Let me start off by being clear: I love my MacBook Pro, Apple has impeccable product support, and this really isn’t about the Genius Bar. This is about the combination of readily available tech support, shiny marketing schemes, and how software’s hidden “dark side” is creating a population of people who are completely incapable of actually understanding the products that they use every day.
I will preface this with a statement that I want everyone to internalize: YES, MACS CAN GET VIRUSES. So can your phone and your PC, your cloud accounts can be hacked, and there are ways that you can protect yourself. Industries are flocking to the internet at rates that are unbelievably unprecedented, with an app (or five) for just about everything under the sun. What we are seeing, though, is the start of a universal divide between the people who create applications, hardware, and services and those who use them.
User interface designers often boast of minimalistic, simple interfaces – and this alone isn’t the issue of a gross misunderstanding of the capabilities of today’s technology. The issue stems from how this encourages ignorance in the general population: don’t do something we don’t approve, we’ll void your warranty. Don’t try to figure out the issue yourself: bring it into our store and we’ll fix it, or, better yet, we’ll just give you a new one and refurbish the old one. This attitude towards our phones and computers leads the general population to avoid making customizations and changes to software and seeing their devices as productivity tools. Like it or not, folks, technology is here and it’s going to stay.
Everyone suffers from this phenomenon, except perhaps large companies who can afford to replace devices and keep customer morale happy. Users begin to expect perfect performance from the applications that they download. They lose sight of the people who are building the products, the apps – their tolerance for anything less than perfection from their devices results in a decrying of how “useless” their computers are, and a large portion of these people see computers as a word-processing-and-Facebook tool and nothing more. They are afraid to put faith in a device they don’t understand, and rightfully so – but instead of addressing the problem of educating consumers about the way their devices work, companies continue to dumb down the happy day scenarios in order to keep people blissfully oblivious.
We all have devices (perhaps two or 3) that we carry around that are capable of a huge number of things. We need to learn how to use them.
It’s easy for people outside of the industry to forget that humans are still building these solutions. Behind the app with a user interface change is a hard-working team of individuals who are doing their absolute best to build a better product. Behind the blue screen of death or that application that crashes on launch is a developer trying to pinpoint exactly why code isn’t working the way they’re intending it to. As ‘freemium’ becomes the new model for apps, and more and more people expect things to work silently and perfectly, they forget that the photo sharing app they love was written by a couple of kids scrambling to make ends meet. Instead of trying to pinpoint why the wireless router stopped working, and learning a few things about networking, people declare that “it’s all broken and stupid and too hard!” and contribute to the growing waste problem; toss it and buy something new.
To the developers, designers, system engineers, project managers, testers, build engineers, operations managers and other behind-the-scenes guys and girls out there: thank you. Thank you for pouring your passion into applications, websites, and services that we love and use everyday.
To those who proudly declare themselves “non-technical” and don’t know the difference between the internet and your web browser, here are a few tips and ways that you, too, can contribute to making the technical world a better place:
1. Developers read your app comments! When something is wrong with an app you use, instead of bashing it on the app store with a 1 star rating and a colorful array of capitalized insults, explain what you were trying to do, what you were doing when the problem occurred, and why it’s important that you get it fixed. Believe it or not, we do read your comments and the more information you give us, the better! That’s how we prioritize what work gets done!
2. Get a crash course in crash reports and recovery! It sucks when you’re working on something and your computer dies – we’ve all been there. Did you know, though, that Word has an autorecover feature? What about the growing number of cloud services (Google and Microsoft both offer versions of their document tools online which update on a per-change basis)? Getting a basic understanding of what programs can help mitigate crashes will help you next time you’ve forgotten to save a draft. When your computer does crash, you can help identify what might cause problems (recently install a new program? Did you have a program or the OS auto update?) When you know how to troubleshoot basic crash issues, you can improve the stability of the technology you work and fix issues when they come up.
3. Consider checking yes on that “Improve X service” box. Here’s the deal: most of the time, software that is going to steal your personal information is not going to ask you to send analytical data. They’re just going to do it. Programs that ask you to opt into an improvement program are collecting raw data about things like the average number of photos in your albums, not the images themselves. Pay attention to the privacy statements and the reputation of the companies publishing the apps you use, but keep in mind that when you opt into improvement programs, you’re helping developers learn how you use their products and, you know, improve them.
4. Learn about ways to protect your online accounts. The unfortunate truth is that the world is expected to be online now, but there are thousands of companies that are building websites without understanding the security needs. You can’t always trust that the people who built the sites you use actually understand what they need to do to protect your data, but that doesn’t mean you should treat technology as untrustworthy – it’s just worth taking the time to figure out how it works and what sort of precautions you can take. Remember: the same type of people who build the solutions you use are also the ones trying to break them. The “good guys” usually have the advantage, but recent security breaches at companies like Target show that this isn’t always the case.
5. Please, for the love of all things – don’t use the same password for everything. Why? Because if someone gets ahold of your email and password for one site, and you use it for everything, then it is playtime for them: you’ve essentially given them free reign over your entire life. Look into a password manager and keep those babies apart!
What kind of questions do you have about protecting yourself? About computers? Websites? Drop me a line in the comments or ping me on Twitter – I want to help you get the answers you need to secure your tech!
Images licensed under Creative Commons by Sebastiaan ter Berg & Financial Times