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Peter Merholz 2/27/2016
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Selection made on Version 16
It’s hard to say exactly when the user was born, but it might be Don Norman at Apple in 1993 (referenced by Peter Merholz[10]):
the user was born
Oh hai!
As you point out later, Don uses “user” in The Design of Everyday Things (orig “The Psychology of Everyday Things”) in 1986, but even earlier than that was a book he edited, User Centered System Design (http://www.amazon.com/User-Centered-System-Design-Human-computer/dp/0898598729), a title which is also meant to be funny, because Don was teaching at UCSD at the time.
M-W has “user-friendly” debuting in 1977 (http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/user–friendly), which suggests “user” must predate that.
Great piece!
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Kevin Slavin 3/13/2016
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oh! thx for this and all the subsequent references, I’m looking at them now… I’m interested to find the actual roots, but I’m always most interested in colloquial adoption, rather than historical precedent. I want to know when the idea of the user became, you know, a thing.
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Tiffany Lambert 3/22/2016
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Looking to cultural critic Raymond Williams, a rise in the use and purchase of goods (and therefore users) can also be traced within the etymology of the word consumer. By his account, expounded upon in Keywords: A Vocabulary of Culture and Society (1976), “In almost all its early English uses, consume had an unfavourable sense; it meant to destroy, to use up, to waste, to exhaust. It was from the middle 18th century that consumer began to emerge in a neutral sense in descriptions of bourgeois political economy.”
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Patsy Baudoin 3/9/2016
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And the OED goes back to 1959: E. M. McCormick in Digital Computer Primer “The number of instructions which can be executed by a computer represents a compromise between the designer’s and user’s requirements.”
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David Petry 3/11/2016
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A quick hop into Google Ngram returns a 1937 Highway User Tax Guide from a Highway Users Conference. The term took off around 1960.