Since the advent of ubiquitous technology, the meaning of "user" is best know as the person sitting in front of the computer or similar device.
I am studying the history of computing and want to question the meaning of this word choice.
I understand two connotations available with this word:
User is a person that interacts with a thing. They are not able to control that thing (an operator). They are not the owner of that thing (an owner). They are not able to change that thing (a tinkerer). Basically, the user is restricted in what they can accomplish with the thing and they are powerless over it. A common phrase drug user also illustrates this context, drug users never compound or negotiate with drugs, they are only taking drugs and the all-powerful drugs are doing what they are doing.
In every context I can think of a more flattering word than user. A public transit user is a rider. A facebook user is a viewer or a poster, maybe even a member. If you are an advertiser then maybe they are a pair of eyeballs. A user of government services is a recipient. A user of a machine is an operator. But if a mouse is inside a maze then that mouse is a user -- the maze is utterly unaffected by the mouse and the mouse will only act inside the maze in the ways that the maze was designed for.
Neutral / positive
A user is the receipt of services from a machine/thing. Insofar as the receipt has the power to stop at any time, we assume the recipient is being served by the machine and they are receiving value and worthwhile experience.
Or if we are more dispassionate, there is a machine and a user. We don't really care much more than that. Basically a user is the one that sits on the chair in front of the machine. We might as well just call them a machine sitter.
Back in the 1950's before ubiquitous technology, which was the prominent connotation of the word?