People expect technology to suck

A few jobs ago, I was helping someone with a small tech issue, standing over their shoulder at their computer. The screen was unbelievably dark; I’m not exaggerating when I say it looked to be near 0% brightness.

For all I knew, this person had some vision sensitivity or just a basic personal preference that caused them to set it like this, but just in case, I cautiously asked, “By the way, I noticed your screen seems dark; do you prefer it like that, or would you like it to be brighter?”

“I guess it is kind of dark,” they said. I tried some of the buttons on the side of the monitor and found that it had been set to like 5 or 10% brightness. I turned it up to 50% or whatever and they were shocked at how much more easily they were able to see things on it.

It had just never occurred to them that it could be better.

Just today, a friend approached me with their phone looking for help. “This thing pops up every couple seconds asking for my email password, but it’s for an old work account and I don’t have the password anymore.” I took the phone, and sure enough, a modal dialog appeared every couple seconds asking for a password. “It really does this every couple seconds whenever you’re using your phone?” “Yeah.” “And what do you do?” “I hit ‘Cancel.'”

When viewing the account in settings, all the options were grayed out, even the option to delete it, because it had been created by a “configuration profile.” (Notably Apple’s support site has a document for installing a configuration profile, but not for deleting one.) To remove the account it was necessary to remove the profile, after which the account and intermittent dialog disappeared.

“How long had you been living like that?” I asked. “About a month.”

I’m in no way making light of these people knowing less than me about technology. They’re smart people who just didn’t spend their teenage years installing RAM and hard drives in their basement.

I bring it up because what it indicates to me is that technology sucks, and most people don’t expect technology to be any better than completely sucky.

If my screen were at 5% brightness, or if I couldn’t use my phone without hitting “Cancel” every five seconds, I’d spend hours or days on Google trying to find a solution if that’s what it took. That these people mostly just lived with it means that these problems couldn’t have been markedly worse than technology has already been for them historically.

It’s why malware so easily installs itself; most people just want dialog boxes to go the fuck away, and they will click “OK” to anything because it’s usually the most efficient way to do that.

These are design problems, not user problems. I hate thinking that in 2020 we still live in a world where most people continue to hate technology because the experience has been so hostile to them their whole lives.

9 Responses to “People expect technology to suck”

  1. I have to tell people all the time that they can change their phone and computer preferences as they like, they don’t have to use it like stock settings. some people were completely in disbelieve that they don’t have to update windows every 6 months in fear of complete data loss.

    Other were just “whatever, I never open settings, it is just to confusing to understand what everything means”.

    And others god behold, complain about her wifi not working when they just don’t have internet access because their landline was down.

    The schools do not cover real-world-technology and how if works, because the students or teacher bother to understand it and learn to help themselfs

    1. Jay says:

      Actually I’m really encouraged that my young nieces and nephews all take classes in elementary school called “Technology” along with Math and History, where they have to do things like create and share Google Docs, remember passwords, and other basic tasks that are part of using computers and smartphones.

      My oldest niece is the one who taught me that you can swipe from the right edge of an iPhone to access the camera quickly. I think the Millennials onward will be just fine.

  2. I meant to say *do not bother*.
    But yes I was on a Media Technology school and it was good but not that everyone understood the key components.
    The Generation from 2010 on will be if teached right fine yes, but some parents just don’t understand that a iPad or iPhone is not a computer and refuse them to get one.

    But this another story.
    Just good to hear that this issue is and will be adressed

  3. Doodpants says:

    Sorry to be a pedant, but am I the only one who finds it annoying when people use the word “technology” to mean “electronic devices”? To me, “technology” means the sciences (mathematics, electrical engineering, materials science, etc.) that the devices are built from. It’s not technology that sucks, it’s products.

    1. Jay says:

      I hear you, that makes sense. Colloquially though I think this is what it now means ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

    2. Ok, than electronic devices and software, specifically consumer space.

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