Arrow-right Camera
The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper The Spokesman-Review

Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
Partly Cloudy Night 36° Partly Cloudy
News >  Features

Impersonal Beep Conveys Message Best

Judith Martin United Features Sy

Dear Miss Manners: Why do computer programmers include such rude error messages in their software?

Rather than addressing the computer user as someone worthy of respect, the programmer subjects him or her to a startling beep, accompanied by a curt and often unintelligible “error message,” followed by dead silence. Suppose the user enters a number when one should enter a letter. There is the startling beep, and a message like “Error 56989: YOUR DATA INVALID,” and then one has to click OK in response to this sharp, unfeeling announcement.

Could programmers please consider (1) replacing the beep with a soft voice saying, “Sorry to interrupt your work!” and (2) replacing the error message with something like: “You have entered a number, but the software you are using is designed to accept only letters at this point. We are very sorry if the information we gave you failed to make it clear to you that our software is limited in this fashion, Please press El for HELP, or click the RESUME WORK button to return to the program.

Again, we offer our apologies for this interruption.”

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is not at all sure that she wants to think of her computer as noticing her mistakes with sympathy, as exhibiting the extreme tact of taking the blame and as being gentle about breaking the consequences to her.

The personal touch may usually be better, but it is not always, in her opinion. When she is making a fool of herself, she would so much prefer to think that she has set off a mechanical response in a machine than that there is an intelligent person somewhere, who is noticing, pitying her and probably running around asking all the other computers if they can believe that anybody could be so clueless.

So although Miss Manners is sorry not to cooperate with your wish, she agrees that the object is to spare people’s feelings. The difference is that a good impersonal beep and mechanical message strike her as the way to do that.

Dear Miss Manners: I recently hosted a group of 15 ladies in a moms-night-out group of which I have been a member about four years. Since I have a new home, I wanted to take my turn.

The carload of women who were the first to arrive asked for a tour of my home. I told them I would be glad to show them the downstairs but that we would not be going upstairs. (I had focused on decorating for the party and preparing the meal and knew my kids’ rooms were not as tidy as I would like them to be to show to guests.)

They were incensed. One was heard to exclaim, “Well if I can’t go upstairs, I’m at least going to look in the pantry!” as she and several others opened the pantry door.

Are guests entitled to view the upstairs of my home because it is new? I cannot remember a single time we have ever journeyed upstairs in anyone’s home, including those who were upset. This put a damper on the festivities for me.

Gentle Reader: Miss Manners is not surprised. Having a house full of rude, nosy moms would dampen anyone’s spirits.

Anyway, this house tour business has gotten out of hand. If a hostess wants to offer a tour - or partial tour - because she has just moved in or because she has a new visitor who might have a particular interest in the house, Miss Manners has no objection. Whether visitors can request one is problematic, but she would understand that old friends in a club could show a polite interest in someone’s new house.

But to demand right of way just illustrates how much more value many people put on possessions than on people. Either that, or that the real estate agent from whom you bought the house has forgotten to remove the “Open” sign.

The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = Judith Martin United Features Syndicate

The Spokesman-Review Newspaper

Local journalism is essential.

Give directly to The Spokesman-Review's Northwest Passages community forums series -- which helps to offset the costs of several reporter and editor positions at the newspaper -- by using the easy options below. Gifts processed in this system are not tax deductible, but are predominately used to help meet the local financial requirements needed to receive national matching-grant funds.

Active Person

Subscribe to the Coronavirus newsletter

Get the day’s latest Coronavirus news delivered to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter.