September 9, 2015

How to Break the PEBCAT Barrier


Yes, it is an obvious play on the old support joke “Problem Exists Between Keyboard And Chair” (PEBKAC or PBKAC), referring typically to users who may not have the correct combination of data, hardware, software or training to enable self-help. This term has been loosely thrown around amongst technical folks who still are, at heart, user advocates and in more professions than just information technology.

The world has advanced from yesterday’s stone tablets, where messages were etched out with bare hands, to today’s messaging on electronic tablets (and other smart devices), etched out with nothing more than the tips of our fingers and, more recently, just our voices. While this evolution is certainly a less excruciating physical experience than what our ancestors had to go through to send a message, it still can result in reactions full of colorful metaphors when an error occurs.


If we break down the above technologies into simple components, we might say that in both cases we have: a user, some data, hardware and training. The real difference might be that the tools have evolved today to become software. So, if the end goal is the communication of ideas, the only thing required is actually just the user. However, the user actually contains the most complex machine of all; their brain hosts data — theoretically, unlimited data — and also processes, analyses and presents it in the form of art, science and numerous other disciplines that we love to pursue.

All the data, hardware, software & training in the world becomes completely redundant if there is no user; why would you need it? Thus, the user is, arguably, the most important component of most systems. If we keep this in mind when we deal with other people, no matter their level of knowledge, we become enabled to better communicate solutions that are not focused only on the user, but on a global system where a component can be improved.

So, when a problem exists between the keyboard and chair, it’s usually just ourselves.  If all else fails, we can always go back to relying on courier pigeons, at least they never crash on launch.

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