I used to be constantly surprised at the gross misconceptions that people have about technology; that is, I was surprised until repeat exposure desensitized me.
Yesterday I was reminded of one of these moments that happened 5 years ago. I was reading the weekly paper from my alma mater and I came across an article in the opinions section written by a girl who had left her flash drive plugged into one of the computers in the library when she left. When she came back to get it, it had been stolen, along with the large term paper that was on it and not backed-up anywhere else. In her article, she went on a huge diatribe at how flash drives were fundamentally flawed because they didn’t notify you that they were plugged in if you got up to leave. And she blamed society for giving her the misconception that technology will wipe her ass and hold her hand at every turn. She also blamed scientists for making technology that didn’t wipe her ass and hold her hand at every turn. She blamed the manufacturers for not sponsoring technology that can do those things. Really, she blamed everyone but the person who actually deserved the blame: the person who stole her flash drive. He/she recieved zero blame.
At the time it mystified me that she had these expectations. I still wonder how exactly the flash drive was supposed to both know that she was getting up to leave and that it needed to let her know that she was forgetting it. And even if the computer had been programmed to kick up a reminder not to forget the flash drive every ten minutes, she would have instead been writing an editorial about how annoying the reminders were.
But it all comes back to the one core misconception that lots of people share about technology: people think technology is magic. The person who wrote the editorial expected that technology should know what she’s thinking at any given moment so that it can let her know when she’s about to do something wrong. It should know the difference between her getting up to go to the bathroom and getting up to leave and be able to warn her that she’s forgetting the flash drive. It should know that she will never back-up her data, so it should know to do it for her. Ultimately, she hoped that the magic of technology would supplant the requirement of her to behave responsibly and to develop a contingency plan should things go wrong.
The article I wrote in response, which did indeed get published, “kindly” refuted her blame game and made many suggestions on how she, and many others who think technology is the result of a magical and fell practice of technomagery, can act in a more reasonable and responsible way with their data. And, if she really does want to pursue her victim mentality, that perhaps she should at least assign some blame to the thief and those who were responsible for his upbringing instead of pointing at the world and screaming incoherently about technology not being what she expected it to be.
I went on to provided urls for flash-drive backup programs for those who wished for automated periodic back-ups, though it still requires you to remember to plug the drive in from time to time. I noted that important projects can be emailed to yourself daily as a viable way to back them up if you don’t have a computer of your own. I further suggested that if they don’t understand technology, or at least don’t understand how it’s supposed to work, that there is a bulk of literature available online to cut through the self-imposed ignorance. I also pointed out that there are also things called “instruction manuals” that often come with gadgets which can act as good references for what these gadgets actually do.
At the end of my response, I took off the gloves a bit. To paraphrase: “Technology is a tool, not your mother. You need to learn to use it properly and not expect it to hold your hand and lie to you about how special you are. Your flash-drive got stolen by a thief, and that sucks and it’s terrible that the thief though it was okay to take your things. But, ultimately, you did not complain about your drive being stolen but rather chose to complain that society gave you the wrong idea about your gadget. Society is not to blame for you being ignorant of the function of your technology, and the people who build technology aren’t to blame for you not having an emergency backup of your important project. In both cases, those are your fault.”
As put by one of my engineering colleagues: “Dayum, bro.”*
-Confusion is a state of mind, or is it?
*This may have actually been, “I liked your article. Subtle, but with heavy undertones of “stop being stupid.”