Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
Michael Bissell's Blog

Complicated Stuff that I'm Forced to Use

2011-10-29 11:24:36
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I have people tell me, almost proudly, “I don’t know anything about technology.” The comment is usually followed up with a “but...” and a lengthy tirade about why something should work differently. Apparently the definition of the word “technology” is complicated stuff I’m forced to use.

No one talks about tech problems with their toilets -- sure, they complain about their toilets, but they don’t lump the tank floats and gaskets into “technology.” Toilets don’t count as “technology” because they’re easy to use. It doesn’t matter that modern plumbing is a lot like the Internet -- your toilet is just one small part of a series of interconnected systems run by different organizations... kind of like your laptop and the Internet. (Yes, I called your laptop a toilet.)

“Technology” is only “technology” if it’s confusing. When a water line breaks in your house, suddenly the whole idea of “how do I shut off the water to the house?” becomes a tech question. A plumber probably gets the same “I don’t understand plumbing, but...” tirades that computer techs get. Only people don’t think of the plumber as a “Tech” because most people think they understand how plumbing works... until it fails.

So, maybe I need to expand that definition of technology to complicated stuff that I’m forced to use that I don’t know how to fix. In the early days of personal computers and the Internet people kept trying to use the auto industry as a metaphor for how computers worked -- it was a lousy metaphor, but cars are complicated things that we’re forced to use and we don’t know how to fix, so it somehow felt familiar.

For some reason we’re not afraid of using hugely complex technologies that we don’t understand. We complain, oh how people complain, but we use these things anyway. And when we use it wrong, it’s somehow a technical failing. It certainly couldn’t be, just possibly, the person using the technology was, maybe, just a little out of their depth.

The dashboard of the car I’m currently driving has more buttons than a small aircraft -- and I’m not joking. There are a lot of dials on the control panel of a Cessna, but not a lot of buttons and switches; I spent most of my drive home last night trying to figure out how to turn on the fog lights.

Of course most people don’t know what fog lights really are. I see people driving with their high beams on in the fog -- being a danger to yourself and others is the qualification for a court ordered 72 hour mental evaluation and these people should be taken off the roads immediately.

But everyone can drive a car, so it’s not technology even if your car is even more like your laptop than your toilet -- you wouldn’t get far without roads and gas stations and emergency services that keep things flowing when some idiot crashed because he was using his high beams in the fog.

I understand that you don’t understand. I even understand that you don’t want to understand -- getting a clip of the A-Team is probably as important as using the toilet and should be just as easy. But it’s not. Which means those of us who take the time to figure out this stuff get to be called “techies.”

I just ask you expand the title to plumbers, mechanics, carpenters, hair stylists, electricians, cooks, or anyone else who knows more about how something works than you do and can figure out how to make it work. Because that is the definition of technology.

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