A while ago I wrote about the struggle that two members of my family had by owning iPhone 3G and suffering from upgrading to iOS 4.1.For my daughter, I downgraded the phone. For my wife I kept it on 4.1, then moved to 4.2, which made her iPhone almost impossible to use, as battery would drain in a matter of hours, even with very modest use.
Downgrading her phone to iOS 3.1.3 was far more challenging than for my daughter, as my wife has iTunes running on Windows 7, and some of the online advice about how to kick the iPhone out of recovery mode at the end of the downgrade is not entirely accurate, which made her desktop inoperable. After hours (and half a night) of recovery, I found an easier way to downgrade her iPhone, and I hope it is now back to normal.
Another interesting episode that a friend of mine told me about today, is that of a brand new luxury SUV from a well know German brand, with all sorts of thrills and frills, which stopped functioning after a few days: several alarms popped up on the cockpit, indicating that the automatic gear, the anti-skid system, the start-stop system and more were faulty. The car dealer kept his car for about five weeks, including a transfer to the Italian importer’s headquarter, to try and fix the problem. The result is that one day after he got his car back, the problem happened again.
The examples above are just two examples of the dozens I hear about every week, where consumers as well as professionals struggle with fixing technology problems. While consumer electronics are everywhere and consumers are increasingly exposed to technology, the complexity of technology applications, and the increasingly fast pace of change, puts both consumers and many of those who serve them (the car dealer, in my example) at a disadvantage.
If I look at the technology complexity of my home, and I compare the way it was just three or four years ago, it seems to me that it is getting worse. I am somewhat lucky to have some understanding of technology to find my way through, but should I be in my friend’s situation with my car, I would be lost too.
So, while governments look at more technology and broader band to re-ignite the economy and bridge economic and societal gaps, they do not seem to reflect on how people will be able to deal with problems caused by technology.
The assumption is that each generation of technology is better than the previous one, and this is somewhat true: disks are better and fail less, connections are more stable and drop more seldom, and so forth. However the downside is an increase in complexity that remains above the average skills that people possess to deal with it. It is already a fact that, in spite of the growing and impressive quantity of functionality that finds room in consumer products, most people use only a fraction of that. Just think about your last TV set: how many buttons on the remote have you ever pressed, and for how many you do not even know what they are there for?
Spreading the wealth by subsidizing access to technology, by giving every child or every household a computer and a broadband access won’t shield us from the consequences of excessive complexity combined with inevitably imperfect technology.
What is not entirely clear to me is what policy-makers are doing to help us face this: improving consumer protection, providing better (or any) training to roles that are responsible for deploying technology in schools and households would be a good start.