Saturday, March 14, 2009

Missed Opportunity

I participated in a usability study at eBay yesterday. The study involved discussing software applications for a couple hours and paid $150. They had a group of us who had responded first to the mass email and it was one of those public experiences . . . you know, where you get a random cross-section of people.

I don't have a very linear, logical mind and I was having trouble focusing on the topic at hand during the discussion, so I reverted to my old habit of observing people. While I was doing this, I realized that there were cameras trained on us from just about every angle of the room as well as voice recorders on the table. There was a large mirror on one side of the room and I could vaguely make out the shape of people observing us from the other side of the mirror. We were true lab specimens.

There were two people who had big personalities . . . they injected a great deal of their personal life into a short period of time. The man sold hi tech and was moving to Santa Cruz. He was balding with long hair and you got the impression that he hadn't purchased a new item of clothing in 20 years. When he introduced himself, he went on and on about his past work accomplishments.

The woman told us about her divorce and that she supported her two grandchildren as well as her 20-year-old daughter. Her eyes looked sad and although her hair and make-up were done carefully, her clothes were wrinkled and faded. I felt sorry for her until she said that after her husband left, she started selling whatever was in their garage and made $7000 in three weeks. (What the hell was she selling?) Then she had to stop selling for awhile when she declared bankruptcy and her assets were frozen.

These two people were obviously strangers to each other but they seemed to have a lot in common. They both had the look of people who had suffered great disappointments. They talked loudly to each other from the moment they met to the end of the session. I ended up walking next to them in the parking lot. As we neared our cars, the woman seemed to be trying to get the man to laugh but he didn't respond to her cues. I tried to get away from them because I suddenly hoped that one of them would get the nerve to ask the other out. As I got to my car, I glanced back and saw the woman looking wistfully at the man as he walked away.

I know I'm a weirdo . . . I really know nothing about these people but that stuff just kills me. I wonder if the man missed her cues or if he really wasn't interested. Maybe he went home and sat on his recliner and wondered what TV dinner he would be heating up in the microwave that night. Maybe he was lonely and oblivious to his missed opportunity. Or maybe he went home to the hot, young girlfriend he met at the last hi tech convention. You just really never know about people.


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