or, even more abstract, a certain piece of data) is?
It’s a difficult concept to get across, though. Directory structure isn’t just unintuitive to students — it’s so intuitive to professors that they have difficulty figuring out how to explain it.
And while the “laundry basket” metaphor indeed may have its merits over the maybe overcome folder-and-files structure, things are getting really complicated when different pieces in that basket are on other people’s devices and servers – cue informed privacy controls etc.