Fan-fold ticket stock nerdview

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We have not discussed any examples of nerdview on Language Log for a while. But Bob Ladd told me of one the other day. He was at the Edinburgh Airport dropping someone off, and pulled up next to the ticket dispensing machine for the short-stay car park. He pushed the button, but no ticket appeared. Instead, the display screen of the machine showed a message: "OUT OF FAN-FOLD TICKETS".

Not having encountered the term "fan-fold" (I guess he never owned a tractor-feed printer in the 1980s), he was momentarily flummoxed. What the hell was a fan-fold ticket, and what was he supposed to do, given that there apparently weren't any, and he had to take one to make the white bar lift up so he could go in?

After a while he decided to forget about the message, and act the way you would if the machine had burst into flames when you pressed the button, or if the lane had been marked as closed: he backed up out of the entry lane (luckily there was no one behind him) and drove in via a different lane with a working ticket machine. But eventually he realized that the message simply meant (for him) that the machine could not issue a ticket.

What makes this a case of nerdview is that it was totally unnecessary for him ever to know that inside the machine the tickets were stored in a long stack folded back and forth like old-fashioned fan-fold printer paper. (As Bob notes, it's more reminiscent of an accordion than of a folding fan; but regardless, it's no business of his how the ticket stock looks inside the machine.)

The engineers who built and programmed the dispensing machine knew that some maintenance person would need to know when the long ticket strip had run out, and would have to get a new box of fan-fold ticket stock and load it into the machine. But the engineers didn't distinguish the viewpoint of the user (the driver wondering what he is supposed to do about getting into the parking structure) from the viewpoint of the attendant (the maintenance person charged with opening up the machine and loading a new strip of blank ticket paper).

The other puzzling thing is that the attendant would surely not typically engage in pressing the button, like an arriving driver wanting a ticket. The two roles had been hopelessly confused. Drivers don't need to know that tickets originate as segments of a long fan-folded strip that they will never see, and maintenance attendants don't typically push the button.

Nerdview comes in many forms, sometimes quite subtle (as with the case of the "MIXED CARDBOARD ONLY" sign); but it is ubiquitous, and this case is crashingly obvious compared to some. Nerdview stems from a failure of something fundamentally human and highly relevant to linguistic communication: to do linguistic communication you have to appreciate that the other human has a viewpoint, a perspective, and it may not be the same as yours. You have to be able to think about things from their point of view.

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